Born: July 13, 1939 in Cut Off, Louisiana
Died: August 31, 2004 in Cut Off, Louisiana
Barry was born Joseph Barrios on Friday, July 13th, 1939, in Cut Off, Louisiana. His first musical influence was his father, a boat captain who played the mouth harp. Barry later built a guitar out of cigar box so he could learn to play like his cousin, Vin Bruce, a Cajun guitarist and singer who had a recording contract with Columbia Records.
Barry listened to Cajun and French music as a child. He first heard black gospel singers on the radio. As he grew older, Barry enjoyed mixing Cajun and gospel music. He started sitting in with local bands in the mid-1950s, but the traditional musicians didn't appreciate Barry's new music style. Swamp Pop, known initially as Louisiana Music, is a marriage of Cajun music, gospel changes, honky-tonk piano riffs, horn sections with big chords, and soulful vocalists.
By 1958, Barry had his own band, which included a horn section. Barry's first single, "The Greatest Moment of My Life," was recorded in 1959 in the Ville Platte record shop owned by Floyd Soileau, who started the "Jin" record label. The song enjoyed regional success but didn't reach a national audience.
Barry soon left his band, took half of the players and the name, and went to New Orleans to record at Cosimo Matassa's legendary studio. Results of those sessions yielded the record "I Got a Feeling," but failed to impress the public. However, the flip side, "I'm a Fool to Care," caught on quickly and soon became a dance hall favorite.
Barry soon hooked up with record producer Huey Meaux, who negotiated a recording contract with Smash, a new label owned by Mercury Records. With national distribution, "I'm a Fool to Care" and "Wooden Heart" both were instant hits.
In 1961, "I'm a Fool to Care" reached No. 24 on the U.S. pop charts and No. 14 in the U.S. rhythm and blues charts. A later single, "Teardrops in My Heart," reached No. 62 on U.S. pop charts.
Steady airplay helped to attract crowds, and Barry began touring nationally. He appeared on the Dick Clark Cavalcade of Stars program and made TV appearances on the Tonight Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand, and many others.
Joe Barry holds a unique position in the Swamp Pop history of Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. Barry helped to develop the style, and was one of the first Swamp Pop artists to successfully record a hit on the U.S. pop charts. His last professional performance was on June 29, 1993. He is a member of the Museum of the Gulf Coast, Music Hall of Fame, and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.