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Moby Pick

Beaumont's Barbara Lynn lucks out with a song that almost died

Barbara Lynn wondered why the British voice on the other end of the phone sounded so excited. After all, this wasn't the first time that one of the Beaumont-born soul singer-guitarist's songs had been recorded by a major-label act. As a matter of fact, in 1964, when she was all of 22 years old, the Rolling Stones recorded her "Oh Baby (We Got a Good Thing Goin')."

And though she's long been a stranger to the highest reaches of the pop charts, she is not entirely unacquainted with them. Two years before the Stones covered one of her tunes, her own "You'll Lose a Good Thing" passed up Ray Charles's rendition of "I Can't Stop Loving You" for pop pole position and has since become a solid gold soul classic. Later Aretha Franklin and Freddy Fender, among others, took cracks at the slow, sad song about a love on its last legs.

So while the excited, thickly cockney voice telling her that an artist called "Mabey" was recording her old song "I'm a Good Woman" brought happy news, it was hardly as earth-shattering as he seemed to think. Who's this Mabey character, anyway?

"You really 'aven't 'eard of Mabey, Barbara? He's sold millions and millions of records," he said.

"No. Who is Mabey?" she replied.

"Not Mabey, Barbara. I'm talking about Mabey. M-O-B-Y."

Lynn can only laugh about it now. "Then I knew who he was talking about," she says.

Were it not for a former recording studio technician here in Houston, the matchup might never have happened. The song that the techno DJ has given new life to as "Another Woman" on his new album, 18, had almost literally faded into oblivion. The tune had been out of print since about 1964, when Huey Meaux and Lynn cut the song in Cosimo Matassa's studio in New Orleans. The master tapes to Lynn's early work languished on a shelf at Houston's Sugar Hill Studios, where Meaux's slapdash archival methods saw to it that all his old masters were slowly absorbing minuscule amounts of humidity. As the years rolled into decades, the tiny droplets came close to adding up to a lethal dose (sort of the story of all of our lives here in Houston).

Former Sugar Hill general manager David Thompson came to the rescue in 1997. Meaux was in prison after the police, acting on a tip from his adopted son, raided the studio and uncovered a secret chamber stashed with sex tapes starring Meaux and a series of minors. Since Meaux had lost control of much of his empire, Thompson approached Meaux's long-estranged wife about restoring and licensing the material. Once he got the go-ahead and secured a licensing deal from the UK label Demon, Thompson set to work.

First, he had to find out just what was on the tapes. Canister after canister was either mislabeled or not labeled at all. Then, in order to come up with viable master DATs, Thompson had to bake many of the masters to rid them of microscopic water droplets. It's Thompson we must thank for the current existence of Sonny Landreth's long-lost first sessions, which had gone unreleased until 1999. If it weren't for Thompson, local soul/blues artists Gloria Edwards and Joe Medwick might never have had any of their material come out on CD under their own names. Early albums by Johnny Copeland, Roy Head, Rod Bernard, and late sessions by T-Bone Walker and Floyd Tillman might well have been lost forever. Instead, Demon rereleased dozens of the CDs between 1998 and 2000 on its Edsel and Westside imprints overseas. (Disclosure alert: Racket and his father, John Lomax III, produced many of these albums for reissue. Neither is paid royalties on sales.)

Barbara Lynn, especially, owes Thompson a big hug. Were it not for his efforts, Moby might never have heard of her save as the one-hit wonder responsible for "You'll Lose a Good Thing." It was a copy of Lynn's The Crazy Cajun Recordings that Moby fell for -- putting the lie to his recent assertion that he buys only records with hits on them; Meaux had sold the rights to "You'll Lose a Good Thing" long ago. But even at one listen, it's obvious that the grooving, mid-tempo rocker "I'm a Good Woman" should have been a hit, and the song (or at least its sampled vocals) very well could be a hit now, 38 years after its recording.

It's the latest and largest in a series of small steps Lynn has taken toward one of the bigger comebacks in local music history. Born Barbara Lynn Ozen into a prominent Beaumont Creole family (Ozen High School is named after an uncle), Lynn grew up wanting to be the next Elvis Presley, and the facts that she was black, female and left-handed were not going to get in the way. She abandoned the piano, took up guitar, and was soon discovered by Cajun wildman Joe Barry and brought to the attention of Meaux.

Meaux then whisked her off to New Orleans for the "Good Thing" sessions. The next year passed in a whirlwind of pop high life. Accompanied by her mother, Mildred Richard, who wasn't about to let her young daughter get corrupted by a life on the road at such a tender age, Lynn played the Apollo Theatre and American Bandstand and toured overseas.

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