Barbara Lynn

TrackSingle / Album
You'll Lose A Good ThingJamie 1220
Second Fiddle GirlJamie 1233
You're Gonna Need MeJamie 1240
I'm Sorry I Met YouJamie 1240
Oh! Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin')Jamie 1277
(Don´t Pretend) Just Lay It On The LineJamie 1295
That's What A Friend Will DoJamie 1301
You Don't Have To GoYou'll Lose A Good Thing
You Don't Sleep At NightYou'll Lose A Good Thing
This Is The Thanks I GetAtlantic 45-2450

Barbara Lynn photo 1

 

 

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Barbara Lynn playlist

 

DAVE STEPHENS’ NEW ORLEANS SCENES #4 BARBARA LYNN

If the reader has any awareness of Barbara Lynn at all it’s likely to be because of the US Top Ten hit she had with You’ll Lose A Good Thing – a record that didn’t even get issued in the UK until half a decade had passed – and/or the fact that the Rolling Stones covered one of her records (and that one did cause London Records to pull their proverbial finger out and give it UK release). What such a reader is less likely to know is that Barbara wrote many of her own songs including the pair just mentioned, and that she played guitar well and did so left-handed.

Take a look at the clips below. The first comes from a US television show called The !!!! Beat in 1966 and features Barbara singing and playing Ray Charles’ What’d I Say. Note the well-worn left-handed Fender Telecaster.

… and, from 2005, from a stage in Wisconsin (and recorded by an amateur film maker), she gives us her version of Dorothy Moore’s Misty Blue. On this one, look out for her sharp and intense single string work using thumb pick, interspersed with soft rhythmic strokes (and this time the guitar is a strat).

Barbara Lynn Ozen was born in Beaumont, East Texas in 1942. Like many kids growing up in the fifties she loved early rock and roll and performers like Presley plus female singers like Connie Francis and Brenda Lee. But present also among those early influences was a love for blues with artists like B.B. King, Guitar Slim and Jimmy Reed mentioned, as much for their prowess on electric guitar as their singing. In an Aquarium Drunkard interview posted in 2015, she has stated that her first instrument was a ukulele after which she switched to the more conventional piano. But that didn’t last. In her own words from that interview:

“I had been playing the keyboard, but I thought it was so very common seeing a young lady sing at the piano. So I thought, “I want to play something odd. Something I felt I could make money at. And I made money at it, too! I really did.”

In grade school she started an all female band called Barbara Lynn and Her Idols and commenced playing local dances and entering – and winning – talent competitions. Singer Joe Barry saw her at one of these gigs and was so impressed that he brought her to the attention of producer/manager/label owner/all-round music man, Huey P. Meaux. After asking her parents for permission, the latter took her to Cosimo Matassa’s famous studio in New Orleans, where apparently she knocked out the session musicians with her ability on guitar (and we are told that Mac Rebennack/Dr. John was one of them). From that session came her first single, You’ll Lose A Good Thing, the song that will forever be associated with her.

According to the online version of an interview which appeared in Noisey, Australia in 2017, the song came into existence after she’d been dating a fellow musician (a sax player) named Sylvester or “Stank”. She saw Stank “carousing round town with another woman”. He told her that she was his best friend’s sister but after seeing the couple together a couple more times, Barbara went home and wrote those lyrics. The full first line (and extended title) reads “If you should lose me, oh yeah, you’ll lose a good thing”.

The record was released by Jamie Records of Philadelphia, a label that’s mainly associated with the name Duane Eddy. To say that the song struck a chord with the public would be something of an understatement. It achieved a #8 position in the US Top Ten and number one in the nation’s R&B Chart. It was Barbara’s biggest hit, though I hasten to add that she wasn’t a one hit wonder; other records picked up lowish to middling ratings in the Hot 100 and several got into the R&B Top 30.

