Those who knew Donald “Dyno” Penny described him as a unique combination of redneck and hippie.
“Usually, they keep the children and nervous pets away from me,” he said in 2015 to a crowd in Easley, wearing his signature blue overalls while his long, white beard brushed the guitar resting on his lap.
“All right, kids, you can listen to Uncle Dyno. I’ll never tell you a lie,” he continued as he strummed the first notes of “True Story,” a song he wrote about a Mexican standoff in Lupus that never happened.
Dyno, frontman of The Roadkill Orchestra, died Wednesday from complications of cancer at 67. He was born April 20, 1952, in Kansas City and spent about 30 years working for Southwestern Bell in Ruskin Heights.
After retirement, he moved to Lupus. He quickly became a legend among the 34 people who live there. They even elected him mayor for two terms, his identical twin brother, Ron “Rhyno” Penny, said.
“It’s interesting. He wasn’t really larger than life, but he was a big deal in Lupus,” Ron said.
Dave Dearnley met Dyno one day at Cooper’s Landing, the music venue and riverside hangout. The two were participating in a songwriting competition in which they had to write a song about fish. After that, they started writing songs together and soon became a duo.
Dearnley said he didn’t want to like Dyno at first but that eventually he grew on him.
“There were a lot of people that would turn around and walk the other way when they saw him and other people who would give him a big hug,” Dearnley said. “He had a really strong personality.”
He wrote most of the songs for The Roadkill Orchestra as it traveled throughout Missouri and beyond to perform. Dyno was a storyteller, Ron said.
“He always said the best songs are written about what you know,” Ron said, “and most of his stories were true.”
He incorporated one of those stories into “She’s got a 45.”
Before performing the song alongside the Missouri River, he said: “We’re going to do a song I wrote now about love, liquor and handguns. Believe it or not, they all go together.” He launched into the song about an angry girlfriend with a gun.
Dearnley said there wasn’t much of a process when it came to writing the songs.
“Dyno’s a real witty guy,” he said. “(A song) organically grew out of a waste of time with a couple of guitars.”
Dyno’s signature song was “I Like Pot,” Dearnley said. Most of his other songs were softer and sweeter than people expected them to be, in contrast to his rough exterior.
Dyno cared about his friends. He was known to be overly candid at times, but he meant well.
“If you were crap, he would tell you you were crap, right to your face,” Ron said. “He didn’t hold back, and he’d look real pleasant while he told you.”
Dyno used that approach on the multiple young musicians he took under his wing, giving them blunt instruction that made them better singers, songwriters and players.
While taking his regular walks around Lupus, he often heard Heather Wilson singing and playing guitar at her home. He decided to approach her about it and asked her to sing Johnny Cash songs. Eventually, she started performing with Roadkill, playing various instruments and singing.
Wilson wrote in a tribute on the band’s Facebook page: “He was always encouraging, and the first one to tell you when something was not quite right. As a musician, your fans don’t tell you those things, they just don’t go to your show. Dyno would, though. And in the end, it gave each of us the confidence to keep pushing forward.”
Wilson did not respond to requests for an interview.
Paul Weber, 31, met Dyno in 2010 at the annual Lupus Chili Festival, which Dyno often had a part in organizing. They quickly became friends, and Dyno helped Weber write music for his own band, Paul Weber and The Scrappers.
“He was like an ornery kind of dirty old granddad guy,” Weber said. “But we loved him for it.”
His love for his two daughters, Alexis and Lauren, 38-year-old identical twins, was apparent. He brought them along to his shows and never hid from them who he was, Ron said.
“Dyno used to take (Lauren) and her sister when they were about 13 and set them down at a table wherever he was playing and tell them they could have all the soda they want; just don’t talk to anybody,” Ron said.
Alexis, Lauren and Ron were with Dyno as he neared the end of his life. Dearnley visited him when he was sick.
“I hate that all of a sudden he’s just gone,” Dearnley said. “That he didn’t suffer or linger, or have the troubles that other people have — I’m happy for that.”
The family was planning a private memorial service for Dyno’s friends and family. Ron said — in keeping with Dyno’s style — it will be a big party.
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed