Joe Barry

Singer of 'I'm a Fool to Care'

In 1961 Joe Barry won a gold disc for his recording of "I'm a Fool to Care", but 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.



Joseph Barrios (Joe Barry), singer: born Cut Off, Louisiana 13 July 1939; died Cut Off 31 August 2004.



In 1961 Joe Barry won a gold disc for his recording of "I'm a Fool to Care", but 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 was born Joseph Barrios in poverty in 1939 in the cajun swamplands of Louisiana. His father, a fighter who killed alligators and muskrats for food, worked on river boats and his mother cut sugar-cane. Barrios was learning guitar from the age of eight and soon playing at dances known as fais do-dos.

Barrios did not want to spend his life in the swamps and he moved to New Orleans in the late Fifties. Here his cajun style was filtered with the rich sounds of Smiley Lewis and Fats Domino. As well as singing, he could play guitar, piano and drums. In 1958 he formed the Dukes of Rhythm and then, as part of the Delphis, he had regional success with "The Greatest Moment of My Life" (1960) on the Jin label.

Working with the producer Floyd Soileau, he recorded at Cosimo Matassa's studio in New Orleans. They revived Gene Autry's country success "I'm a Fool to Care", on which (as Joe Barry) he created his own Domino effect, and "I Got a Feeling", which was a tribute to Ray Charles. Barry was undecided about which should be the A-side and so he did the only logical thing: he took it to a brothel and played it to some hookers. They chose "I'm a Fool to Care".

The record was promoted by another producer, the "Crazy Cajun", Huey P. Meaux. He recalled, "Fats Domino was riding in my car and he thought it was one of his records but he couldn't remember doing it. I can understand that. He knew the song and it was just the sort of song he recorded."

"I'm a Fool to Care" was a US hit in 1961 and also made the UK Top Fifty. Joe Barry appeared on top TV shows like American Bandstand and when the follow-up, "Teardrops in My Heart", failed to connect, he made records for the French-speaking market and even recorded as Roosevelt Jones for a black audience.

Barry often played at casinos, but he saw little of his earnings. He concluded, "I wished I let the Mob take over. I don't think they would have robbed me as bad as I did get robbed." His problem was his unpredictability, as Huey P. Meaux recalled,

I booked him into the Holiday Inn in Houston, which was close to a studio where I liked to record.

Joe had a girlfriend but she quit him and went off with another guy. He bought himself a whole bunch of pills, man, and he got all pilled up. He got to hallucinating and thinking that she was in the motel across the freeway, so he took a razor and chopped the curtains into little bitty pieces, and then he took the sheets, started a fire and sent smoke signals to her.

Barry destroyed every piece of furniture in the room and Meaux was called on to pay the bill. Five years later, he recalled,

I was on my way to Nashville and I was sitting next to a guy in a Derby hat and a cigar in his mouth. He was the manager of the Holiday Inn that Joe had tore up. He said, "I had photographers come in and I took the pictures to the Holiday Inn convention in Memphis. I won the award for having the most destroyed room in the history of the Holiday Inn."

On another occasion, Barry was locked in his hotel room by his bandmates. He simply pulled the telephone jack out of the wall, made the hole big enough to crawl through and rejoined the party.

Around 1964, Barry was working a residency at Papa Joe's strip club in New Orleans with the then-unknown Freddy Fender and Dr John (Mac Rebennack). In what must have been a world first, the patrons booed the strippers and asked the musicians to keep playing. When I asked Dr John if this story could possibly be true, he replied, "You seen some of the strippers in New Orleans, man?"

When money was not forthcoming, Barry worked on the oil rigs in Louisiana and then, in the early Seventies, he turned to religion, alternating between preaching and selling used cars. He returned to his township of Cut Off, Louisiana 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 he somehow managed to burn his house down.

Barry had occasional forays into recording studios, notably the album Sweet Rose of Sharon (1980), but by 2000, he was suffering with arthritis, asthma, diabetes and heart disease and was too ill to move from his home. Nevertheless, some vocals were recorded and backings were added at a studio. An album, Been Down That Muddy Road, came out to good reviews in 2003.

Spencer Leigh

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