So what was it about the track, apart from the lyrics, that appealed so much? Well, generically and structurally, it was a perfect example of the phenomenon I’ve described elsewhere as “doo wop phasing into soul”. Bear in mind that the year was 1962 when artists like Ray Charles and Solomon Burke were starting to capture white buyers’ attention as well as that from the darker side of the tracks. The chord structure was the good old doo wop progression (minus the doowoppers) but the delivery was soul – maybe Babs had been listening to Connie Francis, but what came out was black soul. In addition there were delicious touches of New Orleans: the piano triplets from Rebennack and that sleazy sax which skated around the melody line. There were also those little touches you only notice after a few plays: the near rap ‘churchifying’ towards the end plus the solo guitar work which eases the song into the distance, which, of course, had to come from Barbara herself.

There was probably some inevitability about the fact that, among the records that followed from Barbara there’d be several that featured that same plaintive mood and progression of chords. It could have been due to Barbara being a relative novice at songwriting and feeling comfortable with extemporising melody lines over the sequence, or the example set by many actual doo wop groups in using the chords for almost every record they cut, or because of producer or record label following the usual industry approach of “if a record becomes a hit let’s see if we can repeat the formula”, or maybe a combination of all of these.

But that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Certainly, I found it a big wrench to exclude any of the soundalikes from the Jamie days; many were so good they could have replaced the original. In You’re Gonna Need Me, “the whole town’s talking about you and your new girl” but “when she leaves you and says goodbye, don’t come back to me with tears in your eye”. Nothing terribly original there but it’s the delivery that makes it every time:

On (Don’t Pretend) Just Lay It On The Line, I find my attention immediately being grabbed by that long sequence of “no, no, no, no, no’s” at the start, backed up by a classic swamp pop/doo wop piano prior to the appearance of a sax somewhere around the second verse which echoes the distress of our heroine demanding that her lover, or ex-lover, just tell it to her straight ˈcos she can’t take it no more.

That’s What A Friend Will Do moves the spotlight onto her (and a.n.other’s) guitar work alternating tranches of slashing chords against relatively gentle but mournful single note picking. Although there’s no direct comparison, I was put slightly in mind here of the work of Joe Scott orchestrating some of those great Bobby Bland blues ballads. Barbara is approaching that intensity.

If I’ve given the impression that Barbara’s melody structures were limited or that her record label’s song picking ability was totally constrained by a desire to repeat “Good Thing” then I should apologise; that wasn’t the full story by any means. Miss Lynn’s Jamie single number two, Second Fiddle Girl, sounded completely and utterly different. While the lyrical thrust might not have varied dramatically from those I’ve just featured – the full climax line “I won’t be your second fiddle girl” makes that abundantly clear – the treatment is medium to up tempo New Orleans easy roll, led by boogie piano but in turn that takes second place to a cluster of supertight horns; the guys were clearly enjoying themselves and making damn sure that you shared in that joie de vivre as well. In the old days it would have been one of those 45s where you’d immediately lift and drop the stylus onto the start before the fadeout had completely disappeared.

I’m Sorry I Met You has New Orleans horn work to the fore again (and with that delightful delayed effect that only musicians from the Crescent City seemed to master) but that’s the only similarity. The pace is mournfully slow – conjuring up thoughts of New Orleans marching funerals – and the mood is about as dark as it gets. Barbara is absolutely majestic. These are her final words:

Well now that it’s over
What’s plain to see
That a life lived in misery
Is all that’s left for me

Leaving you pondering that uncompromising title line.

I can envisage readers seeing this track as melodically repetitive and limited in interest, but that surely is the point. The whole focus is on Barbara’s misery; any icing on the concoction would only distract. The performance bears a degree of similarity to some of the swamp pop of roughly the same time frame wherein slow Domino/Bartholomew style horns would provide a backdrop to a near suicidal lead singer.

