To be a woman singing your own blues and soul songs in 1960s Texas was a rare thing. To do so while brandishing a left-handed Stratocaster and bashing out hard-edged licks was even rarer. Yet that’s just what Barbara Lynn did, inspired by Guitar Slim, Jimmy Reed, Elvis Presley and Brenda Lee. And it was a hit: her 1962 debut single, “You’ll Lose A Good Thing,” recorded with session musicians including Dr. John, gave her an R&B chart Number One and a Billboard chart Top 10 hit.
It was a path that Lynn chose at elementary school in 1940s Beaumont, Texas, when she told her mother she wanted to play guitar. “I decided that playing piano was a little bit too common, you know what I mean?” says Lynn in the new liner notes. “You’d always see a lady or a little girl sitting at a piano. I decided I wanted to play something more unexpected, so that’s when I got interested in learning to play the guitar.” Self-taught, first on the ukulele and then on a guitar, Lynn formed her first group, Barbara Lynn and Her Idols, while still at school and soon took the local scene by storm. Hers was a powerful talent in a petite package, a performer who could stand up against the best–even as a teenager.
Spotted while performing, underage, in Louisiana, she was offered the chance to record her own material, songs that filtered the experience of being a black Texan teen with power, feel, and guts. Ten of the twelve tracks on her debut album were her own compositions. “It took a lot of time,” Lynn remembers of the recording process, “but we got ‘Good Thing,’ we got our hit. I loved it. I loved meeting the new musicians; a lot of the guys who played on that record became friends. And seeing how the engineers worked and how they produced the sounds, all of that was really interesting to me.”
The success of that single took Lynn out on the road with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, BB King, Supremes, Chuck Berry, Guitar Slim, and The Temptations. BB King even wrote a letter to Lynn’s mother to tell her what a talented daughter she’d raised. She appeared at the Apollo Theater, she was twice on American Bandstand, and one of her songs, “Oh Baby (We’ve Got A Good Thing Goin’)” was covered by The Rolling Stones.
Though she was a precocious performer, hers is a talent that came to full bloom on Here Is Barbara Lynn, her 1968 album produced by Huey P. Meaux and originally released on Atlantic Records. The record was conceived as an introduction of Lynn’s prodigious talents, her deeply felt guitar playing, her gutsy soulful singing skills, and her songwriting prowess. It collected her early hit and a raft of new songs, each packed with Lynn’s passion and fire. Yet the introduction to her world–now reissued by Light In The Attic–largely proved to be her swansong. She married in 1970, aged 28, had three children, and largely retired from the music industry for most of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Now touring again, she’s amused to think of her 46 year-old album gaining new fans. “I hear this album, and it seems like… it seems like the old times to me,” she says. "I don’t know, it’s strange to know it’s coming out again. It is going to be a wild, first time thing for me, like going back in time. But I’m excited to see what happens.”