“You and Me” by Penny & The Quarters is a Demo Recording Someone Found at an Estate Sale
One long-forgotten song's epic journey of rediscovery.
|Gino Sorcinelli||Jul 27|| 3||1|
Singing played a constant role in the lives Columbus, Ohio natives Nannie “Penny” Sharpe and her brothers Donald, John, and William “Preston” Coulter. Now known to the world as Penny & The Quarters, the four siblings always found a way to make music together, no matter what the occasion. “We’d sing all the time, in church, in the house,” Sharpe told Sean Michaels in a 2011 Guardian interview. “We’d stand around, helping whoever’s turn it was to wash dishes that week, singing together.”
After hearing that the Columbus record label Prix needed regional talent in 1969, they decided to take their love of music to the next level. The ensuing trip to Prix’s Harmonic Sounds studio landed Penny, Donald, John, and William a gig doing backup vocal work, leading to long days at filled with endless takes. Sharpe, who was only 19 at the time, didn’t always love the process. “We would go over there every Saturday morning and stay all day, from 7am to 4pm,” Sharpe told The Guardian. “I remember thinking: ‘Do we have to stay all day?’”
An early photo of Nannie “Penny” Sharpe. (Photo Credit: Numero Group)
Once she honed her skills as a backup singer, Sharpe wanted a chance for her family to take center stage and eventually worked up the courage to ask Harmonic songwriter Jay Robinson to work with them. “I remember he used to emphasize to us to enunciate those words, and he liked the phrase ‘my, my, my, my’ to illustrate,” Sharpe told The Guardian.
After the group felt Robinson had appropriately polished their sound they hit the studio, with the Harmonic songwriter penning an original titled “You and Me” for their session. The fateful recording of their now-famous song was a one-take demo where listeners can hear Sharpe utilizing the “my, my, my, my” mentioned above several times.
Though the lone recording of the song is strikingly beautiful, Sharpe’s brother Preston later said the group was unaware someone was recording them as they performed it. “I didn’t even realize they were recording,” he told Eric Lyttle in a 2011 feature for The Other Paper, a now defunct Columbus alternative weekly that broke the story about the song’s origins. “We were just trying to get ourselves on record."
For Penny & The Quarters, the recording session at Harmonic Sounds was their one and only—changing consumer tastes and a lack of funds led to the studio’s eventual demise. After Sharpe’s brief stint as a backup vocalist, she worked as a mail sorter for 30 years before retiring. The group’s demo reel went into storage and remained untouched for the next 35 years.
Then, according to the Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label liner notes, Columbus record collector Blake Oliver was checking local yard sales for hidden gems in 2005—a regular Saturday morning ritual for him. During his travels he stumbled upon an estate sale and picked up a box of tapes that caught his eye. The tapes eventually made their way to Numero Group owner Rob Sevier and renowned Ohio soul expert Dante Carfagna. After giving them a listen, Carfagna and Sevier realized they were demos and unreleased recording from Harmonic Sounds.
The Numero Group fell in love with “You and Me” right away, but couldn’t figure out who the performers were. Though they talked to anyone and everyone they could find who knew about the Columbus scene, “including retired DJs, producers, and important local artists,” nobody could tell them anything about Penny & The Quarters.
Despite their lack of knowledge regarding the song, The Numero Group put it on their Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label compilation. They admitted to neglecting it a bit at first, as “it may’ve ended up a bit buried on our original compilation, as #18 of 19 tracks.”
The story of Penny & The Quarters then took another surprising turn when Ryan Gosling visited his PR agent two years after the release of Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label. During the visit, his agent played him some songs from the compilation and Gosling was immediately struck by “You & Me.” A short time later he approached Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance about using the song in the film, giving the unreleased demo cut from Ohio yet another act in its ever-evolving story.
An early photo of The Quarters. (Photo Credit: Numero Group)
As “You & Me” made it’s way from forgotten demo to soul compilation to Ryan Gosling movie in the span of 5 years, Penny & The Quarters were unaware of the song’s resurgence. According to The Other Paper, that changed when Sharpe’s daughter Jayma was having dinner with a friends and one of them brought up the recording and the mystery surrounding the unknown artists responsible for it.
After she did some cursory internet research, Jayma realized that the singer was her mother—resulting in a string of happily frantic texts to her mom announcing the good news. Upon learning of her song’s resurgence some 40 years later, Sharpe couldn’t believe it had found such a broad and passionate fan base. “It is a cute song, but I had totally forgotten about it,” she told Jeffrey Sheban in a 2011 Columbus Dispatch interview.
Sadly, Jay Robinson passed away before the song made it on the Blue Valentine soundtrack, and Sharpe’s brother Donald died in 2014. Despite the loss of some of the original artists involved with the demo, it continues to endure.
“You and Me” seems to have taken on a life of its own over the past five decades and will likely continue to inspire new listeners for many years to come. As The Numero Group said on their website, the song, “could not be suppressed: not when Prix failed to release it; not when Penny & the Quarters were forgotten; not when Numero stuck it at the bitter end of a much overlooked compilation.”
Thanks for reading, see you on Wednesday!