is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

JP Pennington Talks Squirrels, Exile and The City

“Chet Atkins advised me to learn where to play and where not to play. Speak - don't shout.” – JP Pennington

JP Pennington has been busy performing music for decades as founder the group Exile, he’s written a ton of songs, traveled all over the world and among his many accolades was named BMI’s Writer of the Year in 1986, but as a member of my new favorite band, The Squirrels -- a group of extraordinary local musicians that play a lil something of everything -- I wondered just what else he’s been up to lately?  When I caught up with him recently, I found, not surprisingly, he's definitely staying busy.

Pennington tells me, “I just finished recording a song I wrote with Charlie Crowe that looks like it’s going to be the title song of a major film. I can't divulge any specific details about it at this time, but it looks promising. The only thing I can tell is that the film is about a lady cop who develops a strong affinity for child victims of meth busts. The script was so inspiring that the song pretty much wrote itself.” 

I've also just finished holding my first workshop for advanced electric guitar. It is something I've always wanted to do but could never decide on a particular method in which I wanted to present it. I decided to teach mainly licks with a few rhythm techniques thrown in. I discovered that this is what a lot of guitar players want as opposed to teaching specific songs or a lot of boring theory. I probably enjoyed it more than my students from the gratification I got from it, although their feedback has been very humbling.

For info on guitar workshop, contact
He has also written an instrumental song for The Squirrels “that I'm excited about having the band learn. No title yet. It's a Tommy Emmanuel kind of song, as if I could even think about mentioning myself in the same breath as him. His playing is wonderful beyond description. I could only hope to be able to bow at his feet someday.”

Although The Squirrels have been together for a couple of years or so, JP says he was invited to sit in about a year ago, “and loved it. I'm kind of a floating member because of my association with Exile. So far, I've managed to make being in two bands work. Actually, I also play in my daughter Jessie's band, The City. Whew!”

The Squirrels have such a diverse repertoire, it’s hard to precisely define their music.  On any given night, you can hear them perform easy breezy tunes reminiscent of Chet Atkins and Rosemary Clooney, songs like On The Street Where You Live, My Baby Thinks He's A Train, I'll Fly Away, Fever, Sweet Georgia Brown, to name just a few.  “We try to pick older songs that feel good to us and not be concerned by their genre. What brought us together was our common interest in swing music, but it's kind of morphed into what we call hillbilly music. A band is usually the last and most inaccurate when trying to label its own music. It's kind of a 'forest for the trees' kind of thing. Especially when we're not all that concerned about what it's called. We just pick the songs and play them.”

The Squirrels are: 
Roger BonDurant, guitar, vocal
Wanda Barnett, fiddle, guitar, vocal
Bob Goff, bass, back vocal
Rex Hart, drums, vocal
JD Miller and/or Steve Lyon, piano, vocal
Ronnie Parker, steel

(*Stay tuned to KimmyVille for updates on The Squirrels - I promise to let you know as soon as I know when they are playing at a venue near you ;-)

Down the road...
When asked to consider where he sees himself in 5 or 10 years, JP answered in his typical humble fashion: "Singing, writing and teaching…hopefully being better at each. I hope I still have the desire to grow that I have now."

In the beginning...
I wondered what his first instrument and/or song he ever played? "I was so young it's hard to remember, but I guess it must have been Chopsticks on piano and Wildwood Flower on guitar. I was 4 or 5."

Favorite music...

I asked the age old question, if he were on a deserted island and only had 4 albums to listen to, which would he choose, and interestingly, he listed the following, four recordings that anyone would enjoy:

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

"Elton John's first album - the one with Your Song"

"Whatever the album is that has Leonard Bernstein performing Rhapsody In Blue with whatever orchestra that was, and

The Last Waltz or any album by The Band."

Famous folks
In his storied career, he has met plenty of celebrities, but I wondered who had he admired the most, who left a lasting impression upon him.

Merle Haggard told me he wasn't all that familiar with our music, but his daughter, June, liked us.”

Chet Atkins advised me to learn where to play and where not to play. Speak - don't shout.

Pennington says he also admired an underrated artist whose comedic schtick essentially eclipsed his musicianship. “Jerry Reed didn't have an ass - he played it off! Nice guy and supportive of Exile.

Met Dennis Hopper at one of the Farm Aids. I quoted one of his lines as Frank Booth from Blue Velvet and he didn't get it. Thought I was nuts! Embarrassing!”

Played golf with Rick Dees in L.A. He liked my line, 'Grandpa put his dentures in backwards and ate himself!'  Used it on the air!”

Giving props to a famous rocker, he offered a refreshing tidbit about the newest and increasingly popular American Idol panelist. “Steven Tyler was the only member of Aerosmith that spoke to us and encouraged us when we toured with them.

With the wisdom that comes with a career blessed with poise and acceptance, Pennington points out, “As a general rule, I don't introduce myself to celebrities. Too many times I've done it only to have my bubble popped. I'd rather keep them in a place where I still like and respect them. It’s a shame that a few ruin it for others.” 


Secret talent:  As a multi-talented singer songwriter guitarist extraordinaire, it's good to know that Pennington, indeed, has a secret talent to share here.  “I can do a pretty good helicopter sound,” he admits.

It's refreshing to know that after all the seasons of success and the fleeting joy that fame can bring, JP Pennington remains humble and not the least bit jaded -- his music is better than ever, and this guitar hero is still one of Kentucky's best musical ambassadors.


New music by EXILE:

It was recently announced that a new five-song EP of new Exile material will be released in the next few weeks. 

According to their website 

“When we re-formed a couple of years ago, we thought it would be natural to continue the Exile saga of original music. So, we went into the studio and recorded five new tracks, four co-written by Exile writers JP, Sonny and Les, plus a remake of an R&B classic! The disc will be entitled "People Get Ready,” and will feature the title song, which we've received tons of requests for; the concert favorite "Bread On The Table," and three more never-released songs.  The material, along with more Exile merchandise, will soon be available on this website, as well as at Exile live shows. We're also in negotiations with various independent record labels for wider distribution. Initially, the EP will be released on Exile's new record Records. We'll let everyone know when the material will be available-we can't wait for our fans to hear the new songs!


Singer Songwriter, Guitarist exemplar - JP Pennington

1986 BMI Writer of the Year

One of 100 BMI's Writers of the Century

9 One Million Performance Songs from BMI

3 Two Million Performance Songs from BMI

Co-wrote Take Me Down and The Closer You Get, recorded by Alabama.

40 years in and out of Exile, and still counting.

Exile: Nominated for Numerous CMA awards, with 11 #1 Hits 

Born and raised in Berea, Kentucky. 

Son of Lily May Ledford, leader of legendary 
all-sister Mountain Music-Bluegrass group, the Coon Creek Girls. 


Wow. Just writing about JP Pennington and his frenetic schedule is exhausting, but exhilarating!  I hope you will have the opportunity to hear him in any or all of his bands, whether it be The Squirrels, Exile, The City, or his father-daughter-son act, The Penningtones (they are featured every year at Christmastime on WKYT news) -- or even catch him when he sits in on a song or two on WoodSongs from time to time ;-)
peace, y'all,

No comments: