Perfect Sound Forever

"Spend a little time with the old folks"

Joss Hutton shot the breeze with the living legends behind some of Soul's greatest, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, during December of 1998.

When Vernon, Alabama born songsmith Dan Penn looks you straight in the eye, as he did several times during the course of the following interview, the decades that have weathered his face to a countenance like that of a kindly uncle, drop away to reveal the lean, rhythm & blues-obsessed kid of thirty years ago staring right back at you - it's a little unnerving.

Seated next to Dan on a chintzy sofa in the lounge of a Kensington hotel and coolly balancing the former's sometimes steely glare is the gentlemanly presence of Spooner Oldham, his longtime writing partner and a man possessed of such graceful, minimalist dexterity at the keyboard that - upon seeing him play for the first time - people have been heard to wonder out loud "How does he do it? It looks like he's hardly moving his hands."

Even to list a brief selection of the work that these (mostly) unsung heroes of American music have written, produced or played on over the past three and a half decades is to invoke memories of some of the most heart-wrenchingly emotive songs and performances ever to be touched by hand or throat. With a collective canon running from James Carr's magisterial reading of the duo's "Dark End Of The Street" to Spooner's haunting three chord piano riff on Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved A Man", from the propulsive stomp of Solomon Burke's "I Can't Stop" to the inspired pop/soul mix of The Box Tops, their work ranks as high - if not higher - than many of the accepted musical 'greats.'

However, It wasn't until 1994 that the duo actually started to perform together onstage, ostensibly to plug Dan's then recently released and long overdue second solo album Do Right Man. Their first ever gig, at New York's Bottom Line set the standard for subsequent live forays and the duo continue wow capacity crowds around the world with - seemingly offhand - rifles through their considerable portfolio of tunes. Dan and Spooner's trip over the pond during December of 1998 included a couple of rapturously received and sold out shows in London - where people were seen to laugh, weep and dance indiscriminately - between which they graciously found enough time to talk to an your overawed scribe.
 



 

Q: I hear that there's been a few problems 'cause you've doing some gigs apart from Nick Lowe?

Dan: Oh, I don't know - not really a problem, just some belly-achin' n' stuff but we're bearin' up under it all.
 

Q: What did your folks make of your decisions to follow musical careers?

Spooner: Well my Dad played in a band as a teenager - a six or seven piece band - and they played gyms and high schools so I kind of grew up watching them practice - from three or four years old. They used to practice on the porch and I'd sit over in the corner and watch them - I sorta was getting a look-see - and they were supportive of anything I tried to do.

Dan: Oh, my family had a little front porch thing - Momma played piano and my Dad played guitar and sang. They were very big into the church, Dad was a song leader and Momma played the piano, that kind of deal. So both Dad and Momma loved music and were very supportive all the way through but the day before I started writing for Rick [Hall, producer] Dad said "You know son, I can get you a job. This whole music thing, I don't know if you can make a living at it." I said "Daddy, I've gotta try."
 

Q: So how did you guys first get involved with Tom Stafford at the SPAR studio?

Dan: Well, we were just what we all call 'hangin' out' at Tom's place and he was one of these visionary guys - he always said that we should have us a hit - well, that was easy for him to say! I always thought we were too green y'know. That all changed when Arthur [Alexander] came on the scene with "You Better Move On."  We all saw that he could have a hit.
 

Q: Before Arthur's record broke (in 1962), did having a hit record seem kind of like an 'untouchable' thing to you?

Dan: It was to me y'know. Everything on WLAC just sounded so good - all those blues records and what they were playing - and for myself I never considered what we were doing to be sounding good. Y'know, we didn't have a lot of equipment n'stuff at Tom's studio and I was pretty naive about that back then. My vision was kind of low down at that time 'cause our records always sounded strange, to me.
 

Q: I understand that there was a little friction between yourself and Rick Hall [SPAR producer and later founder of the FAME studio] which caused him to leave Tom's studio.

