Producer Huey P. Meaux must have been knocked out the second he saw her perform. After all, how many lovely young left-handed guitar-playing R&B singers emanating pure soul were working the Gulf Coast circuit? What’s more, she was her own best source of material.
The gregarious Meaux, known around Texas and Louisiana as “the Crazy Cajun,” snapped Lynn up and made her a star in 1962. Settling into Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans’ French Quarter, Huey produced her highly atmospheric original “You’ll Lose A Good Thing,” which ended up topping the R&B charts and going Top 10 on the pop side.
Born Barbara Linda Ozen in Beaumont, Texas, on Jan. 16, 1942, Lynn came by her talents naturally. “I was born and raised around the blues, you know? That’s all I ever heard,” said Barbara. “We’d turn on our little radio during the ‘60s, and we would hear these blues singers from way back. In fact, when I was a young girl, I can remember my mother and father turning on the radio and dancing off of that music. So I couldn’t help but be inclined to do that kind of music, because that’s what I was hearing, the blues. But then as I got older, and writing and playing my music myself, I started leaning then toward R&B.
“I got started in grade school,” Barbara continued. “I’d have had to be about 12, 13, you know. And I was already writing too, at an early age also – writing poems, setting them to music.” Her early influences included Etta James, Ruth Brown, and Texas guitar sensation Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. “I also liked Brenda Lee,” she said. “And also Guitar Slim, too.”
“WE WERE DOING SOME OF ELVIS’ STUFF” Local axeman Curley Mays made an impact on Lynn’s musical development. “By Curley being from the same town that I was from,” she said, “just seeing him play, and I was already in different little bands there. We would all get together and play our instruments, you know. So I would say Curley enticed me. I mean, he’s a showman from his heart!”
Let’s not overlook one more of her early heroes: Elvis. “It goes back to grade school on into high school, because I was doing a lot of his songs,” she said. “I had this girl group that I named Bobbie Lynn & The Idols. So we were doing some of Elvis’ stuff, like ‘Jailhouse Rock,’ ‘Don’t Be Cruel.’”
Barbara started out fretting a different stringed instrument entirely. “My mother went out and bought me an Arthur Godfrey ukulele. I think it was $10.95, or something like that,” said Lynn. “She just went out and bought it because I told them I wanted to play guitar. I didn’t want to play keyboard anymore. Because that’s what I first started playing on. So I switched from playing piano to the guitar, because I thought it was such an odd instrument for a lady to play.”
One of Beaumont’s top blues stars back then was guitarist Clarence Garlow, who had scored a 1950 R&B hit with “Bon Ton Roula.” He also hosted a popular local radio program. In his off hours, Garlow liked to help up-and-coming performers, including a young Johnny Winter, who was another of his devoted radio listeners.
“Clarence had a studio in our hometown,” Barbara said. “He was a producer, and he played the guitar himself. He would round up a lot of us young, talented people around to go into his studio with him. He’d want to try to write and make a demo. So we would go in there a lot of times and try to get a tape cut that would get something recorded for us. But then after my manager/producer Huey Meaux heard about me and signed me, that’s when I left Clarence Garlow.”
Meaux knew the territory well. Born in Kaplan, La., before his folks relocated to Winnie, Texas, ex-barber Huey first hit paydirt as a producer in 1959 with Jivin’ Gene & the Jokers’ swamp-pop classic “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.” Another of his hitmakers, Joe Barry, who scored big in 1961 with the bayou gem “I’m A Fool To Care” with Meaux at the helm, hipped Huey to Lynn.
“Joe Barry’s the one that discovered me. Joe heard about this young black girl playing across the state line at a place called the Palomino Lounge,” said Barbara. “See, they had two clubs like right across the street: Palomino Lounge and Lou Ann’s. And I think he saw me in Lou Ann’s, I believe it was in Lou Ann’s club. He talked to me and told me that his manager’s name was Huey Meaux. And he went back and told Huey, and Huey drove to Beaumont, Texas, and talked to my mother and father and got their permission to record me. And that’s how all that came about. I already had enough songs ready. I had enough songs ready for an album, ‘cause I knew in my heart anyway I was going to be a singer.”
