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'South Texas' Collects Producer's Checkered Career

Record producer Huey Meaux wound up in jail twice, but he sure had a knack for finding talent in unlikely places. Some of those songs are included on South Texas Rhythm 'n' Soul Revue. (Courtesy of the artist)

Record producer Huey P. Meaux's career was, to put it mildly, a checkered one. It had two chapters, each of which ended with him in prison. But both times, he discovered some amazing Texas and Louisiana artists who made great music. Researchers are still piecing together the first half of the story, which saw hundreds of singles released on labels like Jet Stream, Tear Drop, Jet, Pacemaker and Eric. Now some of those songs have been collected on a compilation called South Texas Rhythm 'n' Soul Revue.

In 1959, Meaux was living in Winnie, a rice-milling town in east Texas, cutting hair and doing a radio show for the local station. Somehow, he ran into Jivin' Gene Bourgeois and recorded a song, "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," which he sold to Mercury Records, who turned it into a hit. He took his check from Mercury to the local bank and was promptly arrested on suspicion of selling drugs.

"A little Cajun barber wasn't supposed to have that kind of money unless he was doing something illegal," Meaux told me many years later.

But he was, from that moment on, addicted: He knew there was talent all around him, and after moving to Houston, where most of it played, he let the word out that there was a record producer looking for talent. In 1962, he got a tape from a left-handed female guitarist from Beaumont who wrote her own material. Barbara Lynn Ozen — or Barbara Lynn, as she's known to most of us — was the first major discovery Meaux made in Houston, and he eventually leased her records to Atlantic in New York, where a more produced version of "You'll Lose a Good Thing" was a Top 10 hit in June 1962.

There were a lot of record labels in Houston in those days, but there was only one Crazy Cajun, who had connections with some of the South's top recording studios, including Cosimo Matassa's in New Orleans. There was always talent looking for a record deal there, too, which is how the great Johnny Adams briefly wound up on Meaux's Pacemaker label.

"I always look for a voice," Meaux told me when I interviewed him in the 1970s, and he really didn't care if that voice came from a black, white or brown person, a man or a woman. A lot of the guitar work on his early soul records was by Joey Long, whose real surname was Longoria — a player worshiped by the young Billy Gibbons and other up-and-coming Houston blues guitarists.

Another Mexican-American soul singer who stuck with Meaux for years was Sunny Ozuna, from San Antonio, where Sunny and the Sunliners were major stars. There was also the blues act Johnny and Edgar Winter, who worked the Houston club circuit.

In 1965, Meaux struck gold when a fast-talking San Antonio guy walked into his office asking to make a record. The subsequent success of the Sir Douglas Quintet spun Meaux off into yet another direction, but it wasn't going to last. In 1968, he was convicted of a 1966 morals charge. The first act of Huey Meaux's career was over.

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

The record producer Huey P. Meaux, who was nicknamed "The Crazy Cajun," became best known for producing Freddy Fender's hit "Before the Next Teardrop Falls," and for producing the Sir Douglas Quintet. Meaux's checkered career had two chapters, each of which ended with him in prison.

Our rock historian Ed Ward is going to profile the first chapter in which Meaux discovered some amazing Texas and Louisiana artists.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Pogo train leaving New York City, destination diddy wah diddy. Be in L.A. in two hours flat, 'cause that's where the action's at. Get on board. Here come the Pogo train. All right. Lord, we going to spread joy and healing all over this land. All over this land.

(Singing) A Crazy Cajun is going to be their engineer. The Righteous Brothers...

ED WARD, BYLINE: In 1959, Huey Meaux was living in Winnie, a rice-milling town in east Texas, cutting hair and doing a radio show for the local station. Somehow, he ran into Jivin' Gene Bourgeois and recorded a song, "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," which he sold to Mercury Records, who turned it into a hit. He took his check from Mercury to the local bank and was promptly arrested on suspicion of selling drugs.

A little Cajun barber wasn't supposed to have that kind of money unless he was doing something illegal, Huey told me many years later.

But he was, from that moment on, addicted. He knew there was talent all around him, and after moving to Houston, where most of it played, he let the word out that there was a record producer looking for talent. In 1962, he got a tape from a left-handed female guitarist from Beaumont who wrote her own material.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'LL LOSE A GOOD THING")

BARBARA LYNN: (singing) If you should lose me, oh, yeah, you'll lose a good thing. If you should lose me, oh, yeah, you'll lose a good thing. You know I love you, do anything for you. Just don't mistreat me and I'll be good to you. But if you should lose me...

WARD: Barbara Lynn Ozen - or Barbara Lynn, as she's known to most of us - was the first major discovery Huey made in Houston, and he eventually leased her records to Atlantic in New York, where a more produced version of "You'll Lose a Good Thing" was a Top 10 hit in June 1962. There were a lot of record labels in Houston in those days, but there was only one crazy Cajun, who had connections with some of the South's top recording studios, including Cosimo Matassa's in New Orleans.

There was always talent looking for a record deal there, too, which is how the great Johnny Adams briefly wound up on Huey's Pacemaker label.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

JOHNNY ADAMS: (singing) Let them talk if they want to. Yeah. Talk don't bother me. No, no, no. I want the whole wide world to know, yeah, that I, I sure do love you so.

WARD: I always look for a voice, Meaux told me when I interviewed him in the 1970s, and he really didn't care if that voice came from a black, white or brown person, a man or a woman. A lot of the guitar work on his early soul records was by Joey Long, whose real surname was Longoria - a player worshiped by the young Billy Gibbons and other up-and-coming Houston blues guitarists.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIVE LONG YEARS")

JOEY LONG: (singing) I've been mistreated. Baby, I think you know what I'm talking about. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've been mistreated, baby. Oh, child, you know what I'm talking about now. Yes, I worked five long years for one woman, then she had the nerve to kick me out.

WARD: Another Mexican-American soul singer who stuck with Huey for years was Sunny Ozuna, from San Antonio, where Sunny and the Sunliners were major stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRICK BAG")

SUNNY OZUNA: (singing) Twelve o'clock at night. You walked out of my door and told me, baby, you were going to the drugstore. But in my mind I knew were lying. Drugstores close at a quarter to nine. I saw you kissing Willy across the fence. I heard you telling Willy I don't have no sense. Oh, the way you been acting is such a drag, you put me in a trick bag.

WARD: Another blues act that recorded several singles for Huey was Johnny and Edgar Winter, who worked the Houston club circuit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT OF SIGHT")

EDGAR WINTER: (singing) You got your high heeled sneakers on and your slip-in mules. Got your high heeled sneakers on and your slip-in mules. You're moving all right now. I know you're out of sight. You've got a shapely figure, mama.

WARD: Johnny does a solo on this record, one of many they cut in the mid-'60s. It didn't do much. Another act that recorded prolifically for Huey with little success finally found a bit of it in the 1980s. Johnny Clyde Copeland was a superb guitarist and vocalist with a tendency for mixing soul and blues.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

JOHNNY CLYDE COPELAND: (singing) Hey, little girl. I'm going to get you. Even though I know I've never met you. I'm going to take my time and slowly mess up your mind. I'm not giving up my ground. I'm going to slow walk you down.

WARD: In 1965, Huey struck gold when a fast-talking San Antonio guy walked into his office asking to make a record. The subsequent success of the Sir Douglas Quintet spun Huey off into yet another direction, but it wasn't going to last. In 1968, he was convicted of a 1966 morals charge. The first act of Huey Meaux's career was over.

GROSS: Ed Ward played music from the "South Texas Rhythm and Soul Review" on the Kent label. Coming up, John Powers recommends a novel he thinks is worth finding time for. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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