Born Allen Richard Penner, 1936, Chicago, Illinois

Dick Penner had two releases on Sun, one solo single and one as half of a duo. However, he is probably best known as the co-writer of "Ooby Dooby", Roy Orbison's immortal rockabilly classic. Born in Chicago, Dick was raised in Dallas, Texas, where the Penner family went to live in 1937. He acquired an early liking for counrtry music and by age 16 he had taken up the guitar. His musical career started in 1953 at the 'Big D' Jamboree in Dallas where Dick and his partner Dave Young performed Johnny & Jack songs and comedy routines. In 1954 Penner enrolled in North Texas State College in Denton where he met Wade Moore. Together they wrote "Ooby Dooby" in February 1955. "Wade and I took a six pack of beer onto the flat roof of the fraternity house and it took us three minutes", Penner told Dominique Anglares. (Fifteen minutes in another version of the story.) The song came to the attention of fellow student Roy Orbison, who recorded a demo of the song with his band, the Wink Westerners, and sent it to Columbia Records. The label was not interested in Orbison, but pitched the song to Sid King and the Five Strings, who recorded it on March 5, 1956, in Dallas. According to most available sources, Roy cut "Ooby Dooby" himself one day earlier, on March 4. If this is correct, the tiny Je-Wel label must have done a real rush job with the record, because by the time Roy rerecorded the song for Sun (March 27, only 23 days later), the record had not only been released, but already attracted the attention of Sam Phillips at Sun. But it is not impossible. Sam issued the Sun version of "Ooby Dooby" in May, after releasing the under-age Orbison from his Je-Wel contract. It peaked at # 59 on Billboard's pop charts and was covered by Janis Martin for RCA. There were later versions by Jerry Lee Lewis (recorded September 1957, but unissued until the early 70s), Matt Lucas and Creedence Clearwater Revival, among others. Wade and Dick were signed to Sun in September 1956 and had their only joint session on December 16 of that year. The result was the single "Bop Bop Baby"/"Don't Need Your Lovin' Baby" (Sun 269, issued in April 1957), credited to "Wade and Dick, the College Kids". "Bop Bop Baby" (unusual because of its minor key) was used on the soundtrack of the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk the Line", where it is played on the car radio in the spring of 1956 (!) "Don't Need Your Lovin' Baby" is really a solo vehicle for Penner. An alternate version came out under his own name on two different Sun compilations.

Before the single had been released, Penner returned to the Sun studio by himself on February 16, 1957. At least five sides were cut, but only "Cindy Lou" and "Your Honey Love" were released at the time (Sun 282), unfortunately for Penner on the same day (November 3, 1957) as "Great Balls Of Fire", which got all the promotion from Sun. The melody of "Cindy Lou" is remarkable, as it does not have any chord changes. Very few songs are performed in a single chord. The strident guitar player on this track is Don Gilliland. Two other songs from this session, "Fine Little Baby" and "Move Baby Move" were issued on a French Sun single in the mid-1970s (Sun 615) and in 1995, "Someday Baby" turned up on the CD "Unissued Sun Masters" (Charly CPCD 8137).

Dick Penner quickly accepted that he was not cut out for the music business and opted for an academic career instead. He finished up as a Professor of English literature at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, now retired.

Acknowledgements / more info :
The second part of this piece, by Dominique Anglares, was published in somewhat different form in Now Dig This, issue 305 (August 2008) under the title "Ooby Dooby! Dick Penner visits Paris".

See also Terry Gordon's website:


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