Dan: Well, I'll tell you how that happened. Rick Hall was always trying to change me - he didn't like the way I sang, the way I looked, didn't like my name.  So I just told Tom, "Look Tom, me and Rick. One of us has gotta go." Y'know, people when they don't know what they're doing - and are all that way - they do too much. So Rick changed my name - to Danny Lee, Lonnie Ray - he got me a 'process'! They put it [hair relaxer] all over and what was left was 'processed'! [Laughs] I was a real ugly kid!

So next thing I know, Rick's out - Tom said "I can't work with Rick, he's too demanding." I saw Rick on the street, he had a long piece of paper sticking out of his back pocket. I said "What you got in your back pocket, Rick?" He pulled it out and it had FAME written on it. I said "What does that mean?" and he said "Florence Alabama Musical Enterprises, it's my new publishing company."

Q: So Rick went on over and built himself a studio [Quinvy, co-owned by Quin Ivy, top local DJ] and that's were they cut "You Better Move On."  Spooner, I believe that you played something on that?

Spooner: Yeah, I think I overdubbed a Hammond organ along with the backing singers - to save time and space.

Dan: Mono on mono. That was in Rick's new studio - which was not the FAME studio that ended up 'cause he built another studio a few years later - and that's where we wrote. We didn't write much in the beginning because, at least on my part, there was a kind of hesitancy.
 

Q: Did you guys ever play together before starting to write with each other? Do you remember the first things you wrote together?

Dan: I never played sessions with Spooner. Every once in a while, people'll ask me about my guitar playing.  Now I'm not the greatest guitar player around, but it's good enough for what I do. Spooner now, he's played with everybody.

Spooner: I think neither of us recall the two or three songs we wrote first go-round, with the piano and guitar. Maybe we just sort of agreed on a concept of two people writing songs together, that sorta thing. I think the first record that I recall we did ourselves was "Let's Do It Over" [by Joe Simon, released on Vee Jay in 1965]. Of course, Dan had already written songs by himself...

Dan: I'd written "Rainbow Road" [later recorded by Arthur Alexander] with Donnie [Fritts]. With "Let's Do It Over," suddenly we had a record on the R&B charts and that was big and we never let up after that...

Spooner: We played in bands but different bands - I was in Hollis Dixon and the Keynotes and Dan was in the Mark V. There were two or three bands playing around on the weekends in the Florence area and I might have played with Dan, just filling in.  I don't remember.

Dan: I mean, we used to write together but we didn't get really tight until about '62, when Rick got his new studio [Quinvy] and I started to write for real. I kinda came back and buried the hatchet with Rick. He needed a writer and I needed a job - I was the perfect choice. He started paying me $25 a week and with playing on the weekend I was earning $70 a week - more than my Father - which was all you could ask for.
 

Q: At what point did you guys actually think that you could make a go of songwriting full time?

Dan: Well, I had the Conway Twitty record ["Is A Bluebird Blue?" which was a hit in 1960], which was mine alone. Y'know, my head got about this big [gesticulates]. I'm in junior High School and I got a top 20 record on a major artist - it was really strange y'know? So it took about six years to come down from that! [Laughs] During the four years with Rick I realized the facts - the facts were that all these songs I'd written I thought were great weren't worth a damn and I had to make adjustments if I wanted to make a songwriting career.  I had to adjust my thinking.

Me and Rick would always take reels of tapes to Nashville - to Chet Atkins and Mr Owen Bradley - and we take 'em in and they had us run the tape for 'em. [Dan imitates the sounds of an old tape machine being forwarded and played numerous times] Well, I'm getting highly pissed after ten songs of that and on the way back home I'm saying to Rick "Why didn't they listen to the whole damn songs?" and he said "I don't know!" [Laughs all round] He didn't have a clue! But I finally figured it out and one day changed direction and thought "I'm gonna start putting the title right up front!" So during that era the title - "Dark End Of The Street" it starts immediately, "I'm Your Puppet" is right in there - they just get 'em. Five, ten bars, that was my whole deal, the very beginning.
 

Q: What sort of audience were you aiming at?

Dan: Well, pretty much black but we didn't care which chart it was in. We were writing what we considered to be black songs at that time. One reason is that we had black artists, the other is that I was pretty steeped in it myself.  Spooner was pretty bad too - y'know, Bobby Bland, Ray Charles. I couldn't see any white people I was interested in...

