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.
Little did she know that her moment in the sun had come and gone. She never had another hit to match "Good Thing." After she parted ways with Meaux, Atlantic Records gave her a go in 1968, but that album failed to sell, and Lynn pretty much gave up performing in public for close to 20 years. After releasing So Good, her 1993 comeback album, Lynn signed with Clifford Antone, who is now, like Meaux, incarcerated, though for the vastly less sordid offense of pot dealing. Hot Night Tonight came out in 2000 on the Antone's label.
"Over my 38 years of recording," she said at the time, "I've only had one major song to really make it big, and right now, I still work on the strength of that one song. But hopefully with this album, and Antone's Records, we can make it happen."
It didn't happen then, not quite. But thanks to Moby and a Houston studio tech, Barbara Lynn has found another good thing to keep her going.
Believe it or not, the place to be in town this weekend is the 300 block of Main, which looks less like the boulevard of dreams city fathers keep telling us it will soon be than it does a rubble-strewn block of Berlin the day the Russian Red Army came to town. Brave music fans will have plenty to love amid the ruins however, as the area will host two blockbuster shows. On Saturday, May 25, Sun Machine, Carolyn Wonderland, the Rachels, Tody Castillo, Gel, Simpleton and Jug O' Lightnin' will perform at the First Annual Yard Party on Main Street, while the next day finds over two dozen of the city's finest DJs spinning at the Second Annual Houston DJ Showcase at Arrival (300 Main). Doors open at 3p.m If you want to get out of the city a little ways, the Double Bayou Dance Hall is the country hot spot. Local bluesman Pete Mayes will be throwing open the doors at the oldest blues bar in Texas for a May 26 afternoon concert. The dance hall is the historic focal point for the Double Bayou community, a historically African-American town set in the picturesque, gator-crawling swamps just south of Anahuac -- in other words, the blues the way Hollywood always envisions them, only real. Bring your own booze, kids and a designated driver. For more information or directions, call Steve Sucher at 713-993-0335 Noel Gallagher has a message for all the American rockers out there, and unless you're one of the eight guys in either BRMC or the Strokes, the message is this: Your band sucks. "I think that if we take Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the Strokes out of the equation, American rock music is as bad as it's ever been, really," the feisty, often cocktail-entranced Oasis front man recently told MTV. "There's a lot of unshaven grown men in shorts with skateboard trainers [translation: Vans] singing about the blackness of the future. I find it has no soul. They should all have a shave and they should all put on trousers and they should all take their masks off and they should all go and listen to the Beatles, and then they should come back and make some proper music." Evidently Americans feel the same about the Brits. One month ago, for the first time since the advent of the Beatles about 40 years back, there was not a single UK act in the Billboard Top 40.
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