Songcraft: Spotlight on Songwriters Podcast

Dan Penn

Ep. 72 - Dan Penn

Do Right Man: From Muscle Shoals to Memphis to Nashville

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Scott and Paul chase down the elusive Dan Penn to find out how a teenage beer run inspired his first hit; why having the keys to Rick Hall's legendary FAME studio near Muscle Shoals influenced his creative process; how pitching songs to Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley in Nashville changed the way he structured his compositions; the unusual way he ended up with a surprise Otis Redding cut; why he had to close himself in a coat closet to finish writing "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" while Aretha was already starting to record it; how he and Spooner Oldham hijacked a recording session and ended up with a big hit; and how he was able to kick substance abuse, turn his life around, and experience a spiritual and creative rebirth.

Named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time, Dan Penn’s impact on the Southern music triangle of Muscle Shoals, Memphis, and Nashville cannot be overstated. In the 1960s he teamed with Chips Moman to create two of Southern soul’s most revered standards: “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” which was recorded by Aretha Franklin, and “The Dark End of the Street,” which was first cut by James Carr.

Along with his frequent collaborator, Spooner Oldham, Penn has crafted R&B classics such as James and Bobby Purify’s “I’m Your Puppet,” Otis Redding’s “You Left the Water Running,” Percy Sledge’s “It Tears Me Up” and “Out of Left Field,” Solomon Burke’s “Take Me (Just As I Am),” and The Sweet Inspirations’ “Sweet Inspiration.” Additionally, the pair found pop success with Janis Joplin’s recording of “A Woman Left Lonely,” as well as hits such as “Cry Like a Baby” and “I Met Her in Church” that were recorded by The Box Tops, who first broke through to national prominence with the Penn-produced hit “The Letter.”

Other artists who’ve recorded songs from the Dan Penn songbook include  Bobby “Blue” Bland,  Jerry Lee Lewis, Clarence Carter, Joe Cocker, Cher, Arthur Alexander, Ruth Brown, Irma Thomas, Bobby Womack, Esther Phillips, Joe Tex, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Gregg Allman, Etta James, Dionne Warwick, Brenda Lee, Willie Nelson, Patti LaBelle, Elvis Costello, Buddy Guy, Arthur Conley, Sam & Dave, Elton John, Wilson Pickett, Roger McGuinn, John Prine, and many more. 


Songcraft's Dan Penn Playlist:
Spotify users can select the song you'd like to hear below, or simply start the player and enjoy a selection of songs written by Dan, as well as a handful of some of his amazing performances of his own material. If you don't have a Spotify account, follow the prompts to sign up for free. Click this link to take you directly to the playlist in the Spotify web player.