Spooner: I remember once I went to a James Brown gig down at The [Memphis] Coliseum and I was dancing with my girlfriend. There were only about six white people there y'know, it didn't matter...

Dan: After I'd seen James Brown go down on his knees one time, that was it, I knew I couldn't do it any better! [Laughs]
 

Q: Why did you both move to work with Chips Moman at American Studios?

Dan: I went to Memphis in '66 - before that it was going pretty good in Muscle Shoals [site of Rick Hall's FAME studio]. We had wrote a hit ["I'm Your Puppet" recorded by James & Bobby Purify] and it just came to me that I wanted to produce records and I had this funny feeling that I could so I asked Rick but he tried to dissuade me from that. He needed songs, he didn't need another producer - looking at it forty years later, that's just the way it goes.

When I met Chips Moman we just hit it off so good. When I went to Memphis one of the reasons was that I liked him and I also felt that I could kind of be free - I was feeling a bit constrained there at FAME, at that point. I don't blame Rick - if it hadn't of been for Rick, I don't think any of us would've got off the floor.

Spooner: Well, y'know, Rick and I were always friends but we never talked much - it was kind of like a working relationship. Dan had been in Memphis about a year and my three year writer's contract was up and I decided that I was gonna stay there until Rick got another keyboard player, that was my take on it. So essentially I stayed there until the day Barry Beckett and I were walking over to the little market, getting some Pepsi Cola, and he said "Spooner, what do you think about me getting some session work?" I said "Hey, you can get all the work I got 'cause I'm moving to Memphis!" [Laughs all round]

Dan: You saw that door swing open!
 

Q: Were you still writing while Dan was away?

Spooner: I'm sure I wrote less than usual...

Dan: You were probably glad to get away from as much writing as we'd been doing - we were killing nights y'know. [laughs]
 

Q: When you were pulling the long nights working for Rick, was the love of the music more important than the financial end of things?

Dan: No, no. It was my job y'know, that's the way I always took it. We might have got to $100 a week in those four years and it was never for the love of doing it. I never did it for love, I always did it for money. I only did it 'cause it was the job I picked out to do - it was all the way back to Daddy, y'know, "I gotta try". I was just trying to give it 150%.
 

Q: You guys weren't just doing that on coffee and jelly beans were you?

Dan: Oh, jelly beans mostly - a lot of jelly beans [chuckles] especially those red and black ones! It was a truck driver's thing, y'know. You gotta get through, gotta haul the load, get there on time and you need to have a good disposition when you get there. Every truck stop in America was the most popular place.
 

Q: Was that where you hung out when you were a kid?

Dan: No, I don't know about Spooner's part of the country, but we used to hang around the courthouse square. There was none of that jellybean stuff then, just milk-toast [laughs]. A little later - when I got to writing songs - I appreciated a little of that too.
 

Q: When you write together, how do you split up the words and the music?

Dan: We've never done that - we don't see that...

Spooner: We do it together...

Dan: I've seen people do that and can't understand that. That is not any fun - that's not a fraternity, it's dividing up the goods. We never divide and that's not only me and Spooner, that's whoever he writes with and whoever I write with. Y'know, how you gonna say where the melody came from? How you gonna say who said that - who cares? We don't have to waste our time thinking about that 'cause that's a pity to do that. [Gestures towards Spooner] He might be the only one playing the music - I might be banging on a guitar or something - but I might be the one coming up with the melody. I might be singing and he may be the one giving me the words. I've seen these cats trying to get in on lawsuits saying "I put that..." - how do you know that if I hadn't been in the room whether he would've got it or not? Some people'll try to lay a claim to anything.

At some point - usually really early on in the game - we just kind of forget where it came from and now it's 'our song'. I don't know whether other people do this or not but it seems the only logical way to do it. We've got people that we just invited into the room to write with us and they didn't say a word but they still got their 30%. If they hadn't been there, who knows what would've happened? We just try and be good and fair about it.
 

Q: Dan, what can you tell me about your falling out with Chips?

