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Monday, August 27, 2007

Hank Penny - Missouri

I need to do a Dreamtime episode on the Western Swing phenomena of the `40s and `50s, which has just a ton of great subject matter and characters to write about, including Carolina Cotton - "the Yodelin' Blonde Bombshell" - who you can see on bass in this clip, and Spade Cooley, the King of Western Swing, whose life played out like a James Ellroy noir novel.

Here we have the Deuce Spriggins Orchestra, featuring Hank Penny, doing Missouri. Spriggins - real name George Braunsdorf - and Cotton (Helen Hagstrom) were secretly married in 1945, and left Spade Cooley's band that same year, taking many of Cooley's musicians with them to form their own band. Spriggins and Cotton would be divorced the following year, with few people knowing that they had been married.

Hank Penny, whose 1950s hit Bloodshot Eyes was featured on Dreamtime 39, was born Herbert Clayton Penny on September 18, 1918, in Birmingham, AL. By the age of 15, he was performing professionally on local radio, and had formed his own band, The Radio Cowboys, before he turned 18.

By the mid-'40s, Penny was in Los Angeles, and had been recruited to front one of the pseudo-Spade Cooley bands that were operating throughout the country. Cooley's popularity was at such a height during the 1940s that the real Spade Cooley Orchestra couldn't fill all its bookings, so Cooley's manager simply formed several more Western Swing bands and sent them on the road under the Spade Cooley brand.

After later stints as band leader, deejay, and club owner, Penny joined Cooley's wildly popular television program in 1948 as a comic backwoods type known as "That Plain Ol' Country Boy." A year later, Penny cut Hillbilly Bebop, an attempt to reclaim the audience Western Swing was losing to the new bop music, and the more successful hit of 1950, Bloodshot Eyes.

Penny later would become a co-owner of the legendary Palomino Club, hosted his own television series, The Hank Penny Show, which was canceled after only a few weeks, and have a much more successful seven-year run at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas. He'd later moved to Nashville, and audition for the hosting slot of Hee Haw, a job he'd lose to Roy Clark. He passed away in 1992.*

*Note: Hank's widow, Shari, was kind enough to contact me with the correct dates of Hank's birth and death and I've edited the post to reflect those dates  Shari notes that the Hank Penny official web site will be online within the month, and we'll link to it when it goes live.  Thank you, Shari!

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