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Back Porch Soul – The music of Dan Penn and Eddie Hinton
I have to admit it. I am jealous of all that is happening in Memphis these days. Earlier in the spring, , my good friend Hal Wellford forwarded an email detailing the schedule of events commemorating the grand opening of Soulsville – The Stax Museum of American Soul Music. From April 28th to May 2nd, a full week of events ranging from a celebrity golf classic with David Porter and friends, to a film premiere on the life and work of Tom Dowd, the producer who manned the boards for soul music’s greatest hits at Atlantic, to an all star concert featuring Eddie Floyd, Booker T & The MGs, The Mar Kays, Wilson Picket et al. Memphis celebrated the enduring legacy of Stax Records in grand style. I only wish I had been there.
Memphis and New Orleans have embraced their unique musical personas and have gone to great lengths to preserve their rich musical and cultural essence for future generations. And yet, there are places like Muscle Shoals Alabama, Macon Georgia, and Florence Alabama that are home to pioneers of R & B that defined a sound, living practioneers of the art who are largely forgotten or certainly underappreciated. Continuing my focus on the greats who have made significant contributions to the genre, I am taking a look at two legendary practioneers of blue eyed soul, songwriters Dan Penn, and the late Eddie Hinton Their music is perfect for hot summer evenings barbequing and repelling mosquitoes.
At the Dark End of the Street – Dan Penn
You might ask yourself, who is Dan Penn. How does this grab you – In Dave Marsh’s definitive book The Heart of Rock and Soul, The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, songwriter Dan Penn is represented with six of the selections;” Making Love (At The Dark End Of The Street)” – Clarence Carter (#61), “You Left The Water Running” – Maurice and Mac (#136), “I’m your Puppet” – James and Bobby Purify (#310), “At The Dark End Of The Street” – James Carr (#394), “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” – Aretha Franklin (#508), “Cry Like A Baby, The Box Tops” (#619), and “You Left the Water Running” – Otis Redding (#950). Yes indeed, for those of you who are familiar with the endearing term, deep soul, Dan Penn stands right beside Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Don Covay, Solomon Burke, Arthur Alexander and others who defined soul’s glory years in the 60s and early 70s.
Along with his songwriting partner, Spooner Oldham, Penn writes about the realities of relationships between men and women; good love gone bad and the small revelations and tender moments that deepen and strengthen relationships despite a myriad of self inflected wounds.
Penn’s Do Right Man, released in 1994 on Sire Records (more than likely this would not be released by any major label today) is his finest moment and one of the few recordings released under his own name. His emotive purity and clear, direct vocals resonate deeper with each listen and the songs are propelled by the famed Muscle Shoals rhythm section - Reggie Young and Jimmy Johnson on guitars, David Hood on Bass, Roger Hawkins and Florence Flash on percussion and the great Buddy Emmons and Spooner Oldham on keyboards. Penn opens with the stunning tale of desire and regret, At the Dark End of the Street and proceeds to run through a repertoire of timeless songs that any fan of deep soul will recognize including” Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”, “You Left the Water Running”, and the heartbreaking “t Tears Me Up”. Even his newer songs like “Zero Willpower” sound as if they were cut in the mid – sixties.
Throughout the Memphis Horns led by Wayne Jackson on trumpet and Harvey Thompson on tenor sax and a quintet of backing vocalists add coloration and depth in the best Stax/ Atlantic tradition.
Penn is not a man in a hurry, but one whose songs reflect a lifetime of experience; discovery, anguish, joy and redemption. In the best country blues tradition, he sings/speaks his songs in measured tones, bringing nuance to every word, every phrase.
Eddie Hinton - Hard Luck Guy
Perhaps Jerry Wexler the legendary Atlantic Records producer (Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding et al.) sums up the talent of Eddie Hinton best:
“To this day, I still play his records with great enjoyment. He remains unique, a white boy who truly sang and played in the spirit of the great soul artists he venerated. With Eddie it wasn’t imitation; it was totally created with a fire and fury that was as real as Otis Redding’s and Wilson Pickett’s”.
Hard Luck Guy features the same great Muscle Shoals rhythm section on Dan Penn’s Do Right Man and unleashes the growling, moaning, gospel drenched songs of Hinton to an audience that never noticed. What a shame. Hinton who died in 1995 was held in high esteem for his writing, singing and guitar playing by everyone who recorded in Muscle Shoals including Bob Dylan, Dusty Springfield, The Allman Brothers, Sam and Dave and The Staple Singers.
It seems as if the basic demos for this album were recorded in 1977-78 at Capricorn Studios in Macon GA and completed posthumously at Duck Tape Music Studio in Decatur Alabama in 1997. The end result is a powerful soul statement.
Listening to his singing you hear a voice that is absolutely black. Close your eyes and Otis is back cutting right through to your very core. The songs ranging from “Can’t Beat the Kid”, a shuffling, cocky declaration to Otis’s swaggering country blues, “Sad Song” and Hinton’s own “Hard Luck Guy” reveal a man living through his fears, fighting to stay sane as his world crumbles around him. And yet he does so in a joyous infectious style; deep soul from the heart that truly rivals all of the aforementioned greats.
Jerry Wexler closes the insightful liners with a revealing passage;
“A scene that always sticks in my mind is Dylan on the back porch of Muscle Shoals studio, trading licks on acoustic guitar with Eddie Hinton. They buddied up and for a while were inseparable. How strange and wonderful to remember Bob Dylan and Eddie Hinton as soul brothers – two poets, one world renowned, the other known only to a few friends, neighbors and fans, both riveting artists, both brilliant”.
Hinton recorded four solo records including 1978’s Very Extremely Dangerous which was critically acclaimed and recently re-released. Do yourself a favor, settle back, light the grill, enjoy a cold libation, and spend a hot summer night on your back porch or deck with Dan Penn and Eddie Hinton. Invite your friends.