Barbara Lynn’s debut single, 1962’s “You’ll Lose A Good Thing,” soared to the top of the Billboard pop and R&B charts. Skip forward almost half a century to 2009 and the American Folklife Center in Washington, D.C., honored her at both the Kennedy Center and Library of Congress. Her home of Beaumont named a street after her.
Sarah Rucker of Austin’s Texas Folklife Resources calls Lynn “the Empress of Gulf Coast Soul.” It’s hard for her not to be effusive about the 72-year-old singer and six-stringer.
“Barbara Lynn is an American musical icon,” she states. “How many left-handed female blues guitar players do you know that have withstood the music business for over 50 years with success as a recording and performing artist? I feel honored to have become friends with one of my idols and hope music lovers all over the world continue to discover and become inspired by her music.”
Don’t miss this chance to see Lynn Saturday at the North Door. Her grandkid’s band, the Johnsons, and the Soul Supporters plus DJ Topper James round out the bill. Doors 9pm, show 9:30. $10 pre-sale tickets, $12 at the door, $20 reserved seating.
Austin Chronicle: What was your childhood like?
Barbara Lynn: I grew up right here in Beaumont, and I always wanted to play guitar. I would always tell my mama and everyone that when I grew up I wanted to be somebody popular. I never said I was going to me someone famous or anything like that. I always said I was going to be popular. When I would get back home from grade school, I would pretend to play the piano on the window sill, so I was already into music, because this is what I wanted to do – play music and sing. Growing up, I was influenced by B.B. King, Gatemouth Brown, Aretha Franklin, and as I started getting older, I liked Elvis Presley too.
AC: How old were you when you first started preforming?
BL: When I was in school, I formed a girls group called Bobby Lynn & Her Idols. It was about four or five of us. Every day at lunch, we would go behind the building at school and practice singing. And then I started writing songs because I wanted to be a songwriter too. By then my band was playing at school talent shows. We were doing really good at it, so I said I really am going to pursue this because this is what I wanted to be: a singer. I started making records in 1962.
AC: What would you say was you first real musical break?
BL: My first real music break was when I wrote this song called “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” and it went up to No. 1. That’s when I really started going on tours and to different places with other singers.
AC: How did having children change music for you?
BL: It changed it a great deal, because when I had my first child I had to slow down anyway, and each time I would have one of my kids, you know, I would slow down even more.
AC: What would say your greatest accomplishments have been?
BL: Well, my number one thing has been being on American Bandstand not once but twice. And I thought that was really a good experience meeting Dick Clark, and playing with people like Chuck Berry and Stevie Wonder.
AC: Most memorable moments onstage?
BL: I’ll tell you one of my most comical moments was when I was on American Bandstand. At that time, we were all wearing wigs and I was trying to cut my wig and I cut it crooked. I’ll never forget that, and I have that picture hanging right here in my living room.
AC: What’s the process of songwriting like for you?
BL: Well, I go off what I see and hear. Especially when I was writing early on. I would write from seeing other people like some of my neighbors. That’s where I got lines in songs like “This Is the Thanks I Get.” One of the lines is, “This is the thanks I get/ I worked my fingers right down to the bone/ To try and make you a happy home.”
AC: I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times, but do you think it’s harder for women in the music business? I hear different things from different women.
BL: Well I don’t know. I mean at that time when I was traveling and playing it was real cool for men. I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t have time to think about it. I was just enjoying that I had a hit song going.
AC: Has it been difficult for you to find left-handed guitars over there years? I’m left-handed too and it’s hard for me.
BL: Yeah, during the early years it was hard for me to find left-handed guitars. In fact, there’s a music store here in Beaumont called Swicegood Music and they ordered me a left-handed guitar because it costs more being left-handed. Sometimes I would have to string up my strings backward when I was playing a right-handed guitar. Once I started playing a left-handed guitar, it was oh so easy.
AC: You’ve had a star-studded career. Were you surprised when the Rolling Stones recorded one of your songs?
BL: Oh yes, I was so excited for that – knowing that Mick Jagger and all of them were going to be recording “Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Going).”
AC: What was the first thing that went through your head when you first found out that they were going to record it?
BL: Mick Jagger called me at my manager’s office. My manager said to me, “There’s someone I would like you to talk to, Barbara. His name is Mick Jagger.” I said, “You mean the Mick Jagger with the Rolling Stones?” “Yes m’am.” Jagger said, “I’m here to collaborate with your manager and ask you if it’s alright with you for us to record your song ‘Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Going).’” I told him, “You have my full permission!”
AC: What changes in music have surprised you the most?
BL: Hip-hop singers are new to my generation. They’re really moving. They’ve taken over. But it’s alright. I like to see the young doing well.
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