Maybe something a tad more joyful is in order after that. Oh! Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’) from spring ’64 fits the bill nicely. This is the number that the Stones covered and did such a good job with it – the Jones & Richards guitars meshing well together – that, at one stage, I actually had the Lynn original excluded from the ten. Good sense intervened. Even if it was only because it was such a rare positive single from Barbara it would have demanded inclusion. But there was more to it than that. Apart from those lyrics, which aren’t all sweetness and light slightly belying the title line, the melody was unusual and catchy and similar comments also apply to the arrangement.

Very occasionally Barbara and Huey would pick an existing song to cover, although ‘cover’ isn’t really the right verb to describe some of these efforts; both Barrett Strong’s Money and Presley’s Don’t Be Cruel had been out in the public domain for several years before the Babs/Huey duo got their teeth into them. The second of this pair deserves some attention. Taken at a slower pace than the original and given an arrangement that emphasised the formal components (originally supplied by the Jordanaires), the performance zeroed in on the “don’t stop thinking of me, don’t make me feel this way” aspects of Otis Blackwell’s lyrics with such a level of success that it was in my ten for a while until others edged it out.

LPs weren’t seen as terribly important in those days but Barbara was pleased with her first – the ever-so-surprisingly titled You’ll Lose A Good Thing – because she was listed as composer or co-composer for all bar one of its 12 tracks. That exception was her take on Jimmy Reed’s You Don’t Have To Go, which has to be one of the best versions of a Reed song; again it doesn’t really qualify as a cover since the original dates back to 1954. The intro, from Barbara’s guitar, is pure Reed, but then that pianist makes his presence felt, followed by – you guessed it – riffing horns with that weird combination of urgency and laziness that was peculiar to New Orleans (and, yes, I’ve used a phrase like that before). On top of everything there’s Barbara singing with one hundred per cent conviction and managing to turn the Reed classic into a Barbara Lynn song.

The word ‘don’t’, a favourite of Barbara’s, occurs in my other selection from the LP, You Don’t Sleep At Night, another medium to up tempo chugger which also derives much of its impetus from the horns. This time in the second verse they manage to come up with what to me anyway, sounds like a totally new riff, or at least it’s one that I swear I’ve never heard before. It’s that, plus the manner in which Barbara delightfully chucks in a couple of Presley style “uh huh huh’s” towards the end that causes this one to be in the ten.

So far I’ve paid ample tribute to Barbara’s accompanists but said very little about the lady’s own vocal attributes. Although her records – and I’m talking in the main about the Jamie period – are usually classified as soul music they don’t strongly resemble either Ray Charles’ output from the late fifties or very early sixties or the (somewhat later) early Aretha Franklin Atlantic tracks. What’s missing from the Lynn discs is that heavy dose of gospel that you know you’ll get from Ray or Aretha. In comparison, Barbara is understated. Occasional touches of gospel do sometimes appear – and I made comment to this effect on You’ll Lose A Good Thing – but in general where she does get forceful it’s likely to be on her more blues-oriented records. And it’s that blues sensibility which often turns her doo wop slowies into something akin to blues ballads.

In 1966, with the stream of hits having seemingly dried up, Barbara switched to a couple of Huey Meaux’ own labels, Jetstream and Tribe, and then, in late ’67, joined the roster of soul and R&B artists on the mighty Atlantic label where she stayed until 1973. The reader may already have spotted that I’ve used up almost all of my selections which strongly suggests that I don’t find Barbara’s later work as appealing as that from the Jamie era. Essentially that is true. While production values for the Atlantic records remained high, with the label having retained Huey Meaux’ services as producer, there’s a certain lack of distinctiveness about many of these records, or to put it another way, they just don’t hit you the way the Jamie ones do.

There were exceptions, of course, and This Is The Thanks I Get, Barbara’s debut single for the label was one. Lyrically, it was typical Babs – “I heard that you’re gonna leave me / And there are rumours, baby, yeah / It’s another girl, yeah” – but musically it sounded as if Huey in the producer’s booth had been listening to a lot more Motown than Atlantic. That’s probably why the record went on to become a firm favourite with Northern Soul fans.