Dan: We had understandings that were broken - on both sides - and basically we were just two people who couldn't live in the same pea pod. He was a very jealous cat, very talented but at the same time if you did something it was very easy for him to feel slighted. When we cut "The Letter," although he got rich, it was a sad day for him. It was probably the same deal as with Rick y'know, I mean he was cutting mini-hit records and I slipped in and cut the biggest one of that period - it freaked him out. I mean, you're Mr. Big Stuff and here comes Little Mr Big Stuff and he's got the biggest record - it was bad days y'know. I mean I was writing on the blackboard "Who's got the hit now?" [Chuckles] He was shooting darts at me and I was shooting 'em back, me and Tommy Cogbill [American session star] both.
 

Q: The Box Tops stuff has got some pretty outre production touches, particularly some of the panning on the stereo version of the Cry Like A Baby album...

Dan: Well, you go put on a Beatles record and it's mostly the same way - perhaps a little better.  We were more or less in the same ballpark when stereo hit. Y'know, we'd been making mono records, I was raised on a mono machine, and "The Letter" was a mono record. Well suddenly, in the middle of that, comes this stereo - down from New York, "We need this in stereo."  "Well what's that?"  "It's a stereo mix." We didn't know nuthin' y'know, we was just dummies about stuff like that, I'd never seen a stereo machine. I mixed it y'know but then it was like - ohh - put the drum over there and the bass over there [Gesticulates wildly]. I mean, how cool? Suddenly we were in another world. I mean, here's the record in mono and you use compressors and stuff to jam it all around - it was just magical the way mono worked, it's still one of my favourite ways to record, but now you got these places could lay stuff. At that point the singer was in the middle, so everything else goes dead-right or dead-left, there wasn't any pan pots - it stopped in the middle for some reason. You listen to anybody's records at that time and they've got like the whole string section on the left, not spread across as we do now. It was a very weird time...
 

Q: Some of the stuff you had Alex Chilton sing, for instance "I Met Her In Church" from The Box Tops' Non-Stop album, seem pretty odd choices of material.

Dan: Well, I consider "I Met Her In Church" a pretty serious song, 'course it was originally written as a girl song, for The Sweet Inspirations.
 

Q: A couple of years ago I talked to Jim Dickinson and his opinion was that Alex had been "oppressively produced" during his time with The Box Tops.  Any thoughts on that?

Dan: Yeah, well, we heard some of that. Basically, I resent that and don't like it. He was never oppressed in any way at American Studios by me. The only thing Alex has got any kicks about is that I didn't want to cut some of his stupid songs...
 

Q: Like "The Happy Song"?

Dan: Yeah, right [laughs] and I told him as much, it was for his own good. Y'know, later on, he wrote some better stupid songs with Big Star and they were pretty good. Y'know, everybody thought I crammed 'me' down his throat.  Not so.  I didn't coach him to sing like me. I might have said "Hey, just a tad more punch" or "a little more rough maybe?" and I did say "Say aeroplane, don't say airplane" but that's it. Everything else was pure Alex...

Well, I did the demo of "Cry Like A Baby" 'cause we'd wrote it that morning. "The Letter" was Wayne Carson. If we wrote it, I always sung the demo but it was never said "Alex, you gotta sing it like that." I mean, Alex was into R&B at the time, he wasn't stupid.  He was a damn good little singer. He got told in the easiest manner, he took instruction very well, but I don't know if he got screwed in dealing with Chips or not. All my records with Alex, I'm proud of the way I acted, I'm proud of the way he acted and I don't know what all these bitchin's are about. Jim Dickinson wasn' t there and he's guessing - he's a nice fella but he can get very negative. I'm tired of that Alex Chilton sob story.

Q: Spooner, were you still working at American after Dan left?

Dan: I don't think you were, were you?

Spooner: I don't think so. I think that - by that time - I had got married to Karen and we had moved to Los Angeles. I took up session work, continued writing - same old, same old just a different town. I must say that the move to L.A. was the most scary, the most freedom time - all of a sudden I felt like we're on our own turf. We were always playing in somebody else's studio and now we're on our own and it's kind of wonderful but scary and we had to find our own ways.
 

Q: So, Spooner, were you contracted to do session work at any one particular studio?

