Monday, June 18, 2007

Booker T. & The M.G.'s - Heads Or Tails (Stax 0001)

Heads Or Tails

As you may know, the Stax label has been re-activated by something called The Concord Music Group. They have also begun an ambitious re-issue campaign of the company's incredible wealth of music to commemorate it's fiftieth anniversary. Like all things Stax (or all things Memphis, for that matter), this hasn't happened without its share of controversy (witness the lively exchange that's been going on over at The Memphis Sound: Lost and Found). Be that as it may, I thought we'd take a look at the engine that drove all that soul, the one and only Booker T. & The M.G.'s.

Like the muddy Mississippi that winds its way through town, Memphis music runs deep. Drawing on the rich Blues and Jazz heritage that defined the first half of the century, the 1950s saw the emergence of tight R&B big bands that packed clubs like the Plantation Inn and the Flamingo Room every night. Bands led by Tuff Green, Bill Branch, and Al Jackson, Sr. became proving grounds for a generation of musicians. A trumpet player named Willie Mitchell would come up out of those outfits, and lead his own "Jumpin' Band" which would eventually feature Al Jackson's son on the drums, and one Lewie Steinberg on the bass (both pictured, along with 'Poppa Willie', above).

The cool white kids in town, meanwhile, were sneaking out nights to hang around in the parking lots of these clubs, drinking beer and just soaking it all in. One such kid was named Steve Cropper, who had formed a band of his own while still in High School called The Royal Spades, with his best friend Donald 'Duck' Dunn on the bass. A classmate of theirs at Messick High was learning to play the saxophone and, after the Spades found out his mother and uncle had recently opened a recording studio, they let him join. Charles 'Packy' Axton's honking sax changed everything, and soon they were playing nothing but R&B. They ended up liking the sound so much that they brought in two more horn players, Don Nix on baritone, and a kid named Wayne Jackson on the trumpet. This band, which would also feature the legendary Charlie Freeman on guitar and Terry Johnson on drums, would soon change their name to the Mar-Keys.

They had been hanging around Packy's uncle Jim Stewart's studio out in Brunswick, and trying to come up with something for months, but weren't having much luck. Once the operation was moved to an old movie theater on McLemore Avenue in East Memphis, things started to happen. Although the actual circumstances are (once again) a matter of controversy, in the spring of 1961 most of the Mar-Keys hunkered down with Stewart's partner Chips Moman to record the elemental Last Night. Some claim that there are as many as 86 splices in the master tape, and that it was put together from so many different sessions, with so many different musicians, that it's impossible to tell who's playing what (interestingly, if you listen to the record, there's no guitar on it at all. Steve Cropper is supposedly playing some of the keyboards). The record, in the tradition of Memphis Instrumentals like Bill Black's Smokie Part Two, was just a monster, blaring from every car radio as it cruised its way to #2 R&B (#3 pop) that summer (This is also the record that caused the name change from Sattelite to Stax, as some west coast label had already registered the name). This all-white twenty something band of rowdy kids was suddenly headlining at The Apollo, as well as playing every backwater chitlin' circuit club in the south. They were out there about two years on the strength of their big hit, and the party just never stopped.

Cropper, meanwhile, left the band to concentrate on the studio. He had been working at Estelle Axton's record shop in the lobby of the old theatre, and his move back to the studio, although gradual, was now permanent. He became a fixture, showing up early and leaving late, while learning all he could about how things worked. Chips Moman, who had recorded his own local instrumental hit, Burnt Biscuits, with his band The Triumphs that fall, helped him figure it all out.

Booker T. Jones, meanwhile, had come up as a student at Booker T. Washington High School, playing every instrument he could get his hands on. He had begun hanging around Axton's record shop as well, and it wasn't long before he was playing on sessions for the company (his baritone sax can be heard on their first local hit, Carla & Rufus' 'Cause I Love You). He was also sitting in with Willie Mitchell's and Bowlegs Miller's bands, where he first worked with Al Jackson, Jr.

Jackson, who had started playing drums as a kid in his father's band, was considered the best stick-man in town, and Moman and Cropper were thrilled to have him. His first session for the company was behind former Sun star Billy Lee Riley in the summer of 1962. Along with fellow Mitchell band member Lewie Steinberg (who had been playing bass at STAX since the Last Night marathon), Jones and Cropper, they began stretching out and jamming a little bit after the final take. Jim Stewart was impressed with what he heard and started the tape rolling. The exact details are (of course) a little fuzzy, but the two sides they came up with were good enough to release, he thought, all they needed was a name. It was Jackson who came up with 'The M.G.'s', kind of in answer to Moman's 'Triumphs'.

Originally released on their new VOLT subsidiary, Stewart wanted to promote Behave Yourself, a slow blues number, as the A side. When the local radio guys flipped it over and started playing Green Onions, it just took off. It was Jerry Wexler, fresh on the scene as the label's new distributor, who suggested they re-issue it on STAX to give the company more 'label recognition'. Yet another hit Memphis instrumental, it just ate up the charts, spending a month at #1 R&B that summer. One of the truly great songs of all time, it's scary how good it remains to this day. For whatever reason (maybe because they were too busy backing up everyone else at the label), the M.G.'s had trouble coming up with a follow-up record, as songs like Mo-Onions and Soul Dressing barely cracked the Hot 100. By late 1964, Lewie Steinberg was out of the band. Cropper has said that he "probably influenced it more than anything... it's sort of like Cropper got his way. I didn't want to hurt Lewie or put Lewie out or anything, even though it consequently turned out that way..."

Cropper's 'way' was to bring in old pal, and fellow Mar-Key, Duck Dunn into the fold as the M.G.'s new bass player. Dunn had left the Mar-Keys back in '62 to become the first white member of Ben Branch's big band, paving the way for the public integration of the music that had already been going on behind closed doors in the studio. The M.G.'s, now evenly split between black and white members, were back in the R&B top ten with Boot-Leg in 1965, and out there in the public eye.

Unlike Motown's faceless Funk Brothers, the band that created all that steamy Stax soul were stars in their own right, with appearances on national television and the whole deal. They were cool, and in their own quiet way, a shining example of racial harmony at work.

With the addition of songwriting team Isaac Hayes and David Porter, STAX grew to be a formidable presence, cranking out hits for the likes of Otis Redding, William Bell, and Sam & Dave, while developing their own unique brand of rock solid soul (while Booker was away at college, Hayes sat in for him on keyboards, and actually appears on a few M.G.'s records in his place!). Atlantic, as we all know, would bring Wilson Pickett and Don Covay down there in 1965 to try and capture some of the magic, before Stewart threw them out at the end of the year.

At this point, I'd like to draw some attention to the horn players on those great records. Even though they were every bit as essential to 'that sound' as the M.G.'s or anybody else, they somehow get overlooked. Anchored by former Mar-Key Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love, The Memphis Horns have played on hundreds of hit records. As The M.G.'s, Hayes and Porter became known as 'The Big Six' production team at Stax, Jackson and Love were somehow left out.

With the fabled European Tour of the Stax/Volt Revue, and a return to the top ten with the great Hip-Hug-Her in 1967, the M.G.'s were on top. You know, the whole history of Stax is such a deep (and as I said, controversial) subject, that I can't really do it justice here in this space. It's been examined in depth by Rob Bowman in the essential Soulsville, USA, a book you need to read. Suffice it to say that, after Al Bell was brought in, things on McLemore Avenue started to change. When Otis Redding's plane went down in December of 1967, it sort of put a punctuation mark on the whole 'Atlantic era' at the label. After Atlantic was sold to Warner Brothers in January of 1968, Stax tried to negotiate a better deal with them, but to no avail. When they realized that the distribution agreement they had signed with Atlantic years before would give the larger company the rights to their entire back catalogue once they went their separate ways, they decided to leave anyway, apparently feeling that the best was yet to come. They then agreed to sell the company to entertainment giant Gulf + Western, believing they would be better able to market their 'product', and control their own destiny. As Bowman says in the liner notes to The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles Volume Two; "As the sun arose in Memphis on May 6, 1968, STAX had been effectively gutted. For all intents and purposes it was a new record company poised to issue its first few records."

