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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

great piece of work

2:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a story! I like Barbara Lynn, and I often wondered about how the pieces of Huey P. Meaux went together (he seemed to pop up in so many places and contexts). Thanks a lot!

John Tenney

2:24 AM  
Blogger Marco said...

Barbara Lynn at 65 still kicking it! Great post.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Roger said...

Barbara Lynn can do no wrong. A great piece as always.


2:35 AM  

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