John Sieger
Sieger On Songs

Barbara Lynn, the Female Jimi Hendrix?

The singer, songwriter and instrumentalist scored with “You’ll Lose A Good Thing.”

By - May 20th, 2016 02:18 pm
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Barbara Lynn - “You’ll Lose A Good Thing.”

Barbara Lynn – “You’ll Lose A Good Thing.”

Let’s talk about the way music is made now and the way it used to be made. Making no definitive claims for one approach or the other, it’s easy to generalize with this statement: The top 40 in 2016, and for a long time, has been dominated by producers. That band everyone loves, The Beatles, let the genie out of the bottle long ago, and if I were granted a third wish, I’d ask it to go back in for a while. It was more than symbolic when the boys decided to leave the stage and concentrate on studio creations.

They made the decision because the screams were drowning out the stellar performances they had honed in Hamburg. They then went deeper and farther into that new format, the L.P., than anyone ever thought possible. Performers first, nascent producers second, with the brilliant Sir George Martin producing, they opened a door and the whole industry walked through it.

It’s a given that most modern ears are spoiled. People like listening to music that is multi-tracked, polished and perfected in private spaces full of expensive machines and blinking lights. Hell, I even like that stuff! But something is lost in the process.

Lately I’ve been admiring videos of live performances from the age of electric, but not necessarily electronic, instruments. Watching a young Barbara Lynn sing and play her 1962 hit, “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” reminds me of why I like live music best. Something interesting happens in real time because there’s a certain amount of risk involved. Like great athletes, staying in the zone is of the ultimate importance — and none were cooler than Ms. Lynn in this setting, soulfully singing a great song she wrote. Without a stitch of irony (a modern predilection that has spread far beyond the bounds of quality control), she opens her heart and lets loose.

It’s a confident song and she is a very confident women. She was a band leader, a real guitar player, not a model in an ad for Fender Telecasters. Her resemblance to that other lefty, Jimi Hendrix, is uncanny — she could be his sister. Around the time this video was made, in the early to mid-‘60s, they were both traveling the Chitlin’ Circuit, gritty clubs that kept all the great soul and blues acts on the road. This song had to have elevated her above that level, but it’s the hours in those clubs in Houston-Memphis-Atlanta-Chicago and countless other towns that put the polish on her show.

She uses an over-the-top-of-the-neck grip when she plays barre chords on her guitar. I was always taught that was bad technique, but lately I’ve been noticing all my favorite guitarists do it. It’s too late to train my stubby paws to do that trick, but now I wish I could. She plays with a thumb pick and bare fingers. Add her to the list of wonderful folk, blues and rock guitarists who play that way. One other bit of show biz I like is the way she strums up and down the neck. Was she first, or Johnny Cash? They both do it well and it is, frankly, a move that’s hard to do on an iPad.

With all the tricks of the trade at her disposal, her real trump card (dare I use that phrase these days) is the song. A common progression heard in every other song in the 1950’s and 60’s, it was a platform for endless variations. Most foundations are rectangles but that doesn’t mean the houses look same. Of the endless varieties of songs written to these changes, hers is near the top.

She’s telling some clueless fella, who has probably slipped up one time too many, just what he’s about to lose. I hope he listened.

If you should lo-oo-se me
Oh yeah, you’ll lose a good thing

If you should lo-oo-se me
Oh yeah, you’ll lose a good thing

You know I love you
Do anything for you
Just don’t mistreat me
An I’ll be good to you

‘Cause if you should lo-oo-se me
Oh yeah, you’ll lose a good thing

I’m givin’ you one more chance
For you to do right
If you’ll only straighten up
We’ll have a good life

‘Cause if you should lo-oo-se me
Oh yeah, you’ll lose a good thing

This is my last time
Not asking any more
If you don’t do right
I’m gonna march outta that door

And if you don’t be-lie-eve me
Just try it, daddy
An you’ll lose a good thing
Just try it, daddy
An you’ll lose a good thing
Just try it, daddy
An you’ll lose a good thing
Just try it, daddy
An you’ll lose a good thing

© Barbara Lynn Ozen

Lynn was all of 20 when this was recorded. She had a producer, and a famous one, Huey P. Meaux, out of Beaumont Texas. He was an important figure in Swamp Rock and later produced Freddy Fender. The session for this song was in New Orleans at Cosimo Matassa’s studio, where about 90 percent of classic Crescent City rock’n’roll was cut. Dr. John played piano on the session.

It was performed in the studio and may have been one take or a hundred, but it went down in real time and almost certainly featured no overdubs. That slick technique, along with gated reverbs, quantizing, auto-tuning and programming were all a long ways down the road.

My point? Not sure I have one, but… I heard the winner of the Eurovision contest today. Content aside, for it does score points for being critical of the Russia’s Trump, Boris Putin, it has that certain sound — I call it aural sausage. Everything on the surface, the drums, no longer trying to pretend they are the barrels of joy that have been played with swinging abandon for the last 80 years, are now a program. Beep bloop. It’s ear candy and who doesn’t like dessert? But could we have a meal first?

This state of the art is allowing producers to make artists with skills like Barbara Lynn unnecessary. It also allows a few unnecessary artists go a little higher than they might have before. I fight the curmudgeon in me, and I have a studio and cheat a little here and there for convenience (never auto-tune!). But I know how easy it is to polish cow droppings. In an environment where all mistakes can be corrected, there are no consequences and no risk. It’s Groundhog Day without Bill Murray.

3 thoughts on “Sieger On Songs: Barbara Lynn, the Female Jimi Hendrix?”

  1. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    I loved reading about this very confident female singer, and it was refreshing to hear lyrics from the other perspective (since far too often we hear women pining about the men that they’ve lost or are losing, even if they’re terrible!).

  2. mbradley c says:

    You had to take a shot at Trump? What were you talking about now?

    Free your mind.

  3. Blaine says:

    Great find John! I saw her play in Green Bay a few years ago. She was fantastic! Promoter told me she rode the bus up from Houston for the gig.

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