How fitting, then, that the very first release on the 'new' label (and the first to sport Bell's new 'snapping fingers' logo) was by Booker T. & The M.G.'s. Soul Limbo would break into the R&B top ten (top twenty Pop) that summer, and show the world that the little company still had it. The awesome tune we have here today was released as the B side of that single. Absolutely cookin' on all burners, I think it shows why they're considered to be one of the best bands of all time (remember that The Meters didn't even exist yet, and wouldn't for almost another year!). That organ, that guitar, the drums and bass... man, I just love this record!

The M.G.'s would hit the top ten again the following year with the amazing Time Is Tight and, in keeping with Bell's new vision for the company, release four albums within a two year period. When Bell brought in producer Don Davis from Detroit in September of 1968, the proverbial excrement began to hit the fan. As we've mentioned before, when Bell made Davis 'Vice President in Charge of Production' (on the heels of the success of Johnny Taylor's Who's Making Love), the 'Big Six' felt they were being upstaged, and Isaac Hayes closed down the Stax office at gunpoint. Although they were all given the title of 'vice-president' after that, the damage had been done.

Booker T. Jones vowed to never play a note for Davis, and by the summer of 1969, he was out the door. "I already saw the sinking ship," he told Rob Bowman, "I made a prediction... I remember looking Al Bell and Jim Stewart in the eye and telling them, 'If you're going to keep running the company the way you've been running it, it ain't gonna last, and I got to get out of here.' I was really upset that the family had been broken up..." Broken up, indeed. Booker moved out to California, and continued to work with the M.G.'s until late 1970, when even the thought of his records still being released on Stax became too much for him to bear.

Unthinkably, Cropper himself would follow in 1971, as the company grew further and further away from the 'mom & pop' (or, more precisely, 'mom & uncle') enterprise it had once been. Dunn and Jackson hung in there, still working on sessions, and eventually recording an album as the M.G.'s with Carson Whitsett on keyboards, and Bobby Manuel on the guitar in 1973. On October 1, 1975, Al Jackson, Jr., returning home unexpectedly, was shot dead by an unknown assailant. Although the police believed they knew who did it at the time, the murderer was never charged.

There are those who say that Jackson was the glue that held The M.G.'s together, and that any of their subsequent reunions are bound to fail because of that. I don't know. What I do know is that he was a pivotal figure in the history of 'The Memphis Sound', and that the body of work he left behind, both at Stax and at Willie Mitchell's Hi Records, is something that will never be equaled. He was, without a doubt, 'in the pocket', and one of the greatest drummers that ever lived.

Stax would come tumbling down within months of his death. Booker's prediction had come true...

I've seen a few of those reunions in my time (my favorite being the 1990 NYC show I've mentioned before when Don Covay got me backstage...), and, hey, I'll take what I can get. Al Jackson's cousin, Steve Potts, has been their drummer now since 1994, and is doing a great job. The surviving original members were honored (as was Packy's mom, Estelle Axton) with a 'Lifetime Acheivement Award' at the Grammys this year, and their set at SXSW in Austin this spring drew rave reviews. They just completed two shows here in New York last week, backing up the great Sharon Jones.

This coming Friday, June 22nd, they will be the centerpiece of the 50 Years Of Stax benefit at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, backing up a host of their old label-mates like Isaac Hayes, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Mavis Staples, and Mabel John. Although the whole thing may be a little too 'corporate', and blah, blah, blah, I, for one, am not about to miss it.

That's right, I'm outta here (again) forging my own seven days of soul as I swing low through the Deep South in search of new and exciting stuff to bring home and talk to you about.

I bet you can't wait.

I'll catch ya on the rebound!


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Willie Dixon and The Allstars - Walking The Blues (Checker 822)

Walking The Blues

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1915, Willie Dixon grew up in what can only be described as the 'Old South'. His earliest memories were of his mother Daisy's lilting rhymes that colored his everyday life. He would take up the practice himself and, soon after he learned to talk, he learned to make every sentence a poem. By the time he was five years old, Daisy saw to it that he was learning to sing harmony at the Spring Hill Baptist Church. Taken with the music that surrounded him, he would play hooky from school to follow after intinerant artists like Little Brother Montgomery as they passed through town. Before long he was singing bass in a group called the Union Jubilee Singers that had a 15 minute slot on local radio station WQBC.