Spooner: No, it was just kind of luck. It was understood that I usually played keyboards at Rick's place and if, say, Aretha Franklin was in the studio Monday to Friday, then I would get a call.
 

Q: When did you guys first meet Quinton Claunch and Doc Russell of Goldwax Records?

Spooner: They brought their artists to FAME [studios] , as I recall...

Dan: They brought Spencer Wiggins, The Ovations, James Carr, maybe O.V. Wright - seems like O.V. cut most of his stuff in Memphis. We were familiar with Doc and Clinton because they came to FAME. I remember taking Doc Russell's '64 Caddy out to get hamburgers.

Yeah, I remember the night when I drove that big Caddy. Y'know, this is in the days when we just dreamed of Caddys. Like, I'd walk past this car lot where they had one, a silver '61 - it was Sonny James's that he had traded in - and I had a wish for that car but I couldn't get it.

I remember driving Doc's brand new, '64, black, four-door, hard top Caddy out to get burgers and coke or whatever. I was a good gopher at the studio, that's how I hung out at sessions that I had nothing to do with. I was a great gopher 'cause I was gonna be there, y'know, I had to be there 'cause tonight I was gonna learn something!

Spooner: You really had to be around in that environment. They, in a sense, were real players, real easy to be around...

Dan: I hung out but I had a purpose, I was watching every move they made at the controls, I was watching them produce. I studied them all that came through there, y'know, Mr Bill Lowery and Felton Jarvis they brought people like The Tams up. I didn't have a reason to be there - I didn't have a song on the session, I wasn't an engineer, I wasn't nothing - but I was there on the sessions because I didn't just come to watch the show or just to make $100 a week, I was trying to figure it out.

Y'know, after my band - David Briggs, Norbert Putnam and Jerry Carrigan - left and went to Nashville in '65, that's when I quit playing. I was like "O.K., they're gone, I don't wanna break in a new band. I'm gonna learn what you do in this building." I didn't play for another twenty five years after they left, I said "I'm gonna work in here and I don't even wanna play on the weekends."  And it worked great for me 'cause I'd gotten married and I'd been drunk a lot and it sobered me right up because I suddenly had to pay attention to what was happening.

Q: Do you remember where you were when you heard that Dr King had been shot?

Dan: I was in American Studios working on a Box Tops record. Chips called in and said "Dan, get outta there, they've shot Martin Luther King." By the time I was in the car and around the corner the air had already started to take on a meanness.

Q: Did things change quite a lot after Martin Luther King died? It seems that the whole musical situation was kind of idyllic in Memphis up until then.

Dan: That's right. Y'see, it was the very best place to be in America, maybe on the whole earth, at that time. Memphis was great for us, I mean, there was no tensions between races or whatever, it was all lovey-dovey but then, just like a guillotine, it separated.

Spooner: Nothing changed but everything changed.

Q: Did you used to hang out with the guys from Stax?

Dan: I went by several times, not much. I mostly went there for the awe of the place, you know, I'd just go there and "Phew!" [Exhales loudly] I remember going into the old theatre and it sloping down, it was all dark and the curtains still hanging with the control room up there. [Gestures across the room] It was just the best magic. As soon as you walked in the room it was like "Phew!"

Q: Were you impressed by the sound Stax was getting - even the early stuff before Tom Dowd cleaned the tape heads?

Dan: Yeah, well I was more impressed by the stuff they cut before Tom Dowd got down there- William Bell, Carla Thomas, that stuff's much softer. Y'know, I also like all the Sam & Dave and all of the classics they cut, distorted tho' they might be - ours were too!

Q: Dan, where was Beautiful Sounds [his Memphis studio during the 70's] situated?

Dan: It was over by the college. Really, when I left American [Studios], Spooner kinda left too and the two of us had had offices all over town throughout the time we worked with Chips [Moman]. Well, we'd moved our office over to a place called Ledworth, we'd had an office there about six months and the bank was looking for people to lend to.

Q: Not the Union Planters Bank by any chance? [Several staff members of this Memphis based bank were heavily implicated in irregular practices which led to the downfall of Stax Records at the end of the 1970's]

Dan: It was! [Laughs] It was no problem, they were like "Here's the money, whatever you want."  I had the first 16 track in Memphis. Spooner got married and went to LA about the time I got started, it took about six months to get it running. I cut my own "Nobody's Fool" record [Bell Records, 1973] in there but nothing that was too great, we did a record on B.J. Thomas that never came out.

We all got a little strung out and it sounded like it. We never got into heavy drugs, thank God, but that's what it became, heavy use of the most common drugs. Me, I was stoned and drunk and I didn't take care of business. Suddenly I had more bills than I had income from the studio and, anyway, I had to let it all go. Moman calls up and he wants the board so that went to American 'B' [Studio].

Q: The money side of things apart, that must've been a bit of a choker?

Dan: Yeah, I didn't feel good about letting him have my equipment but it never was mine, I didn't even pay for it, it was the bank's. [Laughs] By letting Moman have the board, I was able to keep the property. I kept it for quite a few years and rented it out to this jingle company, Pepper-Tanner, for four or so years. We moved to Nashville, had to get out of Memphis, couldn't take it no more.

Q: On the "Skin" monologue from your Nobody's Fool album, you sound quite disgusted by the way things had turned out by that time - between black and white and different factions of the population.

Dan: [reflectively] Yeah, probably. At that time I was pretty confused about it all and I was down on everybody, me too. It didn't work out the way I'd planned it, I thought we were all in on it - a nice world y'know, where we could all live together and be friends, but it didn't turn out that way at all.

Q: How old would you have been at that time?

Dan: I would have been about 26 when I cut "The Letter" so I would've been about in my early 30's.

Q: Spooner, did you have a good or bad experience playing and living out in LA? You played on Gene Clark's (very wonderful) No Other album didn't you?

Spooner: [Answer mostly obscured by noisy tourists at the other end of the room!] It was sort of interesting for a while, California and all that... I made a pretty smooth transition... I never seen any drugs but I got stoned y'know...

Dan: [Laughs] They must've been giving 'em to you when you weren't looking! [More laughter]

Spooner: Old Gene, he's dead and gone but I liked him a whole lot. I played on a lot of Warner Brothers sessions, producers would call me for sessions like Ry Cooder's stuff.

Dan: Played on Jim Croce's too didn't you?

Spooner: Yeah, that was kind of an unknown thing. It took me a couple of years to figure out who it was 'cause I never met the man, he just stayed back there. I played with Bob Dylan on two albums, they were "Saved", his gospel album, and - that might be all it was, I don't remember. I toured with him for about a year and a half, the whole superstar thing with the arenas, that was interesting to see. The stuff he had to go through, personally... [Damn tourists again!]...it was just like a procession of cars, a caravan really.

Q: There's a guy I've heard of from Scotland who claims to have around four hundred versions of your compositions on tape or record. Do you have any idea of how many of your songs have been recorded?

Dan: I don't know - do you know?

Spooner: I haven't got a clue! [Laughs all round]

Dan: Written songs, I'd take a guess and say that we probably wrote four or five hundred songs together, what do you think Spoon?

Spooner: Yeah, maybe.

Dan: Not demos y'know. When we had a deal we published a couple of hundred...

Spooner: Uh-huh...

Dan: ...threw away a couple of hundred. [For the record, the BMI website database lists 321 titles for Dan and 255 titles for Spooner] I mean a lotta nights we'd just go "Fwoosh!" [Raises hand like a plane lifting off] Somehow or another there's always been a few things that even we didn't know about. We had a way of writing; we would write songs and hold 'em up and let 'em fall on the floor and that's where we left 'em. Then the people who came in would read 'em and "They did pretty good last night!" [Chuckles] That's kinda been me and Spooner, we've just always let 'em fall to the floor. The lyric never mattered, it was our way to say that it was always the music. I know lyrics matter but they never mattered to me! [Laughs]

Q: Now that you've made said that, I've gotta ask you about the flipside of your "Nobody's Fool" 45, the curious "Buckaroo Bill."

Dan: Oh, "Buckaroo Bill, might as well have been killed!" [Laughs] That was during that Beautiful Sounds period, y'know, [cryptically] "Buckaroo Bill was riding right on through!"

