Saturday, August 23, 2014

Country Club 52: Bloodshot Eyes from Western Swing to Jump Blues

Hank Penny was a Western Swing musician from the late 1930s to the 1970s with an affinity for jazz (and comedy). He employed jazz-oriented sidemen like Jimmy Wyble, Benny Garcia, and Noel Boggs, as well as Merle Travis. He even recorded "Hillbilly Be-Bop" for King Records in 1949. In 1950, he wrote a hit "BloodShot Eyes," which became a souped-up jump blues hit for Wynonie Harris a year later. He had a long stretch in Las Vegas and worked for a while at a Wichita radio station.

Let's start with the Penny original.

And, here is Harris.

Both Penny and Harris were largely performing on the West Coast at the time, but they recorded for Cincinnati-based King Records, which specialized in "hillbilly" and "race" records and encouraged the sharing of songs between the two sides of the label.

There is a chapter on Penny in Rich Kienzle's 2003 book "Southwest Shuffle: Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing and Country Jazz."

And, this fascinating article "Hank Penny's Cowboy Swing" by Burgin Matthews and "Forgotten Artists: Hank Penny" by Paul W. Dennis are also recommended.

There are a number of CDs of Penny's career which would be worth checking out.

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