An adventurous kid, Willie found himself on the wrong side of the law a few times in those days, and by age seventeen he decided to make his way to Chicago and try his hand at a boxing career. Even then he was big, and won himself the State of Illinois Golden Gloves Heavyweight crown in 1937. After only four professional bouts, Dixon ended up in a fistfight with his manager over money. A fight which would unfortunately end up trashing the Boxing Commissioner's office, and get Willie suspended for six months. That may have been the best thing that could have happened.

A friend of his from the gym, Leonard 'Baby Doo' Caston, built him a 'tin can' bass and together they formed a group called The Five Breezes in 1939. As more and more African Americans made their way north to Chicago, the band became quite popular in the South Side clubs where they hung out. Eventually able to trade his home-made bass in for a real one, Willie was a natural, developing his own unique percussive style that only a man of his stature could create.

In late 1940, The Five Breezes signed with Bluebird Records and would wax eight sides for the label. When the federal government instituted the draft following Pearl Harbor, Willie refused to comply. Years before any notion of a Civil Rights movement, Dixon stood up in court and told them he wasn't going to fight for a country that allowed "the conditions that existed among my people. I didn't feel it was justified according to the laws of the government because of the way they were treating black people. I said, I wasn't a citizen, I was a subject." A none too popular stance in 1941, it landed him behind bars for almost a year.

Baby Doo, meanwhile, had formed his own trio called The Rhythm Rascals, and so when Willie was released, he put together his own outfit, The Four Jumps of Jive who would have the inaugural release on Irving Green's fledgling Mercury label. By the end of the war, Caston and Dixon were re-united in a group called The Big Three Trio, which would also feature Bernard Dennis on the guitar. As Dennis was replaced by Ollie Crawford, the group developed a kind of cool vocal harmony jump sound, not unlike contemporaries The Inkspots and The Mills Brothers. After recording a few sides for the Nashville based Bullet label, they scored a top ten R&B hit for Columbia with a smooth cover of Big Joe Turner's You Sure Look Good To Me in early 1946. Popular with the white crowd downtown, they'd jam late nights back on the South Side.

Working around the corner at the El Casino, Willie would sometimes drop by a new club called The Macomba Lounge. It was there that he met the owner, Leonard Chess, an immigrant entrepreneur who saw the enormous potential in the post-war music boom that was rocking Chicago's black community. He and his brother Phil became partners with Evelyn Aron in a record company called Aristocrat in 1947, and set about recording what was going on around them. Dixon, who had been doing studio work for years with Bluebird and Okeh, played bass on some of the label's early sessions. Aristocrat's roster would grow to include folks like Sunnyland Slim, Robert Nighthawk, and a new arrival from down south named Muddy Waters. By 1950, the Chess brothers had bought out Aron and renamed the label after themselves. When the Big Three Trio broke up in 1951, Willie Dixon accepted Leonard's offer to become his 'right arm' at the new company.

It was Dixon who almost singlehandedly created 'the Chess sound', acting not only as the bass player, but producer and arranger as well. He was known and respected by everybody on the South Side, and gave the label a credibility among its target audience that it could never have achieved on its own. He put together the sessions, often having to track down his musicians by putting the 'word on the street', something Leonard Chess could never have done. He got even more than he bargained for, as Willie's incredible talent as a songwriter soon became evident.

He knew what made his artists tick, and would tailor his compositions to match their personalities. The night in late 1953 when Willie taught (I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man to Muddy Waters in between sets at the Club Zanzibar changed the course of history. He had focused Muddy's bravado and intensity into a razor sharp distillation of the shared black experience. Deep stuff, man. A list of the songs he would go on to write for Muddy alone reads like a blueprint for some English rock album; I'm Ready, I Just Want To Make Love To You, You Need Love, The Same Thing, You Shook Me...