“I DONE PLAYED SO MANY LITTLE PLACES” Working in obscure gin joints such as the Ten Acre Club in Cheek, Texas had polished Lynn’s stage act. “They would book me out there. I would go. I done played so many little places in and around before I ever had a record. And I played with many bands from there, or we played across the state line, which is the state of Louisiana. We played clubs there before I really got recognized as a professional,” said Lynn, who brought uncommon songwriting skills to the table. “I’d write the poems, I’d rhyme ‘em — I mean, rhyme the words — put it on paper, play the guitar, get the melody for it, and take it down. So I was ready. I just needed somebody to come forward, say they would record me.”
Huey issued Barbara’s debut 45, “Dina And Patrina,” in early 1962 on his own little Eric label, which had a minor pop charter on its previous release, Big Sambo & the House Wreckers’ “The Rains Came.” The Latin-tinged “Dina And Patrina” was inspired by Lynn’s own friends. “There sure was a Dina and Patrina,” she said. “We all went to school together. In fact, Patrina knows that I wrote this song for her and her sister.” Lynn also penned the sultry ballad flip, “Give Me A Break.”
“You’ll Lose A Good Thing” came about much the same real-life way, springing from a romantic breakup right around the time she completed high school. “I was about to finish, or I had finished, I believe. And then that’s when I wrote ‘You’ll Lose A Good Thing,’” she said. “It was a true story. I was going with this guy, and we had a little spat like most people do. I told him, ‘If you lose me, you’re gonna lose a good thing!’”
Huey produced “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” at Matassa’s studio, located at 521 Gov. Nicholls St. in New Orleans, with Barry’s band, the Vikings, backing Lynn. “She was confident,” remembered the late Matassa. “She was a very pleasant, happy person.”
“We started out the evening recording Joe Barry of ‘I’m A Fool To Care’ fame. Joe brought his band with him to New Orleans and it was Joe’s band that played for Barbara on ‘Good Thing,’” said trombonist Leo O’Neil, sometimes erroneously cited as the saxist in Barry’s combo. “The sax player’s name was Pat,” said O’Neil. Mac Rebennack may have played bass. “I remember hearing ‘Good Thing’ while it was being recorded and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s a hit!’” said O’Neil.
Huey decided against releasing “Good Thing” and its sorrowful ballad B-side “Lonely Heartaches” (another Lynn original) on Eric. It was destined for far more than regional consumption. “(Huey) didn’t want it to go local,” said Matassa. “I found a guy in Philadelphia to put it out for him.
“He wanted it to try to really become the No. 1 song. So after talking to Harold Lipsius, who was the president of Jamie Records, then that’s when Harold agreed they would pick it up.” Jamie had launched twangy guitar icon (and Stomp favorite) Duane Eddy with a barrage of smashes and would do much the same for Barbara. “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” was the No. 1 R&B seller in the country for much of August of ‘62 and a major pop hit to boot.
“When I first heard my first song on the radio, I was really nervous. I couldn’t believe I was finally hearing myself on the radio. I was just real excited,” said Lynn. And when it climbed to No. 1? “I was really surprised then, especially when I was told I was going to be on Dick Clark’s ‘American Bandstand.’ Oh boy, I was fixin’ to make national television!”
Her mother acting as chaperone, Lynn embarked on an East Coast tour that brought her to the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the Uptown in Philly, the Royal in Baltimore, and the Howard in Washington, D.C. “My first big tour was the Jackie Wilson Show,” she said. “I was on a 45-day tour with him. If the women didn’t pull his clothes off, he’d figure he didn’t do a show. So he had to go back out there, and they had to pull that jacket off! That’s the kind of man Jackie was. He just felt that his show wasn’t worth it if he didn’t have that audience pullin’ at him!”
“I STARTED CATCHING ON THEN” The suave Chuck Jackson was also a favorite of Barbara’s. “He was another fellow I would admire onstage, the way he would handle himself onstage,” said Lynn. “Seeing all those singers when I first started out, that’s how I did to learn how to govern myself on stage. That’s why when I play my music, I believe in the band breaking down, just like I’d see Chuck make the band break down. So I watched this, and I went back to Texas with this in my mind whenever I’d get bands behind me. I knew how to act then, because I’d see how they were doing. I was sort of green when I started, see. But I started catching on then.”
