This week's DeepSoul begins a three-column series on pioneering women in R&B, figures who deserve more attention for their roles in early soul and rock. Kicking off this salute to influential female artists is Barbara Lynn, whose 1962 hit "You'll Lose A Good Thing" introduced the public to a new kind of female artist: one who writes her own material and plays lead guitar.
Born in Texas in 1942, Lynn first learned piano before falling under the spell of Elvis Presley, according to AllMusic. Switching to guitar, she formed her first band in junior high, Bobbie Lynn and the Idols. Blending traditional blues with pop, Lynn played local clubs (even while underage), eventually being discovered by singer Joe Barry. He recommended her to his friend, producer Huey P. Meaux, also known as the "Crazy Cajun"; Meaux then brought Lynn to New Orleans to record her first singles. She scored early with "You'll Lose A Good Thing," a self-penned track that topped the R&B charts and cracked the pop top ten in 1962. An album was subsequently released, an effort that featured ten of her own compositions. Her success continued on the R&B charts, with hits like 1965's "You're Gonna Need Me" and "Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin,'" the latter song covered by the Rolling Stones that same year.
Moving to the Tribe label (owned by Meaux) in 1966, she recorded songs such as "You Left the Water Running," later covered by Otis Redding. Two years later Lynn switched to Atlantic, where she experienced further success with 1968's "This Is the Thanks I Get" and 1972's "(Until Then) I'll Suffer." Family commitments forced her retirement from the music business until 1984, when she toured Japan and released a live album entitled You Don't Have to Go. She toured steadily through the 1990s and early 2000s, occasionally recording albums. Along the way she attracted a cult following among R&B fans and artists, many citing her as a significant figure in the advancement of women in rock.
Her best-known song, "You'll Lose A Good Thing" smoothly mixes traditional blues with a singing style slightly echoing popular female voices of the time such as Mary Wells. Yet her vocals contain a grittiness not typical of the time. Her confidence radiates through every lyric, the strident quality of her voice telling the story. In the track the narrator informs her lover that if he mistreats her, he will surely lose her love and regret his mistake. Foreshadowing songs such as "Respect," "You'll Lose A Good Thing" portrays a woman in control. "I'm givin' you once more chance / For you to do right," she informs the man. "If you don't do right / I'm gonna march out that door." Clearly anticipating that her lover will call her bluff, she adds "And if you don't believe me / Just try it, daddy." These words were quite a departure from other singles by female artists of the time--Lynn's contemporaries on the 1962 charts included Shelley Fabares ("Johnny Angel"), Little Eva ("The Loco-Motion"), and girl group the Crystals ("He's A Rebel").
In addition to writing feminist lyrics, Lynn differed from other female acts in another way: she played lead guitar. A left-handed guitarist, her style was heavily rhythmic, the tempo set by the unusual way she stroked the strings. In the clip below, notice how she strums the neck as well as the body of the instrument. In a 1987 interview with author Alan B. Govenar, she described her unusual technique: "I use a thumb pick, and I strum the strings with my first finger. I have a style all of my own. I can't play the way most guitarists do."
Lynn's aggressive lyrics, distinctive guitar playing, and soulful voice foreshadowed the advancements women would make in the music industry. Standing apart from the traditional female vocalists of the time, she helped pave the way for such iconic, fiercely independent artists such as Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, and Betty Wright. One of the first female lead instrumentalists to impact the charts, Lynn stands as a pioneer in R&B, soul, and rock.