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.