PENNY DALE: The Gypsy Cowgirl Is Ready To Ride By PHIL SWEETLAND Country Music/Radio contributor, The New York Times Penny Dale is a direct descendant of both Jesse James and of Bohemian gypsies, and this once-in-a-lifetime combination of bloodlines from the American West and Eastern Europe runs throughout her music. Listen to these lyrics from Penny's most autobiographical song, 'Gypsy Cowgirl,' on the debut album Undaunted: 'I grew up Rock/and grew into Country/I mellowed out a bit/but I'm still hungry/Make my own rules/and then break a few/Because I'm free.' This is an artist who loves Country, but is equally enamored of the attitude and snarl of Rock. Her logo features a Grateful Dead-styled skull with a red rose in it's ear, and a cowboy hat on it's head. She was born Penny Dale Ziska, a Bohemian name, and raised near Atlanta. Her father's relatives had emigrated to America from Bohemia. Frank and Jesse James were distant relatives of her father, and Frank James occasionally came to their family reunions. 'You're a little gunslinging gypsy,' Penny's father told her. Her family wasn't overly musical, though her mother loved to sing and her father was 'a showboat' who favored Rock via Elvis and Johnny Cash, did oil paintings, and loved the outdoors. Penny was the youngest of three children, all girls. Her sisters were 10 and 14 years older than she was, always a plus for musicians. 'They all gave me records,' Penny recalls. One sister passed Bruce Springsteen albums on to her baby sister, while the other gave her the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. One Fleetwood Mac song in particular mesmerized Penny, and as a result singer Stevie Nicks quickly became her idol. 'I just played 'Rhiannon' over and over,' she says. 'It just epitomized to me what I felt Stevie Nicks was. It was beautiful, dark Rock. That's why I love bands like Evanescence and Live today.' Through school, Penny was exposed to a variety of musical styles; Prince, Classic Rock, and even sang an Amy Grant tune in the Miss Chamblee High competition. Near the end of high school, she began a long romance with a singer/songwriter who got her into artists including Tracy Chapman and Hal Ketchum. At the University of Georgia, she studied English and Journalism and received the perfect gift from her boyfriend - a guitar. After graduating UGA Penny landed work as a backup singer for touring bands, opening for headliners like the Spin Doctors. Mutual friends introduced her to LA-based Rosemary Butler, one of Pop's top background vocalists. Butler took Penny under her wing and began producing her, working with legendary session players including Andrew Gold and Albert Lee. The result was a 10-song album which featured songs by many top Music Row writers - Carolyn Dawn Johnson and Chapin Hartford among them. The indy album received a lot of attention, but Penny soon decided that her heart and her musical future lay in Nashville. She also wanted to write her own material, critical for an artist this unique. Penny played a 6-song showcase at Billy Block's Western Beat. Only one of the six tunes was self-written, and that one got the biggest response of the night. Meanwhile, Penny still loved her high-school sweetheart. They planned a romantic island getaway to St. Simon's, but he got cold feet at the last minute and didn't go. 'He never did meet me at the beach, and he got married a year ago,' Dale says. The heartbreak made Penny even stronger, and that star-crossed relationship helped her write some of her best songs, including 'Georgia Time,' 'Little Town,' and 'Meet Me At The Beach.' She played her music for many producers and managers in Nashville, until she finally found the perfect producer for her work. Eric Fritsch is a musical wizard who plays many instruments and has worked on alt.-country projects for former V-Roys star Scott Miller and Saddlesong's Courtney and Carter Little. 'Sometimes when you first meet people, they don't get it, and they don't see you,' Penny says. 'I immediately got the feeling that Eric got it. He wasn't going to try to remake what was me.' Dale and Fritsch went to work at Eastwood Studios in East Nashville, in the 'Barn' as Eric calls it; fitting for the Gypsy Cowgirl. They recorded 12 tracks, 11 of which Penny wrote or co-wrote. One is the highly autobiographical 'Cowboys And Angels.' 'I like to write by myself, and I have found a group of folks I also co-write with,' Penny says. 'I like it when I've started a song and have an idea, and then can take it to someone who might be able to further it along.' With this album, Penny Dale has truly found her voice as both a songwriter and an artist. 'I have worked in this business a long time with many of the greatest artists in the world,' Rosemary Butler says. 'I have seen what it takes to make it in this business. Penny Dale has got it.' Some of Music Row's best are already noticing. At last, the Gypsy Cowgirl is ready to ride.
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