FreeWheelin' Music Safari

Into the night with John Malcolm Penn – Hangtown Fry

So a few weeks ago near the bottom of the Folk DJ list for the month of February, I came across the album titled Hangtown Fry by John Malcolm Penn.  A quick listen to the first track “Moonlight Motor Inn”, was all I needed to hear to know that this album was going on the iPod. I’ve been listening to these great story songs since and the words written in John’s press release ring true:

Discovering a songwriting artist like John Malcolm Penn is akin to stumbling across a pot of gold you had somehow missed.

Like many a folk musician, this native of Southern California, started in the 70s sharing the stage with his personal friends and fellow artists such as Emmy Lou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark and his long time friend and fellow label mate Steve Spurgin. Through the 70s  John and his friend  Steve Redfearn founded and ran a Bluegrass/Acoustic music festival on the campus of Cal State University Long Beach, where many of the above artist performed. Eventually in 1978 John became a full time skier and played at ski resorts. It wasn’t long before he went looking for warmer venues. Throughout  the ‘80’s and ‘90’s John  played multi week gigs in the northwest. As he travelled, he started to notice all of the state’s 1100 plus landmarks and tried to visit each of them When he visited them, he took notes and a photo or two. After ten years of visiting these sites, John realized that as a story-style songwriter it would be interesting to write about the places he’d visited and tell their stories. And I for one and obviously others are glad that he did. Hangtown Fry is a great album about the people and places of California. On the album, John plays all the instruments and sings all the songs, that he also happened to write.  Typically, he writes alone, but has co-written with Jerry Patch (playwright) , Tom Brown (ABC-Dunhill artist), Dennis Sanchez (the Skinny Dennis from Guy Clark’s LA Freeway) , and even a song with Steve Spurgin. So if you are like me and love those story songs, check out Hangtown Fry. Here’s one of the tracks on the album “Tumco Mine” . You can watch here or go to Youtube and read the story about the mine!

PS: The album has climbed from 64 to 55 on the Folk DJ Chart!!


  1. Steven Briggs

    Hi Jack,

    Enjoyed your comments about Hangtown Fry. We feel very fortunate to have enticed John Malcolm Penn into the Blue Night Records corral. You might also enjoy Steve Spurgin’s latest BNR release (Past Perfect). Clips are available at

    Thanks again for your supportive comments.

    Happy Trails,


    Steven Briggs, President
    Blue Night Records

  2. Brett Cammack

    It is such a pleasure to see the recognition for John is receiving for this CD. I knew he was “someone special” when I met him back the mid-70s.

    Like a fine wine, he just keeps getting better.

    Thanks for what you do!

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