Dusting Off Dan's Demos

UK Record Store Day Exclusive 2023

Dusting Off Dan's Demos

August 5, 2023
Malcolm Mills

On a trip through the USA many years ago, fortune smiled on me during a stay in Nashville when I got involved with Dan Penn to develop his idea for a recording project.  There’s a good yarn there which I’ll save for another day, while I jump straight to the story behind Dan’s previously unheard session demos being dusted off for release.  Normally, these private recordings would not be made commercially available, but the time has come to make them public because they are simply too good to remain unheard.

Back in 2004 when Dan and his colleagues Carson Whitsett and Bucky Lindsey wanted to ride the wave that they had created having provided Solomon Burke with his Grammy Award winning comeback hit “Don’t Give Up On Me”, the trio set aside quality time and headed south to various suitable haunts on the Gulf coast of Alabama and Florida and a fishing shack in Louisiana for some dedicated days of songwriting and soulful southern eating.  The demos they recorded during these incredibly fruitful songwriting sessions feature Dan’s voice at its best, captured immediately in the moment of creativity as all three men successfully summon the songwriting gods.

The ten songs on this demo tape became the blueprint for Bobby Purify’s “Better To Have It” album, because consequently, having been reacquainted with Ben Moore (a.k.a Bobby Purify) in 2003, Dan had instantly identified him as the ideal singer of this material for the next record he wanted to produce.  So, back home in his Nashville studio armed with this fine clutch of songs, he recruited friends and associates to provide the backing for Bobby, where over the course of a couple of weeks they cut enough tracks for an album based on these ten gems.  The beating heart of the recordings was formed by an A-list of southern soul sessioneers including Carson Whitsett, Spooner Oldham, Reggie Young, Jimmie Johnson, David Hood, Wayne Jackson, and Bryan Owings.  The great Jerry Wexler loved what he heard so much that he wrote the sleeve notes for Bobby’s record when it was released in 2005.  Again, that’s a tale for another day.

Dan Penn’s story will be well known to anyone reading these notes, but it was in the 1970s that he Carson and Bucky converged in Nashville.  It was where the action was.  The late great Mississippi keyboardist (James) Carson Whitsett originally hailed from Jackson.  He had already known Dan from his time in Memphis, when early on in his career, he joined Stax Records as a session musician and recorded an album, replacing Booker T of The MGs.  After his time in Memphis, he returned to Jackson as the musical director and keyboardist for Malaco Records, performing on Dorothy Moore’s Misty Blue and many of the label’s biggest albums including those by Z.Z. Hill, Bobby 'Blue' Bland, B.B. King, Little Milton, and Johnnie Taylor, before settling in Nashville and spending more time songwriting.  His songs have been recorded by artists including The Staple Singers, Conway Twitty, Barbara Mandrell, Wilson Pickett, and Jerry Butler.  He was also a touring musician, having worked internationally over the years with Tony Joe White and Kathy Mattea among others. Carson died in 2007.  Dan still considers him one of the finest musicians he has ever known.  Singer/songwriter and bassist Hoy “Bucky” Lindsey spent his formative years in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Taking to the life of a musician like a duck to water, he toured extensively as a bassist and featured vocalist with the bands of Ray Price, Little Jimmy Dickens, and Lonnie Mack, among others.  Encouraged to write by Shel Silverstein, he hopped in a car with Popeye Phillips and headed to Nashville in the mid-1970s.  A few years later, another Burrito Brother, Chris Etheridge would introduce him to Dan Penn, with whom he would form a lasting friendship and co-write many songs.  Lindsey’s songs have been recorded by artists as diverse as George Jones, Joe Cocker, Lonnie Mack, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dr. Hook, and The Flying Burrito Brothers.  Bucky’s own album “Back Bay Blues” was produced by Dan Penn in 2002 and believe me, it’s worth checking out.