Huey P. Meaux, R.I.P.
Huey P. Meaux, the legendary and controversial Southeast Texas music producer who discovered the Sir Douglas Quintet, Freddy Fender, “Jivin’ Gene” Bourgeois and Barbara Lynn, died Saturday at the age of 82.
Meaux had been in federal prison since 1996, when a police raid of his Sugar Hill studios in Houston uncovered evidence that Meaux participated in child pornography, sex with underage females and drug possession. He skipped bail and ran to Mexico, but he finally gave up and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Meaux was released because of failing health and he lived in Winnie, where he died on Saturday.
Meaux, known as the “Crazy Cajun,” was a barber by trade and a radio DJ in Port Arthur, Texas, in the late 1950s. He would do a radio show on KPAC on Saturday afternoons, playing Cajun music for the transplanted coonasses who came to Texas to work at the oil refineries. One day Meaux got a visit from one of those refinery workers.
As Meaux told it, “He walked in with blue jeans and bare feet and these big thick glasses like Clark Kent. He wanted me to record his rock and roll band … I told him I didn’t know what the hell I was doing but if he was OK with that, then let’s get down to it.”
The guy was Gene Bourgeois, soon to be known as “Jivin’ Gene.” In the old KPAC studio those days they had a Magnecord mono reel-to-reel, and Huey hung a ribbon mike from a boom. The drums, he put way back to keep them from overpowering everything and he put Bourgeois in the toilet to get the proper echo on his voice.
“Yeah, I really did sing in the shitter,” Bourgeois told me once. “But it was because I was so shy, I didn’t want anyone looking at me when I sang.” Anyway, the song was “Going Out With The Tide,” and after Huey sent it to Jin Records owner Floyd Soileau it became a regional hit. Jivin’ Gene’s next tune was produced by Meaux in Crowley (at J.D. Miller’s studio): “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” which is not the Neil Sedaka hit.
This song got more radio airplay, and eventually it was leased to Mercury Records, which put it out nationally. “Breakin’ Up” went to No. 69 on the pop charts in 1959, and Huey Meaux was on his way.
In 1962 Meaux produced a Beaumont singer, Barbara Lynn, and the song “You’ll Lose A Good Thing,” which rose to No. 8 in the Billboard charts. Meaux also signed Big Sambo, whose “The Rains Came” was a modest hit and Sunny and the Sunliners, who got a nice chart ride with “Talk To Me.”
In 1965, Meaux heard a bunch of kids from San Antonio who played a weird mix of rock and roll and Mexican music; he noticed first that it was a lot like Cajun music and then that it kinda had the same beat that stuff like the Beatles and the other British Invasion groups were doing. So he told the boys, “Grow some hair and let’s go cut some of this shit,” and the Sir Douglas Quintet cut their very first hit, “She’s About A Mover,” in Houston. Meaux produced their hits until the band got freaky and moved to San Francisco in the late 1960s.
Meaux also revived the career of Freddy Fender, who was an ex-con with a mechanic’s job when he cut “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” in 1975. Also cut in Houston, the song was first released on Meaux’s Crazy Cajun label before being leased to Dot, and then it went all the way to No. 1 on the pop charts. “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” the followup, was also a Top 10 hit.
After Fender, Huey Meaux was content to cut regional artists in Texas and Louisiana. In 1984, Cajun/zydeco artist Rockin’ Sidney created “My Toot Toot” which got some airplay in the region and Meaux stepped in to get it signed to Epic Records, on which it rode into the country Top 40. It was the first zydeco record to get airplay on major rock, pop and country radio stations of the day.
Meaux always was loyal to his artists, and he never failed to offer a colorful story or two about working with them. His conviction and imprisonment was, like Phil Spector’s, a sad and pathetic end to a legendary music career.
YouTube: Huey Meaux on KPFT-FM, Houston, in 1974