Not to mention, of course, the primal body of work he created for the legendary Howlin' Wolf; Spoonful, I Ain't Superstitious, Little Red Rooster, Built For Comfort, Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy... or how about My Babe for Little Walter or Bring It On Home for Sonny Boy Wiiliamson? As if all that wasn't enough, Willie was also the man laying down that fat bottom on all of Chuck Berry's and Bo Diddley's groundbreaking early rock & roll records. You really can't say enough about his importance in the formation of music as we know it today.

Our current selection is Willie Dixon's only chart hit under his own name. Rising to #6 R&B in the fall of 1955 (during the same period that Chuck Berry's Maybellene, on which Dixon had played the bass, owned the #1 slot) it was (oddly enough) not written by him, but an adaptation of an old Champion Jack Dupree number. The 'Allstars' with him here are Lafayette Leake on piano, and Fred Below doin' all that 'walkin'. How great is this song? "I hope my old lady's home when I get there... all this walkin'. I don't mean my mother-in-law, I mean my wife. My mother-in-law, she's always there!" It just doesn't get much better than that, folks.

When ol' Diggin' Dave came up with this one, I almost freaked. I had gotten the positively essential Willie Dixon Chess Box when it came out in 1988 (it was on vinyl back then), and made tapes for the car - the car at that time being a 1960 Studebaker Lark that was everybody's favorite. As these things happen, Walking The Blues became the official song of 'The Studie', and traveled with it wherever we went... "that's what I call glidin' low." When a faulty oil pump and an eventual rod through the block sounded the death knell for that venerable auto a few years later, its song kind of got put on the back burner. I never thought I'd actually own the original single... way to go, Dave! (by the way, it is listed over on Global Dog as a B side... I figured we'd take it. Also, while I'm at it here, check out how the words 'record co.' are cut in half on the new fangled big holed 45, as the company was still using up it's stock of 78 labels!)

After a falling out over royalties, Willie left Chess in 1957 to start up the Cobra label with local 'one-stop' owner Eli Toscano. There he would create more seminal blues records for the likes of Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, and Magic Sam as well as working with a young cat by the name of Harold Burrage who would go on to become one of the founding fathers of Chicago Soul. You all know how I feel about the whole 'genre' issue, and Willie Dixon's work is a prime example. I mean although it most certainly is 'the blues', Dixon expanded the definition of what that term means, probably more than anyone else ever.

By 1959, Dixon was back at Chess adding his own magic to countless sessions by an expanded stable of acts that now included Gospel and smooth R&B as well. As the electric bass came into prominence in the early sixties, there was less call for Willie's playing, but he was still writing hit songs for the label, like KoKo Taylor's 1966 smash Wang Dang Doodle. When Leonard Chess died in 1969, Willie moved on, forming a new group of Chicago Blues Allstars that toured Europe to rave reviews.

Again signing with Columbia, he released an album called I Am The Blues, which helped establish him as a performer in his own right. Although bands like Cream and The Doors had covered his material by then, Willie never saw a dime. After Arc Publishing successfully sued Led Zeppelin over its wholesale lifting of Dixon's Bring It On Home, he and his lawyer began an audit of the publishing company that was set up by Leonard Chess way back in the fifties. Eventually, Willie got paid, and it opened his eyes to the abuses that he and his fellow songwriters had taken at the hands of the publishers. He would sue Zeppelin himself later on over their uncredited use of You Need Love (as the basis for Whole Lotta Love), and win an out-of-court settlement then as well.

Inspired by those successes, he founded the Blues Heaven Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping his fellow artists and songwriters finally recieve what was coming to them, as well as providing education for urban youth about their legacy. He continued to record, receiving a Grammy for 1988's Hidden Charms. The following year, Willie published his autobiography, again titled I Am The Blues, which told the incredible story of his life in the music. I was lucky enough to see him at one of his last performances as part of the Benson & Hedges Blues Festival at the Beacon Theatre in NYC in like 1990. I'll never forget it.

After suffering the complications of long-term diabetes for years, Willie Dixon died quietly in his sleep in January of 1992. In 1993 his widow Marie was instrumental in purchasing the landmark Chess studio at 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago to serve as the headquarters for Blues Heaven, where it remains to this day.