Getting back to work with her prolific pen, Barbara conjured up her Jamie encore “Second Fiddle Girl,” a mild pop chart entry that autumn. “I could just go in a room and make up some songs, the lyrics and title, and write a song like that,” noted Lynn. Rebennack pounded the 88s on the succulent New Orleans groover. “Mac played piano, organ, guitar, and bass on sessions,” said O’Neal. “Ideas flowed from him like water.” Lynn’s other New Orleans session aces included drummer Smokey Johnson and guitarist George Davis.
Barbara also wrote the sweet, innocent flip, “Letter To Mommy And Daddy.” “Now that was a true song,” she said. “I was in California for a while right after I finished high school. And I started getting lonely there. I wrote a song over at my cousin’s house: ‘This is a letter to mommy and daddy,’ telling them how much I miss them. I think that was my first big trip away from home.”
1962 was a great year for Lynn and producer Meaux. Not long before it ended, Jamie pressed up her vengeful self-penned ballad “You’re Gonna Need Me,” which made a major R&B impression early the following year. “I was writing then from what life was about,” said Lynn. She returned to “American Bandstand” to lip-synch the tune, which was flipped with the easy-rolling “I’m Sorry I Met You,” which Barbara wrote with guitarist Joey Long, who waxed “I’m Glad For Your Sake (But I’m Sorry For Mine)” for Huey. Meaux’s production approach wasn’t overly hands-on.
“Instead of being a producer, he was more like a cheerleader,” said Matassa. “Although he said things about what they should do and all that from time to time, he really didn’t get into what they were doing so much as he wanted them to be aggressive and forward. But he gave a lot of new people starts.”
Before year’s end, Jamie compiled Lynn’s debut album “You’ll Lose A Good Thing,” which contained the New Orleans R&B stormers “You Don’t Sleep At Night” and “Teen Age Blues” and a grinding reprise of Jimmy Reed’s lowdown blues “You Don’t Have To Go.”
COVERING THE KING “WAS HUEY’S IDEA” Logic would dictate that it was Barbara’s intention to pay tribute to one of her early idols with her distinctive revival of Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” in early 1963. That wasn’t the case. “It was Huey’s idea for me to do it,” she revealed. “Huey would basically pick out the songs, and we’d look over them. And he’d tell me, ‘Doll’ — he always called me ‘Doll’ — ‘Doll, you think you would like to do this number, “Don’t Be Cruel?”’ I guess I was an easygoing person. I’d just say, ‘OK, all right. We’ll do it.’ And so we’d go in and record it.” The tune nicked the pop hit parade, flipped with the blues-kissed “You Can’t Be Satisfied,” penned by Rebennack and O’Neil’s wife, Bobby Lee. Mac and Leo teamed to pen Barbara’s next 45, the cha-cha-tempoed “To Love Or Not To Love.” It was Barbara’s first Jamie single not to chart, the peppy “Promises” gracing the opposite side.
Triangle songs were usually the province of Etta James, but Lynn poured her soul into “(I Cried At) Laura’s Wedding.” Meaux reached out to ASCAP songscribes Kay Twomey and Dick Manning for the melodramatic opus, which righted the ship commercially that summer.
“When it came out, over in my hometown, I must have got a dozen calls that day to find out: Did I really have a sister named Laura?” she said. “And I didn’t have a sister named Laura. Of course, I have a lot of stepsisters and brothers, but I don’t have one named Laura. It was just a song that Huey Meaux went out and picked, and wanted me to do it.”
“I also played vibes on ‘Laura’s Wedding,’” noted Leo. “I borrowed them from a friend because we thought they would fit the song.” The R&B pounder “You Better Stop” made for a nice contrast on the B-side.
