By Mick Patrick
At the age of 20, she knocked Ray Charles from the top of the R’n’B charts with the self-penned “You’ll Lose A Good Thing.” She also wrote and originated the much-covered feminist funk anthem “I’m A Good Woman,” not to mention “Oh, Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’),” as plundered by the Stones. Self-accompanied on electric guitar, she possesses a style that is unique—raw, yet polished; emotional, yet calm; organic, yet sophisticated. As a live performer she is tireless, but her lifelong fear of flying has prevented her from accepting all but one offer to gig in Britain. At her sole live show in the UK, I was there to see Barbara Lynn.
She was born Barbara Lynn Ozen in Beaumont, Texas on January 16, 1942. At school she took piano lessons and also mastered the ukulele, before persuading her parents to buy her an electric guitar—a right-handed Gibson. In true Hendrix style, the dextrous young southpaw learned to play the instrument upside-down. A keen schoolgirl poet, Barbara soon began setting her words to music. Her initial foray into the record business began in the mid-’50s when she was taken under the wing of New Orleans blues singer and DJ, Clarence ‘Bon Ton’ Garlow, who allowed musically inclined local youngsters like herself to hang out, rehearse, and record in his small studio after school. Barbara and her sister also travelled to nearby Lake Charles, where they sang background vocals on sessions for the Goldband label.
The Black Elvis
By the late-’50s Barbara was playing around the Beaumont area at small joints like Lou Ann’s and the Ten Acre Club, fronting her group Bobbie Lynn & the Idols. An all-girl band, they wore pants and specialized in Presley songs like “Jailhouse Rock,” earning their axe-wielding leader the nickname, “the Black Elvis.” News of Barbara’s dynamite performances soon spread through the grapevine and demo tapes began to circulate among music biz types. Don Robey at Duke Records decided against signing her because of her slight limp, but that insignificant physical impediment did not prevent the singer from grabbing the undivided attention of colorful local record man, Huey P. Meaux.
An entrepreneurial hairdresser and failed drummer from nearby Winnie, Texas, Meaux’s lifelong love of music had led him to carve out alternate careers as both DJ and producer of such national hit records as “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” by Jivin’ Gene & the Jokers and Rod Bernard’s “This Should Go On Forever.” After securing the permission of her parents, the flamboyant Meaux whisked Barbara into Cosimo Matassa’s legendary New Orleans recording studio with a handful of the Crescent City’s top sessioneers to commit to tape four selections from her large repertoire of self-authored compositions. Two of the tracks, “Dina & Petrina” and “Give Me A Break,” comprised the singer’s debut on Meaux’s small Eric label.
You’ll Lose A Good Thing
A hustler par excellence, the self-styled ‘Crazy Cajun’ then set about negotiating a deal for his protegé, eventually enticing the Jamie label of Philadelphia into a licensing arrangement. With a string of smash hits by Duane Eddy already to their credit, and their own in-house distribution network, Jamie had the power and finances to promote their releases on a national scale, but Barbara’s “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” was such a great record that it is hard to imagine it not storming the charts on even the smallest of Mom and Pop labels. The song—which she had written several years earlier as a student at Herbert High School—entered the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1962. By August it had replaced Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You” atop the R’n’B charts, and was sitting pretty at #8 Pop, no doubt unhindered by two appearances by Barbara on Dick Clark’s nationally syndicated Philadelphia TV show, American Bandstand.
Meaux chose this moment to abandon his occupation as a barber to enable him to devote his time to managing the career of his new young star. Barbara spent much of the next year on the road with her mother as chaperone, and played many of the top venues in the country. An excellent follow-up, “Second Fiddle Girl,” was soon joined in the record stores by Barbara’s You’ll Lose A Good Thing album, featuring ten tracks that were composed by the lady herself, as was her next 45, “You’re Gonna Need Me.”
Her first release of the next year was a strong version of the Presley classic, “Don’t Be Cruel,” harking back to her “Black Elvis” teenage years fronting the Idols. But it continued a downward spiral of chart placings, as did Barbara’s next 45, “To Love Or Not To Love,” which did not progress above ‘bubbling under’ status. “(I Cried At) Laura’s Wedding” restored the singer to the lower third of the Hot 100, but her last two singles of 1963, “Dedicate The Blues To Me” and “Money,” failed to chart at all, and marked a year in which Barbara had released precisely none of her own compositions.
Oh, Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’)
The self-penned and rocking “Oh, Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’)” was a great return to form and deserved better than its low national Pop chart placing. Like many, if not all, of Barbara’s releases, the track fared much better in the R’n’B marketplace and was a huge success in the Gulf States. The classic Atlantic label various artists live album Saturday Night At The Uptown closed with Barbara’s excellent performance of the song recorded at the famous Philadelphia venue in July 1964. (Hopefully, the version by the Rolling Stones has earned her some royalties over the years.) There followed two smaller chart successes, “Don’t Spread It Around” and “It’s Better To Have It,” which proved to be Barbara’s last hits for Jamie. Her tenure at the label came to an end following the surprise flop of four singles in 1965, after which she switched to Huey Meaux’s Tribe logo.