He still is The Blues.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Barbara Lynn - Why Can't You Love Me (Atlantic 2513)

Why Can't You Love Me

Huey P. Meaux was a product of the 'Cajun Prairie' rice country in western Louisiana. "Back in them days, my dad worked for the man-picked cotton, hoed, grew rice, shucked it, and harvested it," he told Texas Monthly correspondent Joe Patoski, "We had four shotgun houses, two black families, two white families. Music was a release. If somebody didn't get cut up and beat the s#*t out of someone, the dance was considered bad. I was raised that way."

In 1941 his family, along with thousands of other Cajuns and Creoles, moved across the border into the 'Golden Triangle' area of Texas, in search of a better life. By the time he was in his teens, Huey was playing drums in his father's Cajun band and becoming known on the local circuit. Gregarious and popular like the Louisiana governor he was named after, Meaux became a promoter, booking local acts for 'dances' throughout the region.

He became a barber, further ensuring that he knew just about everybody, and began informal live broadcasts from the back of his barber shop on KPAC in Port Arthur. Calling himself the 'Crazy Cajun', his non-stop chatter in the regional patois made him quite the local celebrity. Seeing the potential to make a little money (something Huey strongly believed in), he began recording some of the acts that performed on his show at the KPAC studios. Along with Floyd Soileau, the owner of a record store in Ville Platte, he formed the JIN label as an outlet for these records in 1958. The music would become known as 'Swamp Pop', and Meaux was the man that put it on the map.

Huey used his infectious personality and connections in radio to promote these singles, and before long it started to pay off. In early 1959, he was able to place Rod Bernard's This Should Go On Forever with Leonard Chess (who was poking around in Louisiana at the time), and the Argo release went all the way to the Billboard top twenty. Now a player on the national stage, Meaux began taking his artists to New Orleans to record at Cosimo's studio, and was able to lease other Jin releases by Jivin' Gene and the Jokers and Joe Barry to Mercury and stay in the Hot 100.

After he and Floyd went their separate ways, Huey started the first of his many labels, Eric, in late 1961. One of the first artists to record for the label was a black saxophone player from Beaumont, Texas named Big Sambo (The Rains Came would become a minor hit in early 1962). Joe Barry, whose I'm A Fool To Care was sweeping the nation at the time, told Meaux about this all-girl band that was just knocking 'em dead in the local clubs, Bobbie Lynn and the Idols.

Barbara Lynn Ozen had been born in Beaumont in 1942, the daughter of Creole parents who had moved to the Golden Triangle from rural Louisiana around the same time Huey's family had. After originally taking piano lessons, she talked her parents into buying her a guitar when she saw the fun Elvis Presley was having with one. Left handed, she turned it upside down and taught herself to play. 'Bobbie' formed The Idols while still in High School. Fronting the band (who all wore pants) she became known locally as the 'Black Elvis'. As Barry had promised, Meaux was duly impressed, and signed her to a contract (with her parents' permission) immediately. Barbara had been writing her own songs for years (another big plus as far as Huey was concerned), and he took her to Cosimo's right away to wax four of them. He released two of the sides on an Eric 45 (that went nowhere), and began shopping around for a national label deal.

Philadelphia's Jamie label picked up You'll Lose A Good Thing and released it in June of 1962. Breaking into the Pop top ten, this truly amazing song would spend three weeks at #1 R&B that August after finally toppling Brother Ray's I Can't Stop Loving You from the spot it had held for over two months. At 20 years old, Barbara was uniquely positioned as one of the first female guitar playing singer-songwriters (black or white) to make the charts. She was cool.

Huey ate it up. He and Barbara (along with her mother, who insisted on keeping an eye on things) were soon touring the country, rubbing elbows with the likes of Sam Cooke and B.B. King, and headlining shows wherever they went. There were appearances on American Bandstand, the whole deal. Only it wouldn't last. You're Gonna Need Me would hit #13 in early 1963, but despite their quality, the rest of her Jamie releases didn't do much, and the label dropped her in 1965.