Huey was credited as author of Lynn’s smoky weeper “Dedicate The Blues To Me,” out on Jamie that autumn with another yearning downbeat treatise, “Everybody Loves Somebody,” situated on the flip. Barbara kicked off 1964 by revisiting Barrett Strong’s often-covered Motown hit “Money,” its storming arrangement built around an imaginative guitar riff and some propulsive second-line drumming. The emotional blues ballad flip was also a remake: “Jealous Love” had been introduced by co-writer Sonny Thompson’s wife, Lula Reed, a decade earlier.
“IT WAS MICK JAGGER” But Barbara was always her own best source of material. She proved it yet again with her next hit during the spring of ‘64, the hard-charging shuffle “Oh! Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’).” Muscle Shoals songsmith Dan Penn contributed the ballad flip, “Unfair.” “Oh! Baby” was big enough that Lynn performed it at Philly’s top stop on the East Coast theater circuit, and Atlantic Records was there to put it on tape for its “Saturday Night at the Uptown” LP alongside performances by the Drifters, the Vibrations, and Wilson Pickett. Some rather scruffy dudes on the other side of the ocean got hip to her tune through one version or the other.
“Huey called me one evening and told me that he had someone that wanted to speak to me. I said OK. And it was Mick Jagger. ‘God! The Rolling Stones want to talk to me?’ (Huey) said, ‘Yeah, doll, I think they want to do one of your songs!’ I said, ‘Oh, great!’ And Mick talked to me, and he said, ‘Yeah, Barbara, we would like to do “Oh! Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’,” with your permission, of course.’ I said, ‘You’ve got it! You’ve got it!’” True to his word, Mick and his crew included the number on their “The Rolling Stones, Now!” album.
The O’Neils were the source for Barbara’s last pop charter of 1964, the violin-enriched uptown soul ballad “Don’t Spread It Around,” reportedly waxed at Bill Holford’s ACA Studios in Houston with Meaux splitting production credit with Steve Tyrell. “I didn’t write that one, but I loved it,” said Lynn. “It’s such a great song.” Barbara cooked up the delightfully catchy B-side “Let Her Knock Herself Out.” Lynn also scribed the churchy soul ballad “It’s Better To Have It,” spiced by call-and-response passages with a small choir, that proved to be her first hit of 1965 (and, as it turned out, her last for Jamie). A tasty but less ambitious “People Gonna Talk” adorned the flip.
Barbara conjured up some of the charm of “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” for her smoky “(Don’t Pretend) Lay It On The Line,” out in early ‘65 with a delicious riffing sax echoing her every word. Meaux’s talent stable also included singer Lee Maye, a Tuscaloosa, Ala., native who led a fascinating double life: As Arthur Lee Maye, he’d fronted the Crowns, a ‘50s L.A. doo-wop outfit that cut for Modern/RPM, Dig, and Specialty when he wasn’t playing the outfield for the Milwaukee Braves. Huey teamed him with Barbara for the B-side “Careless Hands,” a country-tinged Billy Myles ballad.
Meaux had shifted his operations to his own Pasadena Sounds Studios in a Houston suburb by the time Lynn cut her last handful of Jamie singles in 1965. O’Neil remained involved as an arranger and recalled the house band including guitarist Clarence Hollimon, whose brilliant fretwork was prominent of many of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s greatest ‘50s sides; pianist Harold Fulton; bassist Carl Banks; and drummer Trent Poole.
Barbara’s own relentless “I’ve Taken All I’m Gonna Take” was paired with a vengeful “Keep On Pushing Your Luck,” while “You Can’t Buy My Love,” the work of Billy and Bobby Babineaux, rode an organ-rooted Tex-Mex groove similar to the one powering the Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About A Mover” (Huey was their producer too). Lynn wrote its bluesy opposite side, “That’s What A Friend Will Do.” Lynn closed out her long Jamie stint with another sumptuous uptown soul ballad, “All I Need Is Your Love,” with another rocker by the Babineauxes, “You’re Gonna Be Sorry,” on the other side.
