Soul Legend Barbara Lynn Still Has a Great Thing Goin’
The Texan R&B guitarist has been covered by the Rolling Stones, Lil Wayne, and Moby.
Illustration: Ashley Goodall
Barbara Lynn was a teenager in the early 60s when she started playing in blues bands around Beaumont and other parts of southeast Texas. The left-handed guitarist was still young when she began dating a fellow musician, a saxophone player by the name of Sylvester or 'Stank.' But she soon found Stank living up to his name and carousing around town with another woman.
"He'd tell me that she was his best friend's sister and she'd say, 'No, Barbara, it's nothing, nothin,'" Lynn explains 55-years later from her Beaumont home. But after seeing the couple together for a second and third time, Lynn came home and wrote a song. That song was "If You Lose Me, You'll Lose A Good Thing."
"Like I tell everyone now when I'm on stage, it's a very true song and I may have shed some tears then, but I've since laughed all the way to the bank," she says.
That she has. In 1962, "If You Lose Me, You'll Lose A Good Thing" knocked Ray Charles from the number one spot on the R&B chart and helped Lynn establish a career that has seen her play alongside musical legends Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and BB King.
Lynn continues to play, including an upcoming return to New Orleans for the Ponderosa Stomp, a roots music festival founded by the Mystic Knights of the Mau Ma, a cultural organization dedicated to preserving and presenting the history of American roots music.
She was born Barbara Lynn Ozen in Beaumont on January 16, 1942. Influenced by Gatemouth Brown, BB King, Jimmy Reed, and Elvis Presley and other performers she'd hear on the radio, she began playing guitar from a young age, starting with a right-handed guitar that she would switch strings and play upside down. Her first left-handed was a Gibson that her family paid for and she says that she's been on a roll since.
Lynn was discovered by singer Joe Barry at a nightclub over the state line in Vinton, Louisiana. "The place was packed but we had to go through the back in those [segregated] days," she recalls. "But during the break, he came up to me and introduced himself. Later he went back to his manager Huey P. Meaux and said, 'Man, I saw a young black girl playing a left hand guitar and she can sing too!'"
Meaux drove to Beaumont to ask Lynn's parents if he could manage her and in 1962 brought her to New Orleans to cut "If You Lose Me,You'll Lose A Good Thing" at Cosimo Matassa's studio. Lynn's soulful vocals and bluesy guitar licks had a swampier feel than most R&B at the time, and the backing band The Vikings included New Orleans piano legend Dr. John. "I remember going over it 22 times and finally Huey says 'We got it. We got a hit,'" laughs Lynn. "I may have been tired but I was still excited."
"If You Lose Me, You'll Lose A Good Thing" is about Stank but it could be directed towards any no-good-guy and Lynn says that over the years she has been approached by many woman. "I've been in a lot of ladies' rooms after I've finished shows and girls have said, 'When you wrote that song Barbara you wrote (excuse the expression) a hell of a title. That's a true song.' Women can identity with the lyrics, because a lot of men think they can do women wrong. Then again it can work both ways nowadays," she laughs.
Lynn had other hits and in 1964 The Rolling Stones recorded Lynn's "Oh Baby (We Got a Good Thing Goin')," featuring it on their 1965 classic The Rolling Stones, Now!
The first time Lynne spoke to Mick Jagger, she didn't know that it was the Rolling Stones' frontman on the line. "My manager handed me the phone and said, 'I have someone here who wants to talk to you.'"
She heard and English accent: "Hi Miss Barbara, my name is Mick Jagger…"
"Of the Rolling Stones!?" she asked.
He said, "Yes, ma'am. We would like to cover one of your songs"
"I said, 'You have my full permission.'"
Lynn ended up playing all over the country and the world including, Japan and New Zealand. She approached her first show at the Apollo with caution after she was told that the New York City audience could be tough. "Some people said when you play the Apollo you need to have it going on because if not they will throw bananas at you and boo you off the stage. So before the show backstage and hearing my name being yelled and getting ready to go on I was like, 'Lord let me be alright...'"
She was more than alright, and finished the show to a standing ovation. "I felt pretty good yes indeed... and nobody threw a banana at me for sure."
In the early 70s, Lynn turned her attention to raising a family, but continued performing, eventually resuming an active tour schedule and releasing new music, including 2000's Hot Night Tonight, which featured some hip-hop elements by her son.
In 2013, Lil Wayne Wayne sampled Lynn's "I'm a Good Woman" on his "Days and Days" track that featured 2 Chainz. "I couldn't believe it, my grandkids were sitting in there and I went in after getting off the phone and I said, 'Guess who's ready to do one of my songs?'"
Her impressions? She laughs. "Well, you know... it's Lil Wayne."
Barbara Lynn plays The Ponderosa Stomp, New Orleans Oct 5-7.