But I don’t want to give the impression that Barbara’s Atlantic phase was almost totally without interest. Another track from those days might help to redress the balance. This is (Until Then) I’ll Suffer from summer ’71, which, with its partial revisit to the You’ll Lose A Good Thing structure, does hark back to the Jamie era, and does so very nicely indeed.

In 1968, Barbara got married for the first time and during the decade that followed, largely retired from the music industry. After the death of her husband she gradually started to get back into music, playing local clubs, embarking on a tour of Japan and recording her first studio album for twenty years (entitled So Good). More would follow. Having spent several years living in Los Angeles, she’s now back in Beaumont, Texas and still gigging.

I started with a couple of live clips and I’m finishing with another. Here’s Barbara in October 2015 at the Ponderosa Stomp singing, you guessed it, You’ll Lose A Good Thing. The clip gets chopped at 5:12 so one can but wonder how long the performance lasted.

I’m leaving the final words to Barbara. In the Aquarium Drunkard interview, she came up with the line below (and similar comments from her have appeared in other interviews):

I was just so interested in writing poems and setting them to music.”

 

Barbara Lynn photo 3

 

FOOTNOTES

1. The belated UK release of You’ll Lose A Good Thing came courtesy of bless-his-cotton-socks Guy Stevens on Sue Records in 1967. The label also released Letter To Mommy And Daddy / Second Fiddle Girl since London, which had the rights to Jamie in the UK, didn’t see fit to do so. In defence of London I should state that this would seem to be one of those extremely rare occasions where good judgement seemed to desert the folk responsible and I do wonder whether there was some form of dispute going on.

2. The song Misty Blue was originally recorded by country singer Wilma Burgess in 1966 and then subsequently by more widely known country star Eddy Arnold. However, the song moved into black territory and Dorothy Moore achieved a US Top Ten hit with it in 1975/76. There have been several other versions but the number tends to be known as Dorothy Moore’s Misty Blue. Barbara’s studio version can be found on her 1988 album, You Don’t Have To Go.

3. Barbara’s first guitar was a conventional right-handed one on which she restrung the strings and played upside down. Her first proper left-handed one was a Gibson which was bought by her parents (source: the Noisey, Australia article).

4. Joe Barry was a swamp pop singer who had a national hit with I’m A Fool To Care (produced by Huey Meaux) in 1961. More on him can be found in the Toppermost Swamp Pop Series #5 (which is actually headlined by Freddy Fender but other artists are included). It’s also worth noting that Joe’s take on I’m A Fool To Care was recorded in Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans.

5. For more on Huey Meaux, see the footnotes to the Rod Bernard Toppermost. Suffice to say that during the period of roughly 1958 to 1966 there was hardly anything in the music scene in SE Texas and SW Louisiana with which he wasn’t involved in some way or another.

6. Whether You’ll Lose A Good Thing (on Jamie) was Barbara Lynn’s first record or not is actually open for debate. 45cat dates it as May 1962 but also shows another record from Ms Lynn prior to it with a date of 1962 and no month given. The record couples Dina & Patrina and Give Me A Break with both songs composed by Barbara. The label is listed as Eric (Texas) and circumstantial evidence suggests that it was owned and managed by Huey Meaux. Both tracks subsequently appeared on the first Jamie album, You’ll Lose A Good Thing giving the impression that the rights to the tracks had been purchased by Jamie.