Q: How come the "Nobody's Fool" and "If Love Was Money" 45's came out on Happy Tiger? Did they precede the Nobody's Fool album?

Dan: Yeah. Well, that deal fell through. [Chuckles] These deals are hard to hold against the boys. That was true back then and even more now!

Q: How did the deal with Sire [That resulted in 1994's Do Right Man] come about?

Dan: Well, I don't know. I wasn't too happy about it, I couldn't change one thing in the contract and my lawyer spent a whole year trying. That's pretty one-sided. That was the part I was unhappy about. They paid well, they paid the studio, they paid me O.K. I was unhappy that I couldn't get a few things contractually on my side. When it came to putting them in the stores.  It was that same old thing, been in all the stores, couldn't get 'em. I came to England four or five years ago, I called 'em up six weeks before I left and said "Make sure you got records in England, we can sell records" and they went "O.K.". I come to England and there's no records, there's no representatives, there's no nuthin'. So it appeared to me I was just a notch on a gun, "We've got Dan Penn and dah, dah, dah..." [Makes as if he's check off a long list]. You know how it is, a lot of people are like that, they treat people like notches on guns. Ahh, I hate that worst of all.

Joe McEwen, the guy who got the deal, came to the Bottom Line show [Dan & Spooner's first onstage appearance in 25 years, which took place in 1994] and when we got around to making the contract it wasn't just how we talked it over. I wasn't supposed to have any production help, I didn't need any more ideas. Although George Drakoulias was a cool guy we could've done without him.

Q: Was it a good experience seeing the old Muscle Shoals crowd again?

Dan: Oh yeah, just that made it worthwhile. We ate a lotta chocolate pie. [Chuckles]

Q: You played a song called "Spend Some Time With The Old Folks" on Sunday, is it new?

Dan: That's about twenty years old! [Laughs]

Q: What about "Dan's Holiday"?

Dan: Well, that's Nick's [Bucketful of Brains editor] name for it, it's called "I Need A Holiday" and it was written with Chuck Prophet [Green On Red, etc]. Me and Chuck's been writing a little bit, he's been coming down to Nashville. He's a very good writer...

Spooner: "The Lord Loves A Rolling Stone", that we wrote twenty five years ago, Dan's gonna make me do that tonight...

Dan: [Chuckles] Oh, "The Lord Loves A Rolling Stone", it's just one of them old songs we wrote - in L.A. I believe. I mean, we're gonna continue writing. We take our sojourns away from each other - y'know, every so often, one of us'll go this way, one of us'll go that way.  But we always get back together. We're always looking forward to the next time. We're going to Australia together, mid-February thru March, us and the girls [Linda & Karen] so we're gonna play a few clubs over there and look for boomerangs. [Chuckles] We've always done had some fun.

Q: What do you think the future holds, as far as recording goes? Have you got your basement studio finished Dan?

Dan: I've got mine finished, Spooner's about to get his finished - everybody's got a studio now.

Q: Haven't you been doing something with Irma Thomas too?

Dan: I've been writing some for Irma, yeah.

Q: I've heard her bar in New Orleans is great...

Dan: Yeah, I went down to New Orleans and heard her one night, real, real funky but good!

Q: Apart from Chuck, who you've already mentioned, who else do you rate nowadays?

Dan: Oh, I hear people all the time. I couldn't name you any names but I hear stuff on the radio and think "Man, I wish we could do that!"
 



 

With that Dan and Spooner departed to ready themselves for that night's packed-out gig at London's Borderline club, where homegrown musical 'luminaries' - such as Bobby Gillespie and Liam Gallagher - went unmolested as the crowd focused their eyes and hearts squarely towards the stage.

S'funny the things you regret. I didn't press Dan and Spooner too much about James Carr; I didn't ask Dan the story behind his shelved 70's album Emmet The Singing Ranger, Live In The Woods; I didn't inquire about Elvis at American Studios and I wish that my dictaphone had picked up half of Spooner's softly-spoken comments, obscured as they were by some touristas at the other end of the room. Oh well... another time...

Pictures courtesy of Proper Records, who released Dan & Spooner's excellent live set, Moments From This Theatre, details of which can be found on the web at www.proper-records.co.uk.
 
 


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