Dan Penn, whose soulful songwriting made a mark in the musical history of Muscle Shoals and Memphis, shares a conversation and performs live during a Songwriter Session at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, recorded August 25, 2020.
In conversation with the Museum’s Michael Gray, Penn talks about his longtime creative partnership with Spooner Oldham and their late-night writing collaborations at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. He also speaks about his technique of writing lyrics to fit a groove, and reveals the origins of his first new solo album in twenty-six years, 2020's “Living on Mercy.”
Penn says he keeps the intended audience in mind when he’s writing R&B or country songs. Yet he describes his overall songwriting philosophy this way: “The lyric has got to be good enough to get to you, but it don’t have to be the most important thing on the paper. I think the music may be a little more important. That’s just my look. I like to write for a groove. A lot of people don’t think that way. They talk [about] the lyric, and we’ll worry about the groove later. Well, I’m worried about the groove right now! I’m thinking about the record. How’s this record going to sound? So, that’s my little inroad into it. I haven’t ever changed.”
During the program, Penn sings “I Do,” “I’m Living Good,” “Is a Bluebird Blue?” (recorded by Conway Twitty in 1960), and “The Dark End of the Street.” The latter composition, as recorded by R&B vocalist James Carr in 1966, has been described by the “New York Times” as “a masterpiece of Memphis soul.”
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