Huey decided it was time for a label switch. “Yes it was, because maybe our time was up, or either he wanted to lease me to another label,” remembered Lynn. Instead of trusting her output to another firm, Meaux placed Barbara on his own London Records-distributed Tribe imprint, also home to the Sir Douglas Quintet. Her mid-1966 Tribe debut, the defiant original “I’m A Good Woman,” sported a dramatic intro and a pounding minor-key arrangement. Its lilting flip “Running Back” was the work of Houston-born Francis Zambon, better known as Mark James (writer of the Elvis juggernaut “Suspicious Minds”).
Barbara wasn’t the first Southern soul singer to grab hold of the insistent “You Left The Water Running,” though her Meaux-helmed Tribe treatment, out in the fall of 1966, was the only one to crash the pop and R&B charts. The song was conceived in Muscle Shoals by Dan Penn and FAME Studios boss Rick Hall, with an assist from Oscar Franck.
“He was a guy that kind of hung around FAME. Wasn’t really a writer. He didn’t play or sing too much, as far as I know. But he would say, ‘Dan, how about this for a song?’” said Penn. “Oscar gave me the title and me and Rick wrote it out in the car, out in the park.” They convinced Otis Redding to cut a demo on it at the end of the “Sweet Soul Music” session Otis produced on Arthur Conley. Billy Young had “Water” out first on Chess, closely followed by Barbara, then Wilson Pickett, James & Bobby Purify, and Maurice & Mac. Organ curlicues floated through Barbara’s punchy flip, “Until I’m Free,” Huey claiming half-authorship.
“I LOOK AT LIFE AROUND ME TOO” Soul luminary Joe Tex dreamed up the horn-leavened blues grinder “Watch The One (That Brings The Bad News),” half of Lynn’s first Tribe offering of 1967. Barbara penned its highly danceable flip, “Club A-Go-Go,” O’Neil arranging both sides. Lynn’s last Tribe 45 later that year twinned a remake of New Orleanian Willie Harper’s lighthearted “New Kind Of Love” with her own choppy “I Don’t Want A Playboy.” Huey remained at the controls, and he negotiated a deal with Atlantic for Barbara where he would stay on as her producer.
Lynn wrote the plug side of her hypnotic late ‘67 Atlantic debut “This Is The Thanks I Get,” which restored her to the R&B Top 40 early the following year. Its lyrics were thoroughly down to earth. “Just trying to talk about how a woman can just work her fingers down to the bone to be so good to this man, and he can still go out and do her wrong: ‘Is this the thanks I get, after all I’ve done?’” Barbara said. “Like I say, I look at life around me too.” It was laid down at Bob McRee’s Grits & Gravy Studio in Clinton, Miss. This was a particularly strong two-sider; the haunting “Ring Telephone Ring,” the work of the Babineauxes and Kirby Boudreaux, was every bit as memorable (Billy Babineaux fronted the mid-‘60s Louisiana band Billy John & the Continentals, who recorded “Shooting Squirrels” for Jin and “Slap It To Me” on N-Joy).
McRee and brothers Cliff and Ed Thomas, former Sun rockabillies from Jackson, Miss., worked closely with Barbara during this period, writing and arranging seven sides on her Atlantic LP “Here Is Barbara Lynn,” including the Motownish pumpers “Take Your Love And Run” (the Poppies, featuring future hitmaker Dorothy Moore, provided backing vocals) and “Sure Is Worth It,” “Maybe We Can Slip Away” (an early version of Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson’s ‘68 smash “Lover’s Holiday,” produced by Meaux at the same studio), a Southern soul-soaked “Multiplying Pain,” and the slow-surging “Sufferin’ City,” also waxed by Houston soul/blues vet Johnny Copeland (Lynn penned the dance workout “Mix It Up Baby” herself). Also aboard were both sides of her next Atlantic single, the irresistible Lynn original “You’re Losing Me” and the Thomas/McRee/Thomas-penned ballad “Why Can’t You Love Me.”
“THAT HORN DRIVE OVER THERE WAS SO HOT” Huey was reportedly off the scene due to legal difficulties when Atlantic dispatched Barbara to either Memphis or Muscle Shoals in July of 1968 to work with producer Spooner Oldham. “They had the horn section. That horn drive over there was so hot,” said Lynn. “That’s why Huey took me there, because the horn section was so much of a talked-about thing in the records. So he felt on some of my tracks, it would really be good for me.”
