Dawn Penn, Outer Banks

Netflix’s Outer Banks and Dawn Penn?

The popular series Outer Banks has just released season three on Netflix and as my son was watching the show, I was pretty pleased and surprised to hear a few Jamaican classics. First of all, the Melodians’ tune “Rivers of Babylon” features in the first episode as the cast(aways) find themselves on a deserted island. The next tune was “You Don’t Love Me (No No No)” by Dawn Penn, so thought I would offer up her own words on this song. You can read all about Dawn Penn in my book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, as well as dozens of others; and the women of ska in the UK in my forthcoming book, Rude Girls: Women in 2 Tone and One Step Beyond which drops on March 8th, International Women’s Day! Order here!

Dawn Penn writes in her book, Story of My Life, “I had some friends who visited Studio One regularly including my friend Cherry who got married to Tyrone Evans of the Paragons and one Sunday in 1967 I followed them there and did an audition. I sang, ‘You Don’t Love Me, ‘ and Mr. Dodd said I had a jazzy voice. He gave me some tips on how I should sing the song and said that I should return the following day to record. Musically, Jackie Mittoo and I arranged the music for the song using major 9th, augmented and diminished chords. I was sitting beside him on the seat as he put them in to make the chords sound fat and big. Johnny Moore arranged his solo part that he played on coronet. Nonetheless I was set to do this track backed by Tommy McCook and the Skatalites including Lloyd Brevett who stood and played his string bass while Roland Alphonso played his saxophone. Also in the recording, the band made a mistake—they should have changed the progression chords and they didn’t. It didn’t sound too noticeable and they kept it instead of starting all over.”

She elaborated on this further during a conversation I had with her in the spring of 2014. “If you know music, and you know the song, you will figure it out. The band was playing the theme because in those days, when we record, everyone has to be on the same page. Everyone had to listen to each other. If there was any mistake you have to start from scratch, start from the beginning. They play the song but they construct part of the song with bridges where they are supposed to change the chord and the song they didn’t change the chord there. We just ride it out. Johnny Moore, who played the solo, he never got paid either and he was saving up but he had a problem with his girlfriend and that’s why he played like that.” Dawn says that an argument with his girlfriend over finances distracted Moore from the chord change. “My woman and I may have had a problem that is why I played the horn the way I did,” Dawn quotes Johnny Moore as telling her.

Penn told me about this song, and others, and how the producers exploited them for profit, which is widely known today. “I moved to Prince Buster’s place and did one of my original material, ‘Blue Yes Blue’ written by me alone. The saxophonist was Mr. Val Bennett and Gladdie (Gladstone Anderson) on keyboard, a pick up studio band with Lyn Taitt they later called themselves The Jets. On another note I played the violin on one of my original track called ‘Here’s the Key’ recorded for Prince Buster as well. I went to Duke Reid’s studio at Bond Street. He had a liquor store managed by his wife and he was doing an album project with Phyllis Dillon from Linstead. At the time I had a song, ‘I Just Can’t Forget About You,’ this she sang, and I sang, ‘Why Did You Lie,’ my originals. Boris Gardiner was playing in the session and Boris and I, along with the band, created an instrumental track called ‘Moody Ska.” Mr. Reid was an ex-policeman and he wore twelve rings on his ten fingers. If you were not recording or singing as you should, he would just fire some gun shots and the scare alone would make you neither miss the key note nor the words. Also if you sang a hit he would follow the same procedure, plus he had his police friends visiting him from time to time. He also had a lot of pigeons living at the balcony on the roof of his building. Loads of singers were there including Alton Ellis and the Flames, the Jamaicans, the Melodians, and many more. I always went to record for Prince Buster. Prince Buster hasn’t paid me either. And his lawyer is saying to prove that I am the writer of the songs. Prince Buster put his name like he wrote the songs I sung for him. He never did write no songs for me though. And you know what Coxsone told me? Coxsone told me he wrote ‘No No No’ and he put his name and then I put my name on it,” she says. “

No No No (You Don’t Love Me)” was Penn’s most successful song, recorded in 1967 for Studio One. “Because I was a woman, I haven’t got any royalties from all these years I did ska and rocksteady and all this different music. We didn’t treat our music as a business so we never had a manager, knew about publishing and all these things so it was a problem. We never knew until 20 or 30 years later that it went worldwide. We were never getting royalties or anything like that.”

I only hope that Ms. Penn receives some royalties now, as her song has reached global audiences, including a whole new one with the Outer Banks.