In this column, I’ve written about everyone from superstars who ran numerous hits up the charts to one-hit wonders who only had that single moment in the sun. Then are those who broke out of the gate with their big hit and then never repeated that initial success. It has to be the most frustrating feeling of all. Such an artist is Barbara Lynn who, while she had other chart records and even some R&B hits, never managed to equal the enormous success of her first release.
Lynn was born in Beaumont, Texas and began her musical pursuits as a piano player before she switched to guitar. Surely a female, African-American, left-handed electric guitarist who wrote her own songs was a rare thing at the time. Lynn’s influences were a mixture of blues artists like Jimmy Reed and pop purveyors like Elvis Presley and Brenda Lee. Lynn began her career playing in local clubs and her break came when singer Joe Barry caught her act and introduced her to producer Huey P. Meaux.
Meaux owned SugarHill Recording Studios in New Orleans along with a few record labels. But when it was time for Lynn to record her debut single she went to Cosimo Matassa’s legendary J&M studio. The song that was chosen was one written by Lynn and Meaux called “You’ll Lose a Good Thing.” Among the session players was one Mac Rebennack AKA Dr. John. Jamie Records released the single in August 1962 and it shot up to the #1 spot on the Billboard R&B chart while also nudging into the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Based on the success of her debut single, Lynn hit the road with some of the biggest stars of the day including James Brown, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Ike & Tina Turner, and Marvin Gaye. There were appearances at the Apollo theater and on American Bandstand. Lynn continued to release singles for Jamie until 1966. Among them were “You’re Gonna Need Me,” “Oh! Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’),” a Lynn-written song that was covered by the Rolling Stones, “Don’t Spread it Around,” and “It’s Better to Have It.” All of these titles were Top 40 R&B hits.
After leaving Jamie, Lynn signed with Meaux’s Tribe label where she had another R&B chart hit with “You Left the Water Running.” In 1967, Lynn signed with Atlantic Records. Dissatisfaction with the label together with the desire to raise her growing family led Lynn to mostly opt out of the music business in the 1970s although while living in Los Angeles during this time she did play a few club gigs and released one-off singles here and there.
In 1984, Lynn toured Japan where she recorded a live album. After her husband died, Lynn returned to Beaumont in and 1994 she recorded her first studio album in over 20 years. Several more albums followed most recently Blues & Soul Situation in 2004. Lynn received the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1999.