Toussaint Gets Winterized
"Blinded By Love" (Allen Toussaint)
Johnny Winter, from Saints & Sinners, Columbia, 1974
The smurf has left the building
My wife and I were driving to New Orleans this past weekend in her car; and, when the radio got too bad to listen to – pretty quickly – she rummaged around and popped in a tape (still got a cassette player in that ride) that brought immediate bliss. There was Betty Harris singing “Ride Your Pony”, then Aaron Neville doing “Let’s Live” ("man, what a cool mix tape my girl made", I thought), and then there’s. . .me. . . back-announcing the tunes. I realized she had recorded one of my Allen Toussaint birthday radio specials on WEVL FM in Memphis, where I would annually feature only songs he had written. I didn't know she'd done it but am glad she did and played it, because hearing it reminded me of several cover versions of his songs I had forgotten about. “Blinded By Love” is one of ‘em.
One of my fellow dj’s at WEVL, Lonnie, gave me the heads up on this song several years back. I’ve never been that much of a Johnny Winter fan; but he does have a place here at HOTG for being a Gulf Coast born and bred artist (along with his brother, Edgar, who plays keyboards on this track) from Beaumont, Texas, and for taking on this Toussaint tune, certainly the most adventurous selection on his 1974 Saints & Sinners album. Despite the schlock 1970’s over-processed production quality courtesy of Rick Derringer, (who also plays rhythm guitar here) there is a good performance of the song lurking behind several layers of sonic shellac. As with many of Toussaint’s compositions, “Blinded By Love” has plenty of intricate counterpoint and poly-rhythm going on among the instruments and the vocal. For a blues and R&B influenced rock act to carry this off so well is al tribute to all concerned.
As far as I know, this song has never been covered by another artist or been recorded by the writer himself. Please let me know if there is another version out there. Of all the live Toussaint performances I’ve seen, I don’t recall him doing this one either – and he often will play some of his various originals recorded by others. “Blinded By Love” certainly works in the soul/rock treatment dished up by Winter and Derringer; but I’ve got to wonder how Toussaint envisioned it and what it would sound like in his hands with hometown players. I think the reason he went so far as an in-demand songwriter and producer has to do with the quality of his compositions, using elements of his hometown roots uniquely mixed in with other diverse influences he picked up along the way to make music that adapted well to pop, soul, blues, rock, and even reggae performers. Allen Toussaint deserves that Offbeat lifetime achievement award. As I have been doing from the start, I will feature more diverse covers of his tunes and his various production projects on down the line.
***Thanks to DJ Lou Kash for hipping me (us) in the comments to this post about Sam & Dave's cover of "Blinded By Love" that appeared on their Back At 'Cha LP in the mid-1970's (and on a single) with production by Steve Cropper. Kash even has a short-term link to the audio. That's what I'm talkin' about. Those who found the Winter version either too schlocky or rocky or just plain dismal should check the S&D out; although, to me, it still needs that Toussaint touch. As I note in the comments, a quick check for information on this record showed me that Toussaint's "Shoo Rah" (at least, I assume it's his) is also on it, as well as the song, "Give It What You Can", written by Cropper and several other Memphis musicians, which was later covered by the Meters on their swan song LP, New Directions. Thanks to all for the feedback.