Editor’s Note: Huey P. Meaux died April 23, 2011, at the age of 82. The notorious music producer had been in poor health for several months.
“I CAN’T TALK ABOUT IT, BRUDDAH,” HUEY MEAUX said to me. The man who was once the single most important figure in popular music in Texas was sitting on an aluminum stool in the squalid fifth-floor visiting room of the Harris County jail. This was his first interview since he was arrested—charged with child pornography, having sex with minors, and cocaine possession—and then recaptured after jumping bail and spending a month on the lam.
The 67-year-old Meaux winked at me and gestured at the round metal speakerphone as if it were bugged. “I just can’t say anything right now, bruddah,” he said. His voice was subdued, though still laced with a thick Cajun accent. But the fear in his eyes, the tentative glances, the snow-white hair and eyebrows (which he used to dye dark brown), the scraggly beard—this was not the colorful, larger-than-life producer of dozens of Top Ten hits I had known for 22 years. This was the Huey Purvis Meaux I’d been reading about in the newspapers and had seen on television. The one with the sordid double life he had hidden from almost everyone.
“If I’d known you were coming by, I would’ve cleaned up,” he said, scratching his chin and cracking a slight smile.
I tried small talk. Had he heard any young talent in the joint?
“No, man, they’ve got me locked up in solitary under protective custody,” he replied. It was for his own safety. No one likes a child pornographer, even in jail.
Solitary was rough. “No TV, no books, no nothing, except a Bible. I’m studying the Bible. I figure it’s something I could learn a few things about.” They all come around sooner or later, I thought.
When I mentioned his son, Ben, who had first alerted the Houston police to his father’s drug use and sexual activities, Meaux shook his head. “I can’t even say his name.”
He looked and acted so pathetic that I hardly recognized him. He slowly began rising from the stool. “Time’s about up and I don’t want to give them a reason to come down on me,” he said. “Come see me when I get to Huntsville.”
If I wanted to find out what happened to Huey P. Meaux, I’d have to look somewhere else.
THE MAN WHO CALLED HIMSELF THE CRAZY CAJUN WAS VULGAR, brash, and always outrageous. His “thing,” he was quick to let anyone around him know, was “young chicks.” The drugs the police found in his office weren’t a surprise; he was no stranger to illicit substances. But in the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, his roguish behavior only enhanced his legend as a musical wizard—the man behind more hits made in Texas and Louisiana in the last half of the twentieth century than anyone else. It was quite an accomplishment for a former barber from Winnie, Texas, who made the transition from “cutting hair to cutting hits,” as he used to tell me, with little education or musical training. But he had a gift for matching a voice with a song and for selling the finished product. Many times I sat and listened to him tell a few hours’ worth of tales about working with Doug Sahm, Lightnin’ Hopkins, George Jones, Clifton Chenier, T-Bone Walker, Dr. John, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Freddy Fender, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and I always came away convinced he was a bigger star than any of them.
But kiddie porn? Had Meaux crossed the line from rake to monster behind the immunity of stardom? Meaux’s arrest and the events that followed made for the most sensational crime story of the year in Houston, and his image was splashed on the front page and all over the nightly news. Two friends—who were also Huey’s friends—and I tried to sort it out. No one had any idea. Or did we? Huey was up-front about his hedonism, but had we unwittingly encouraged or overlooked behavior that was clearly against the law and damaging to his victims? We’d laughed over the memory of Huey introducing a young girl on his arm as his niece, only to have to ask her to “tell them your name, cher.” But I also remember that as far back as 1978, Huey had taken photographs of his longtime live-in girlfriend’s eight- and nine-year-old daughters playing naked in the oversized bathtub in their home. After he took the film in to be processed, the developer notified the police, who came to the house and talked with the children’s mother. Meaux brushed off the incident, saying there was nothing malicious about the photos. Now I wonder.
Not coincidentally, the door to Meaux’s secret life was flung open by one of those girls in the bathtub, Shannon McDowell Brasher, now 26. In mid-January, Brasher told Houston police officers that Meaux had sexually abused her from the time she was 9 until she was 25. Many of those episodes, she said, were videotaped, and she knew where the police could find the tapes. “When she said, ‘My dad owns a recording studio,’ I knew right away who she was talking about,” said Officer Dwayne Wright of the Juvenile Sex Crimes unit of the Houston Police Department. Almost five months earlier, Wright had heard a similar complaint lodged by Ben Meaux, Huey’s 15-year-old adopted son. Ben had said that his father was messed up on cocaine and had been fooling around with girls who were Ben’s age. Ben promised Wright he would bring him a videotape with the incriminating evidence, but he never returned. Wright, a fourteen-year veteran of the police department, guessed that Ben got cold feet, as often happens, and the case was placed in the inactive file until Brasher made her complaint (her lawyers insist that though she and Ben grew up together, she didn’t know he had already