A pair of 45s resulted. David Bevis’ luxurious “Love Ain’t Never Hurt Nobody” was paired with the deep soul stunner “You’re Gonna See A Lot More (Of Me Leaving),” the work of Chips Moman and Marlin and Jeannie Greene, while Clarence Carter’s Penn/Oldham-penned “He Ain’t Gonna Do Right,” benefitting from its gender switch, shared a platter with Shoals songsmith Donnie Fritts’ “People Like Me” (Spooner shared arranging duties with saxman Charles Chalmers). Left in the can was Barbara’s rendition of Wayne Carson Thompson’s “Soul Deep,” cut well before the Box Tops’ hit version. Neither single hit.
That might have marked the end of Lynn’s Atlantic tenure had the label not pressed up her heartfelt original “(Until Then) I’ll Suffer,” another LP highlight in 1971 after Meaux’s release on his own Jet Stream logo stirred up regional reaction. It became the biggest hit she’d nailed in more than six years, inspiring Atlantic to release more recent Meaux productions.
Blanche and Linda Cate handed Lynn “I’m A One Man Woman,” coupled with her own violin-enriched “Nice & Easy” as her next Atlantic 45 after it came out on Jet Stream. Jean Knight’s chart-topper “Mr. Big Stuff” was clearly the inspiration for Lynn to write her next single, the clever “(Daddy Hot Stuff) You’re Too Hot To Hold.” McRee and the Thomases were still involved, collaborating on its infectious flip “You Better Quit It.”
“A LOT OF COUNTRY AND WESTERN” Meaux brought Barbara into his Sugar Hill Studios in the autumn of 1972 to lay down her last Atlantic offering, aiming her funky original “You Make Me So Hot” at the dance demographic (the rolling “It Ain’t Good To Be Too Good,” another self-penned effort, was more in her customary wheelhouse). But Lynn was no longer a priority for Huey thanks to the massive success of his productions on Freddy Fender. Ironically, Fender’s revival of “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” paced the C&W hit parade in 1976.
“Huey had a lot of country and western things,” said Barbara. “He had gradually gotten away from some of the R&B acts and started signing country and western artists, and got more into them. Whereas he left a lot of acts like myself on the shelf for a while. Left our music there.”
“IT SLOWED DOWN FOR ME … IN THE LATE ’70S” Meaux finally got fired up about Lynn again in 1976, issuing a pair of her singles on Jet Stream. Country composer Lee Emerson was behind the steamy “Takin’ His Love Away (Ain’t Gonna Be Easy),” while McRee and the Thomases resurfaced with the funk-dripping B-side “How You Think I Can Live With Somebody (After What I’ve Been Used To).” Lynn wrote both sides of her Jet Stream followup, the titles of “Movin’ On A Groove” and “Disco Music” summing up their contents.
“It slowed down for me like in the late ‘70s,” she said. “I noticed that’s when my career sort of dropped. Then I got married and I had children.” Meaux gave it one more shot in 1979, producing Barbara’s own emotionally charged “Give Him His Freedom” and an attractively energetic rendition of Weldon Parks’ “Take Your Time” on his new Starflite logo. But nearly two decades with Huey in the driver’s seat were about over.
“Me and my husband moved to Houston. He was an Army man,” she said. “So we moved somewhere else. I went to L.A. in the early ‘80s. I had just gotten back from Japan. I went home first. I said to my mother, ‘I think I’m going to L.A., try to get some work up there and who knows, maybe another record deal.’ So I did. And in going there, trying to get work, I met the man of my dreams. His name was Robert. And I got married again.”
After 13 years of marriage, her husband died and Lynn moved back to Beaumont. Despite a decided lack of enthusiasm regarding setting foot on an airplane (she much prefers riding a Greyhound bus), Barbara has maintained a successful performing career ever since, appearing at major festivals both here and abroad. She’s a longtime favorite at the Ponderosa Stomp, wielding her southpaw guitar with joyous gusto as she belts out her hit-loaded repertoire.