Born Joseph Barrios, 13 July 1939, Cut Off, Louisiana
A white Cajun from southern Louisiana, Joe Barry was born in poverty. His father (his first musical influence) was a boat captain, while his mother worked in the fields, cutting sugarcane. Barry did not want to spend his entire life in the swamps and he moved to New Orleans in 1957. Here his Cajun style was filtered with the rich sounds of Fats Domino and Smiley Lewis. In 1958 Barry formed a nine-piece band, the Dukes of Rhythm, which came to the attention of Floyd Soileau, who had just started the Jin label. However, before Barry got a chance to record, he had a dispute with the Dukes of Rhythm and organized a new band, the Delphis. This new group accompanied him on his first record "Greatest Moment Of My Life"/"Heartbroken Love" (Jin 132, 1960). Says Joe, "Our record was a huge success in Cut Off, but it sold about 927 copies in total."
After two R&B singles for Sho-Biz, Soileau agreed to record Joe again, after being impressed by a tape of a new song, "I Got A Feeling". This became the A-side of his next single, but it was the other side "I'm A Fool To Care" that turned out to be the hit. Originally written and recorded by country singer Ted Daffan in 1940, "I'm A Fool To Care" had been a # 6 hit for Les Paul and Mary Ford in 1954. Joe's version, which peaked at # 24 on the pop charts and # 15 R&B in 1961, owed a lot to Fats Domino, though this was not intentional according to Joe. "I didn't even sing Fats Domino songs back then. I did Ray Charles and local things, but I rarely did Fats Domino unless I had a request. It just came out that way. I was more surprised than anybody else because I could never hear any resemblance".
The Jin master of "I'm A Fool To Care" was sold to Smash Records (a new subsidiary of Mercury) for national distribution and it was also on Smash that he scored his second, smaller hit, "Teardrops In My Heart" (# 63, also in 1961). However, his career thereafter became a long anti- climax, as few promoters and record labels wanted to work with such an unstable and unreliable performer, as much given to fighting with his audience as singing to them. He usually had a gun with him and spent a lot of money replacing TV sets he shot out. He also had a reputation for smashing up hotel rooms. Record releases continued on a variety of labels (including his own Success label), but there were no further chart entries. With money not forthcoming (Joe was ripped off by his manager, Huey Meaux), Barry worked on the oil rigs in Louisiana and then, in the early 1970s, he turned to religion, alternating between preaching and selling used cars. He returned to his native Cut Off and lived there for the rest of his life. Not, it must be said, without incident. At one stage, he was living without water and electricity and somehow managed to burn his house down.
In 1976 Huey Meaux reappeared in his life and wanted him back in the studio. Joe signed with ABC-Dot, for which he recorded an album and a single, but the label was in the process of being sold to MCA and a lot of artists were dropped and promotion ceased. Joe was one such casualty. Starting 1978, Joe had to give up performing because of serious problems with both his heart and lungs. He still had occasional forays into recording studios, but by 2000 he was suffering with arthritis, asthma, diabetes and heart disease. Nevertheless, some vocals were recorded and backings were added at a studio. The resulting album, "Been Down That Muddy Road", came out in 2003 on Night Train Records to good reviews. But a year later, a heart attack meant the end of his life. He made some fine swamp pop recordings and should be remembered for more than "I'm A Fool To Care" and broken motel rooms.
Acknowledgements : John Broven, Aaron Fuchs, Spencer Leigh, Tony Wilkinson.
CD : Joe Barry, "I'm A Fool To Care : The Complete Recordings 1958-1977" 59 tracks on 2 CD's (Night Train International CD 2003). Released 1999. Liner notes by Aaron Fuchs with Steve Saperstein.
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