I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)
Harold Battiste was nicely established in the music business by 1961. His arrangement of Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" helped make it a chart-topper four years earlier, then in his native New Orleans in 1960 he produced Joe Jones's top ten smash "You Talk Too Much" for the Ric label. He and local musician Melvin Lastie made efforts to start their own record company, "All For One," envisioning a place where Louisiana-bred musicians, songwriters, producers and arrangers could create their own recordings separate from larger label complexities. They obtained backing from Sue Records owner Henry "Juggy" Murray, whose main concern, making money, was diametric to Battiste's goals. As A.F.O., the label made an impact locally (and to some degree nationally) with its first single, "She Put the Hurt on Me" by Prince La La (real name Lawrence Nelson), in the fall of '61. The second release, on the other hand, a song written by a teenager named Barbara Smith, hit a home run. A.F.O. had almost instantly become a major player...or so Battiste thought.
Barbara, a native of New Orleans' Ninth Ward, sang in church but had a natural inclination towards secular songwriting; for years she carried a small notebook wherever she went, jotting down ideas as they came to her and forming those flashes of lyric into songs. By the time she graduated from high school in 1960 she was married, a situation that would crush the music career ambitions of most, but she didn't waver. Going by her married name Barbara George, she landed a few Big Easy club gigs including a stand at the popular Dew Drop Cafe where people began to take notice. There she met some of the city's singing celebrities including Ernie K-Doe, whose children she later babysat, and Jessie Hill, hot at the time with his hit "Ooh Poo Pah Doo." Hill introduced her to Battiste, who was impressed with her down-to-earth manner and unique vocal sound; it didn't hurt that she came with a spiral pad full of her own material.
"I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)" was recorded with a group of the city's finest musicians calling themselves The A.F.O. Studio Combo: Harold Battiste (primarily a saxophonist) played piano, with Roy Montrell on guitar, Peter "Chuck" Badie on bass, John Boudreaux on drums and Melvin Lastie providing an effectively restrained cornet break. Barbara's vocal performance penetrated ('...I don't wanna be hurted anymo'), as if from Louisiana by way of some distant planet or at least a faraway country, though of a patois difficult to pinpoint. Hers was a voice that had to be permanently transcribed so others could marvel at its singularity. Released in the fall of '61, the record took little time to reach beyond the swamp, charting nationally in November and reaching number three on the pop charts in January beneath insurmountable dance blockbusters "Peppermint Twist" by Joey Dee and the Starliters and "The Twist" by Chubby Checker. On the R&B charts it had no such blockage, sitting at the apex for four straight weeks in January and February '62.
The song had an impact on other artists. Battiste's old friend Sam Cooke paid homage in the lyrics of his hit "Having a Party," which also referenced King Curtis and Dee Dee Sharp ('...play that song called Soul Twist...play that one called I Know...don't forget the Mashed Potatoes...no other songs will do!'), while The Shirelles took an imitative approach with their remake of Doris Day's '58 hit "Everybody Loves a Lover," setting the entire song to the arrangement of "I Know" with a psycho cornet break that flung the thing even further out! Barbara, meanwhile, continued writing songs and Battiste gave her full credit for her own creations, rejecting the all-too-common practice of taking an unfair share of the royalties in keeping with his moral commitment to the artists he worked with. Of the 12 tracks on her "I Know" album, all but one (Buddy Johnson's "Since I fell For You," predating the 1963 hit version by Lenny Welch) were written by George. The album had no photo of her, showing just a simple design of a big red heart and lots of little black hearts...none of which were broken, by the way.
Follow-up "You Talk About Love" had a respectable run, hitting the middle of the national pop charts in spring '62. Next thing she knew, Murray had signed her to Sue Records on a technicality, in the process backing out of his financial obligations to A.F.O., effectively leaving Battiste and Lastie in the lurch as an independent label without national distribution. "If You Think," Barbara's first Sue single, died a quick death; "Send For Me (If You Need Some Lovin)" spent a solitary week on the Billboard pop chart in September. A.F.O. ceased operation in early 1963 after ten additional failed singles, most of them deserving of a better fate; Harold Battiste moved out of Cajun country and found lasting success in Los Angeles as a musical arranger for Sonny and Cher.
Juggy Murray and Sue were through with Barbara George after four singles, the pilferage of A.F.O.'s top act ultimately benefiting no one. She handled her fleeting fame by gradually sinking into a depressed state through the use of alcohol and drugs, but her faith in God eventually lifted her out of it. One single, a remake of New Orleans contemporary Chris Kenner's "Something You Got," appeared in the late '60s on the obscure Seven B label. After more than a decade out of the business, she emerged around 1980 with a couple of singles for Hep' Me Records of Mississippi. By this time her high-pitched trademark sound was gone, her youthful voice unrecognizable...but very good. She stopped making records after these, opting to devote her enire life to religion and family, singing gospel music as a member of the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Chauvin, south of New Orleans in a remote part of Louisiana. There was one secular exception: she performed the great million-selling song she'd written, "I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)," at Ernie K-Doe's funeral in 2001. She passed away, with her loving family all around her, in 2006.