Wasted Days, Wasted Lives (Part II)

After his release from prison in 1969, Meaux seemed to be a changed man. According to associates at the time, it wasn't a change for the better.

"Huey came out of prison with a lot of new friends," recalls promoter Steve Gladson. "It was very intimidating for a lot of us. We had never met convicted murderers."

And it seemed more difficult than ever to deal with Meaux. Making an appointment with the producer was like trying to obtain an audience with the Pope.

Ironically, Meaux exited the pen in better financial shape than when he had gone in. While "doing that time at college," he had continued to collect royalties on the records he had produced prior to his conviction. His nest egg allowed Meaux to weather the long dry spell before his next big hit and gave him the means, two years after his release, to buy Gold Star Studios.

Housed in a warehouse-like building at 5626 Brock, in a primarily residential area not far from the University of Houston's central campus, Gold Star was the studio where George Jones' "White Lightnin' " and the original version of "From a Jack to a King" were recorded. In the early '60s, after leaving KPAC, Meaux cut many of his sessions at facilities in New Orleans. But just prior to his trouble with the law, he had been using the studio on Brock. He felt comfortable there.

Meaux also returned to his radio roots after getting out of prison. From KPFT's small studio in the since-demolished Atlanta Life Building on Prairie Street, Huey combined his taste in music with his new appreciation for life behind bars. Fortified with a control room full of distilled spirits and sometimes, according to those who were there, various forms of contraband, the new "Crazy Cajun Show" aired every Friday night. The show always started with a fast song and picked up speed from there. At some point, Meaux would pause to read letters the station received from its listeners in prison.

While Meaux was working to re-establish himself, Tex-Mex singer Freddy Fender was attempting to revive his own career. Like Meaux, Fender was an ex-con, having served time at Angola State Prison in Louisiana for a pot bust in the early '60s. Fender and Meaux had known each other for years but had never collaborated. At a dead end in his career, Fender turned to Meaux. He would later say that he had felt that he could trust Huey, since they had both been to prison.

At the time, there weren't a whole lot of people knocking on Meaux's door, either. He didn't have any money to pay musicians to come into the studio to play with Fender, but he did have some instrumental tracks in the vault. Among them was a song called "Before the Next Teardrop Falls." Although Fender complained to Meaux that he couldn't "sing that gringo shit," Meaux convinced Fender to lay down some vocals over the canned music. For the B-side, Meaux scraped together some musicians to back Fender on his old standard, "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights."

Meaux pressed the 45 on his Crazy Cajun label and convinced disc jockey Joe Ladd to play both sides on KIKK. Because of the single's popularity on Houston radio, Nashville got interested. The record was distributed nationally and went to number one.

Meaux was at the pinnacle of his professional success, but police say that it was about this time his personal life was taking on an even darker tone, which they say would not be fully exposed to the light for two more decades.

As "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" was moving up the charts, Meaux was developing a relationship with a woman named Nancy Haritos. In 1979, Meaux and Haritos and her two young daughters moved into a two-story house Meaux had purchased in the newly developed subdivision of Scarsdale, not far from Ellington Air Force Base. On the surface, their life was the picture of suburban bliss.

But according to the lawsuit filed against Meaux a few days after his arrest last month, life at the Meaux household was anything but. Haritos' 26-year-old daughter, Shannon McDowell Brasher, claims that from the time she was nine until she was 16, Meaux sexually assaulted her, allowed others to do the same, and recorded the assaults on videotape.

Brasher says Meaux controlled her by getting her hooked on cocaine and threatening to hurt her if she told anyone. Brasher's younger sister, Stacy McDowell, subsequently joined Brasher in the lawsuit, claiming she, too, had been abused by Meaux.

The allegations of heavy drug use surprised some of Meaux's friends. The notion that Meaux liked young girls did not.

"Everybody knew Huey loved pussy, especially young pussy," says an acquaintance. "Hell, I think Huey may have loved young pussy more than he loved money. And he really loved money. But I never had any idea that he liked them that young."

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Steve McVicker