Huey Meaux and a "heartbreak" key mix

Vinyl Asides interviewee, Doug Hanners, first introduced me to the material of controversial Gulf Coast producer Huey Meaux, the “Crazy Cajun.” Hanners has been in the Texas record collecting scene since the early sixties and had become acquainted with Meaux after trying to shake him down for out of print 45s. He did end up buying most of Meaux’s warehouse, and as a result they formed a mutual friendship that would continue up until the Crazy Cajun passed away in 2011.

A radio DJ on Port Arthur’s KPAC and Houston’s KPFT and a prolific producer of soul and R&B music in the 60s and 70s, Meaux put out tons of records on various fly-by-night labels such as Tear Drop, Shane, Princess, Tribe, Pacemaker, Jetstream and Capri. “I tried to be his discographer,” Hanners said, “but I had to give up because he just had so many thousands of singles and even more ideas.”

When Meaux died, Hanners compiled his personal documents at UT Austin. Something like 111 boxes of photographs, paperwork, records and news pieces are stored away in the archive. He didn’t recommend I go digging through the boxes, however. For the best account of Meaux’s most vivid moments, Hanners suggested I read Joe Nick Patoski’s 1996 article from Texas Monthly, “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.” It detailed Meaux’s background, eccentric personality and the time during which he fled to Mexico after being charged with drug possession, child pornography and sexual assault. 

An authoritative writer of Texas musicians, Patoski knew the Houston-based producer like a friend and described him as a charming, rags-to-riches swindler – Meaux said about his artists, “I like to keep my artists in the dark so their stars shine brighter.” Starting out as a small-town barber, Meaux scratched his way to the top using the kind of business ethics he learned from the hustlers around him. Early on, Patoski witnessed the seedy nature of his interactions - he told me that Meaux and Don Robey would have business talks while shining their guns - but he also saw how Meaux could also be unfailingly generous. Apparently, he treated Doug Sahm like a son.

Meaux was a perpetual outsider who learned to use his exotic character as a selling point. Hanners said, “Norman Petty was a producer and musician, a lot like Huey. But, Huey would come to me and say how Petty always tried to make him look like a hick.” By adopting the Crazy Cajun persona, he both made himself impervious to insults and created a memorable business image. It must also have encouraged him to explore performers of similar minority status; he produced music from nearly every ethnic group in the Gulf from Mexican and African-Americans to Cajuns and Czechs.

Several good reissues of Meaux’s productions have come out in recent years. In 2013, Ace released South Texas Rhythm ‘n’ Soul Review, a compilation of remastered Meaux productions featuring Jackie Paine, Johnny Copeland and Margo White. Also in 2013, Bear Family released a deluxe edition of Southern Roots, originally recorded in 1973 by Jerry Lee Lewis and a back-up band of Stax musicians. Southern Roots was a comeback moment for Meaux and Lewis who were both fresh from prison stints. In the studio chatter included, their low point is made clear from their fascinatingly inappropriate exchanges. Between takes, the two Louisianans would bicker, harass band members or disparage women – a drunken Lewis at one point shouts, “Who’s that? Somebody’s wife or one of my concubines?” Another reissue of note was the 2014 rerelease of Here is Barbara Lynn (1968) by Light In The Attic records. The LP gatefold features an interview with the left-handed guitarist and songwriter about how she became one of Meaux’s most talented and lasting discoveries.

My interest in Meaux was in perhaps his most trumpeted quality (and I don’t mean his interest in young girls) - he had an uncanny ability to pair a singer with the right song. He searched for artists who sang in, as he called it, the “heartbreak” key. Hear how pure and almost complacent Rod Bernard’s voice is on “This Should Go On Forever” or how the double-tracked voice on Tommy McLain’s “Sweet Dreams” pierces the lush texture. Long story short - here’s a mix that attempts to highlight both his ear for talented singers as well as the diversity of styles that he promoted. For example, the Czech polka beat behind the Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About a Mover,” the Cajun vocal smears in Jivin’ Gene’s “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” and the mariachi brass elements in Sunny & the Sunliners’ “It’s Okay.” It’s a musical journey through Meaux’s territory, which spanned highway US-90 from New Orleans to San Antonio!

  1. Jivin' Gene - Breaking Up is Hard to Do
  2. Jimmy Donley - Please, Mr. Sandman
  3. Sir Douglas Quintet - She's About A Mover 
  4. Sunny and the Sunliners - It's Okay 
  5. Dale & Grace - I'm Leavin' It Up To You 
  6. Tommy McLain - Sweet Dreams 
  7. Rod Bernard - This Should Go On Forever 
  8. Barbara Lynn - I'm A Good Woman 
  9. Jerry Lee Lewis - Haunted House