|Joe Penny, Bip A Little, Bop A Lot
Surely most of us rockabillies remember Joe Penny best from his solitary 1958 Federal single "Bip A Little, Bop A Lot" b/w "Mercy, Mercy, Percy", which was re-released on several rockabilly compilations over the years, but Joe was in the music business long before and long after that. Joe Pennington was born on January 15th, 1928, the youngest of eight children (five of which died of childhood diseases) to Gary W. Pennington and Mamie Delaney of Plant City, Fla. His mother was a music lover ands she taught her son to play the major chords on the guitar at the age of 10. He was about 16 years of age when he played in his first band Sons Of The South, a group Joe met in Norfolk, Va. while visiting his sister.
By 1946, Joe was performing with a swing band in San Angelo, Tx., called Dub Adams & The K-Bar Ranch Hands. He would play with several bands over the years, not knowing the effect that some of them would have on his life for years to come. He met up with a guy named Clyde Chriswell in Tampa who hooked Joe up with Hank Williams. He joined Hank Williams' Drifting Cowboys for $7 a show, while living at the boarding house Hank's mother Lilly Stone owned in Montgomery. Hank nicknamed him "Little Joe Pennington", due to his small stature, but Joe later changed his stage name to Joe Penny, because he thought a shorter name would sound more professional. He joined the Navy in 1949 and when word got out he was a mean guitar player, the chief bandmaster at North Island Naval Air Station sent for him to join their dance band. In the early fifties Joe played many shows with many country music greats like Al Rodgers, Lefty Frizzell and Little Jimmy Dickens. Penny's song "Don't fall In Love With A Married man" was recorded by Jean Shepard on the Capitol label in 1954.
In 1955 the former country singer began writing songs with a beat. He traveled to Memphis to present Sam Phillips of Sun Records with a couple of his songs for newcomer Elvis Presley, but Penny's material was rejected. He returned to Evansville, Ind. where he had a part time job as a disc jockey and he played the new and un-heralded Presley records. With his radio work, Penny hosted and performed on Indiana television's Hoosier Jamboree in 1958. It was during that year Joe and his band traveled to Cincinnati's King Studios to cut a record for its subsidiary Federal label. "Bip A Little, Bop A Lot" and "Mercy, Mercy, Percy" were the results.
In the 60s Joe returned to Florida, where he was a DJ and a part-time country music performer and landed briefly on the country charts in 1962 with "Frosty Window Pane". Due to a near-fatal accident he turned to gospel music. Limited autographed copies of his gospel tape "Growing Old With God" are available directly from Joe on a first-come first-served basis. In 1978, a friend of Joe's called to tell him that his raucous vibrant song "Bip A Little, Bop A Lot" had been included on a rockabilly re-release album "King-Federal Rockabillys" on the Nashville based Gusto label. That was quite a surprise for Joe, who had never achieved fame with any of his rock or country songs.
Joe is now retired and lives with his 44 year old wife Frankie in Plant City, Fla. He still provides songs and music for a number of churches, an occasional nursing home, and even stage concerts. He was inducted in the Rockabilly hall Of Fame in 2001. Joe has released a cassette tape titled "A Tribute To Hank Williams", all of the song are written and performed by Joe Pennington in the sound of the Hank tradition. He has also written a book titled "Lookin' Back On Hank" that describes his time with Hank Williams and the other country music greats that he has performed with.
Courtesy of Bippin' Joe Pennington
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