For much of his career, Hank Penny was a Western Swing performer in the style of Bob Wills and Spade Cooley — in fact, he worked with Cooley for a while — but Herbert Clayton Penny was a lot of other things too. During a long career that began in the Depression era and lasted almost until his death in 1992, he was a songwriter, a banjoist, a vocalist, a country bandleader (who also loved jazz), a night-club owner, and a hillbilly-style comedian. He also made some movie appearances and was even married to another country star for a while.
The Alabama native first began to find career traction during the late 1930s, starring on radio and leading a group he called the Radio Cowboys. Within a few years he was heading up an outfit known as the Plantation Boys, who also began to show up in the occasional Western movie.
Meanwhile, Penny was busy in the recording studio too, and by the post-war years was beginning to sell a lot of records with songs like “Steel Guitar Stomp” and “Bloodshot Eyes.” His love of jazz came into play late in the decade when he added some jazz pros to his group and recorded “Hillbilly Bebop,” and it was also about then that he co-founded the Palomino Club in Hollywood. It would soon become a showplace for many jazz stars.
The following decade was a good one for Penny, with his marriage to country songstress Sue Thompson and continued career success on records, radio, and even a little TV. He also moved his base to Las Vegas, where he would become a regular for many years, providing a chance for rising stars like Roy Clark to gain experience. In 1963 he and Sue divorced, but he later remarried and was the father of five children, including actress Sydney Penny. Through the years he continued to entertain his fans, although with less frequency as time passed. He was 73 when he died in 1992.