Have You Heard Dick Penner's Song?
For sure, lots of us enjoyed the movie "Walk The Line" but how many had noticed all those '50s
Sun recordings played in the background like by Billy Lee Riley or Dick Penner? I wonder how many
watchers noticed "Be Bop Baby" sung by Dick Penner and Wade Moore? That record was issued by Sam
Phillips, in April 1957, under the name of Wade and Dick "The College Kids", but their contribution to
the Sun Sound was more important than you might believe as they were the composers of "Ooby Dooby". Let
me tell you Dick Penner's story.
Dick Penner was born in Chicago (IL) in 1936 shortly before his family moved to Texas. He was
enrolled to the North Texas State University in Denton (TX) where he would meet, in 1955, Wade Moore.
That university was a real cradle of rock'n'roll as among the pupils were Roy Orbison, The Strikes
and even Pat Boone. In February 1955, they would compose "Ooby Dooby" but nothing happened even if
Roy Orbison had recorded the song. That demo was sent to Don Law, a Columbia records representative,
in vain. Roy and The Teens Kings would however perform that song on stage and soon Weldon Rodgers,
himself a great singer, wanted to set a session at Norman Petty's studio in December 1955. "Ooby
Dooby" b/w "Tryin' to Get to You" will be issued on JE-WEL 101. That label was named after the first
letters JEan Olivier (daughter of Weldon's label associate) and WELdon. The record was manufactured
in Phoenix (AR) and, in spite of good sales, Roy Orbison was still lookin' around for fame and
fortune on a major label.
At last, Roy's demo or record came between the hands of Sid King and The Five Strings who recorded
the song, for Columbia, on 5th March 1956. The session was set in Dallas and worked fine. One month
earlier, as the same band had covered Carl Perkins "Blue Suede Shoes", Sam Phillips should have
watching for their next record. In spite of the JE-WEL contract, Sam Phillips takes on Roy and his
band. A battle followed in court and the JE-WEL contract was cancelled as it was not signed by Roy's folks
because he was still underage. The JE-WEL records had to be pulled from the records shop too.
That's now a real rare record often bootlegged. So be aware if you are looking for one vintage copy.
On 27th March 1956, a Roy Orbison session was set at 706 Union Avenue but Sam Phillips as was
disappointed by the result, he gave a phone call to Weldon Rogers in order to buy the JE-WEL master.
Weldon asked for a high price so Sam Phillips issued what he got on the Sun 242. In June 1956,
"Ooby Dooby" climbed to the 59th on Billboard's Hot 100 and would sell quickly over 500,000 copies. Some
covers wouldfollow, the better being recorded by Rockabilly Queen Janis Martin for RCA records.
The "Ooby Dooby" success leads Sam Phillips to sign Dick Penner and Wade Moore on his label. On 16th
September 1956, they would record "Bop Bop Baby" soon issued on Sun 269. That"s that song you heard
in "Walk The Line"!
A solo session would be set for Dick Penner on 19th February 1957 and "Cindy Lou" b/w "Your Honey
Love" would be his last record on the legendary Memphis label. Not really - as in the mid 70's, two
unissued songs "Fine Little Baby" b/w "Move Baby Move" were legally issued in France with the Sun
label (Sun 615). Since then Dick Penner's recorded work is featured on countless Rockabilly records and
even a new vinyl single on Norton label offer "Move Baby Move" in 2005.
In 1958, Dick Penner, then with a record on his own, would be on the Louisiana Hayride, at The Big D
Jamboree and even on Dick Clark's show. But he soon made the choice to go back to the University
and to become teacher. Now Dick is retired but is music is still played worldwide.
It was cool to heard him in "Walk The Line" 'cause behind the Sun's Kings there was a lot of foot
soldiers who deserve more recognition for their valuable work. Among them Billy Lee Riley, Mack Self
and Kenny Parchman to name a few. Let's enjoy the musical work of those "unknown legends" and Rock for
one more century.
Dominique "Imperial" Anglares
Brest Rock"n"Roll Appreciation Society.
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