The Crazy Cajun, meanwhile, was being driven even crazier by the 'British Invasion'. Suddenly, it seemed, all his contacts had dried up, and nobody would touch any of his 'product'. Reportedly locking himself in a hotel room for days, he began listening to Beatles records and drinking Thunderbird. "Then it dawned on me that they were playing the Lake Charles two-step that me and my daddy used to play in Cajun country," he explained later. He called his friend Doug Sahm, and together they hatched their plan to create the Sir Douglas Quintet. Dressing in mod clothes and even speaking with English accents, the band's She's About A Mover (distributed by London Records, of course) would go to #13 pop in the spring of 1965. Huey had beaten them at their own game.

He was still producing Barbara Lynn on his own Tribe label, and the resulting four 45s are considered to be among her best. Although the excellent I'm A Good Woman failed to do much at the time, her version of the Dan Penn classic You Left The Water Running broke into the top fifty R&B in late 1966. Two more Tribe singles would follow, and sink like a stone. Meaux had other things on his mind. In 1967, he was sentenced to eight months in prison for for a Mann Act violation.

Barbara signed with Atlantic later that year, and when Huey was released in 1968, he was back producing her again. This Is The Thanks I Get would crack the top 40 R&B early that year. Today's selection is the flip of her second Atlantic single, the great You're Losing Me. Although not written by Barbara (as it's A side was), I believe that's her playing the soulful guitar on here. I think this is such a great record, man... you have to love those girl group vocals! Recorded at Bob McRee's Grits 'n' Gravy studio outside of Jackson, it was co-written by Cliff and Ed Thomas, two brothers who had been around the block a couple of times, working with Sam Phillips and Johnny Vincent back in the day. If you remember, we talked a couple of weeks ago about Dorothy Moore doing background vocal work at McRee's studio. I wonder if she's one of the back-up singers here...

Atlantic recorded enough material for an album (This Is Barbara Lynn) at the studio, and then apparently lost interest. Barbara would cut a couple of sides at Fame later that year (Atlantic 2585), but her next single wouldn't be released until 1971, the towering Until Then I'll Suffer (a track from the album that had been released three years earlier) which would make it to #31 R&B and become Barbara's last chart appearance. Three more singles would follow, culminating in the sexy You Make Me So Hot in 1973. After five years at the label, Atlantic decided it had bigger fish to fry, and let her go.

Meaux, meanwhile, had acquired the legendary Gold Star Studios in Houston, and changed it's name to Sugar Hill. He began recording Barbara there, releasing singles on his Copyright, Starflite, and JetStream imprints (Huey has said that he created so many different labels to keep the Feds guessing). None of these records did much and, after Meaux and Freddy Fender hit it big in 1975 with Before The Next Teardrop Falls, they went their separate ways, with Barbara moving to the west coast permanently to concentrate on family. After one last big splash, with Rockin' Sidney's My Toot Toot in 1983, Huey Meaux sold Sugar Hill in 1986, but kept an office in the building.

The next part of this story isn't pretty. After ten years of spiraling cocaine use and its attendant difficulties, the Houston Police (acting on tips from estranged family members) arrested Meaux and brought him to his office at Sugar Hill to execute a search warrant in early 1996. Breaking down a locked door, they found enough evidence to charge him with various drug and pornography violations. Freed on bail, he took off on the lam, and was discovered hiding out across the border in the Juarez Holiday Inn by a bounty hunter about a month later. After pleading guilty to all counts (on the condition that the evidence be destroyed), he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. After his release in 2002, he was shipped back to jail for violating his parole. That was in February of 2003. As of this writing, he's reportedly back on the street, living with family in Winnie, Texas. An unbelievable story.

Barbara Lynn, on the other hand, has moved on. Touring Japan for the first time in 1984, she recorded a live album, You Don't Have To Go, for Ichiban. When it was finally released late in the decade, the new version of You Make Me So Hot would go on to become a UK club favorite. The great So Good would follow on Bullseye in 1994. Now living back in Texas where she belongs, Barbara was awarded a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm & Blues Foundation in 1999. Hot Night Tonight (which also features her son, rapper Bachelor Wise) was released on TMG the following year.

A favorite of the Mystic Knights, Barbara has been participating every year in the Ponderosa Stomp. This year's performance was absolutely stunning, and her vocals and guitar were every bit as good as they ever were. At 65 years old, this lady has still got it goin' on!

Oh! Baby, she's got a good thing going.