7. Since ‘going to press’ with this document, Cal Taylor has done some detective work on the record Dina And Patrina and the mysterious record label on which it appeared. The label, Eric was founded by a character called Ray Doggett, circa 1961 and it was based in Conroe, TX (but they often recorded in Cosimo’s in New Orleans). Doggett had started in the music business as a would-be rockabilly artist but branched out into song writing, producing and apparently label management. However, according to the writer of the discography that Cal unearthed for the Eric label, “he (Doggett) may have only released Eric 7001, by Jeannie and the Epics (who had several singles on Dante) before selling or giving the label over to Huey P. Meaux and Chester Foy Lee”. (I’d add that Doggett is one of the writers for the A-side of the Epics disc; is confirmed as producer of the B side and could well have occupied that role for the A-side.) The date for the session by the Epics is listed as Aug. 31 1961. Only the year, 1962 is listed as the date for the Barbara Lynn single – Eric 7004 – but working back from later releases the impression given is that it would have been in the first half of 1962 or possibly the first quarter. While this doesn’t confirm that Dina And Patrina was the first single from Barbara it does make it sound almost certain. It also sounds highly probable that Huey Meaux was involved in the creation of Eric 7004. Thanks Cal.

8. Jimmy Reed tends to get grouped with Chicago blues artists since he was resident in the city, with some gaps, from 1943 onwards. However, he was born in Dunleith, Mississippi and his records were enormously influential on blues performers from South West Louisiana to the extent that he was almost viewed as a resident; several of the Crowley based Excello artists based much of their stylistic approach on his records. Barbara would certainly have heard such numbers on jukeboxes and the radio. The fact that she at least had awareness of the Excello artists is confirmed by the fact that she recorded Lazy Lester’s Sugar Coated Love during her period with Tribe Records.

9. A highlight from Barbara’s time at Tribe was her version of You Left The Water Running which stands up well in comparison to the better known versions of the song.

10. I usually make little or no reference to awards given to artists but thought it fitting in this instance to document the fact that, in 2018, Barbara received the National Heritage Fellowship. The fellowship is a lifetime honour presented to master folk and traditional artists by the US National Endowment for the Arts.

 

Barbara Lynn photo 2

 

 

NEA National Heritage Fellowship 2018: Barbara Lynn

Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award 1999: Barbara Lynn

Barbara Lynn, The Empress of Gulf Coast Soul

Barbara Lynn Discography at Soul Blues Music

Barbara Lynn Discography at Soulful Kinda Music

Barbara Lynn at Discogs

Barbara Lynn biography (Apple Music)

Dave Stephens’ New Orleans scenes
#1 Fats Domino, #2 Chris Kenner, #3 Jessie Hill, #4 Barbara Lynn, #5 Benny Spellman, #6 Ernie K-Doe, #7 Irma Thomas, #8 Barbara George, #9 Earl King, #10 Smiley Lewis, #11 Professor Longhair, #12 Shirley & Lee, #13 Lloyd Price, #14 Dr. John

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Bobby Bland, Solomon Burke, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Duane Eddy, B.B. King, Lazy Lester, Brenda Lee

TopperPost #826

4 Comments

  1. Keith Shackleton
    Dec 17, 2019

    Nice list, sir, which sent me scurrying to my Northern Soul folder, from which I come up with Take Your Love And Run. I would have to squeeze that one in somewhere. I’m not much of a dancer, but..

    • Dave Stephens
      Dec 17, 2019

      I’m not the world’s biggest Motown fan but it’s very apparent that Huey Meaux had done his homework extremely well. In Take Your Love And Run he and Barbara had managed to create a record with similar appeal to a lot of things coming out of Detroit and I mean the ones that are worshipped in Wigan (couldn’t resist a bit of alliteration)!

  2. Andrew Shields
    Dec 19, 2019

    The wisdom of Wigan will not be denied. Thanks for yet another great piece on a musician I didn’t know much about until now. And the first clip is worth the price of admission by itself.

  3. Cal Taylor
    Dec 19, 2019

    What an excellent read! This Toppermost redresses the balance a little bit in respect of the oft-overlooked and so underrated Barbara Lynn.
    Quite a few R&B no.1’s weren’t issued in the UK but most records that got in the US pop top 10 were but it was disgraceful that the 1962 release of ‘You’ll Miss A Good Thing’ was delayed for five years before it appeared here.
    What a lady – great singer, wrote a lot of her own songs and an accomplished guitarist besides still performing into her 70s.
    Thanks, Dave for doing the honours.

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