Huey P. Meaux, music producer, promoter, and studio owner, was born on March 10, 1929, in Louisiana. Nicknamed the “Crazy Cajun,” Meaux pioneered “swamp pop” of the Gulf Coast. An owner of Houston’s influential SugarHill Studios, Meaux is perhaps best-remembered in music for his role in creating the Sir Douglas Quintet and reviving Freddy Fender’s career.
Meaux was the son of Stanislaus “Pappy Te-Tan” Meaux. His parents were Cajun sharecroppers who worked in the cotton and rice fields around Kaplan near Lafayette, Louisiana. When Huey was twelve, the family moved to Winnie, Texas, near Port Arthur. He grew up in an atmosphere of hard field work during the week, punctuated by lively Saturday night dances. His father, also an accordionist, headed a band for which Huey played drums when he was a teenager.
By the 1950s, after serving in the United States Army, Meaux opened a barbershop in Winnie. At nights he worked as a disc jockey for KPAC radio in Port Arthur. In this capacity he got to know other deejays and musicians in the business, such as Moon Mullican, J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and George Jones. Meaux was riding in a car with Richardson to Houston’s Gold Star Studios when the Bopper penned his hit “Chantilly Lace.” Meaux also learned the ins and outs of the music business from Bill Hall, a local record producer and manager of the Bopper. In 1959 Meaux produced his first hit—Jivin’ Gene Bourgeois’s swamp-pop classic, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do”—in his own barbershop. Meaux was on his way to pioneering the Gulf Coast “swamp pop” sound.
In 1962 he produced Barbara Lynn’s “You’ll Lose a Good Thing,” which hit Number 8 on the charts. He also produced regional hits, such as Joe Barry’s “I’m a Fool to Care,” while working with other artists, including Lightnin’ Hopkins and Archie Bell. He found success with acts such as Sunny and the Sunliners (“Talk to Me”), Roy Head and the Traits (“Treat Her Right”), and Dale & Grace (Dale Houston and Grace Broussard), whose song “I’m Leaving It Up to You” reached Number 1 on Billboard in October 1963. Meaux’s uncanny instinct for sniffing out hits led singer Roy Head to describe the producer as a “metal detector in the business.”
When the British Invasion landed in Texas in the early 1960s, Meaux, by this time based out of Houston, dissected the sound of the Beatles and other groups. In response he persuaded Doug Sahm and his group of Tex-Mex musicians from San Antonio’s West Side to pretend to be British, and the Crazy Cajun dubbed them the Sir Douglas Quintet. In 1965 the group’s “She’s About a Mover” became a hit. Later, when the Sir Douglas Quintet appeared on television with its Hispanic members, the truth was revealed.
Meaux made use of the diverse array of ethnic music and musicians in Texas and the Gulf Coast to seek out stand-out sounds for the recording industry. According to writer Joe Nick Patoski, “For two generations of Gulf Coast rock and rollers—or any musicians from Baton Rouge to San Antonio—he was the pipeline to the big time.” Despite Meaux’s successes in the music business, the hedonistic Cajun also had the shady reputation of shortchanging his artists as well as womanizing. Around the end of the 1960s, he was prosecuted for violation of the Mann Act (for driving a prostitute across state lines) and was sentenced to the state penitentiary.
By late 1971 Meaux was out of prison and purchased the former Gold Star Studios at a bankruptcy auction. He now owned the Houston studio where he had produced many of his artists through his years of turning out hits, and he renamed the facility SugarHill Studios and set about remaking it as his own. Meaux also entertained listeners on his Friday night radio show on KPFT-FM in Houston. He regained success in 1974 with Freddy Fender’s comeback. Meaux released Fender’s “Before the Last Teardrop Falls” on his Crazy Cajun label. The song became a Number 1 country single and a pop crossover success along with his follow-up “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.” After a successful run with Fender in the 1970s, Meaux scored one more hit with Rockin’ Sidney Simien’s novelty song “(Don’t Mess With) My Toot-Toot” in 1985.
Meaux sold SugarHill in 1986 but still leased an office there. In 1996 he was arrested and eventually plead guilty to two counts of sexual assuault of a child, cocaine possession, child pornography, and bond jumping. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He was released from prison in 2007 and lived out the remainder of his life in Winnie, Texas. He died there on April 23, 2011.
The controversial producer is recognized for his musical accomplishments in the Museum of the Gulf Coast’s Music Hall of Fame in Port Arthur.