January 18, 2007

Three More Kinds Of Blinded

Just about a year ago, I posted an Allen Toussaint song, “Blinded By Love”, as done by Johnny Winter on his 1974 Saints & Sinners album. Toussaint never has had a commercial recording of it himself, nor have I heard him play it live. At the time of the post, I was unaware of any other cover of it. Then HOTG commenter, groovehound, and fellow blogger Lou Kash, alerted me/us to Sam & Dave’s, even providing an mp3 for reference. Since then, I’ve stumbled across two more versions and thought it would be interesting to compare the three back to back. I’ve got to admit that I had always found the song to be more an interesting oddity than something to truly groove to – that is, until I finally heard the version that changed my mind. Let’s see which one it could be. . . .

"Blinded By Love" (Allen Toussaint)Sam & Dave, from Back At'Cha!, United Artists, 1975

A couple of weeks after I posted the Winter cut, I strolled into the vinyl section of one of my favorite music stores and, (to paraphrase the song), looking over yonder what do I see: Sam & Dave staring back at me from the cover of their 1975 LP, Back At’Cha!, right at the front of the bin. Sold American. Produced by famed guitarist and songwriter Steve Cropper at his own Trans Maximus Sound studio in my old haunt of Midtown Memphis, TN, the album also has another Toussaint tune, “Shoo Rah, Shoo Rah” (we’ll maybe try that one, too, at some point), plus a song that the Meters would later cover, “Give It What You Can”. Playing on the record are some of the greats of Memphis soul session men, including on this cut Steve’s fellow MG, bassist Duck Dunn, Willie Hall on drums, Marvell Thomas on keyboards, Michael Toles and Cropper on guitars, plus the Memphis Horns and a mystery conga-ista. A veritable Stax reunion. But, as I recall, Sam and Dave did not get along at all; and they probably cut their vocals in different cities, as some of the recording was done in Hollywood. Must have made live gigs a challenge. Anyway, let’s just say the LP did not prompt a reuniting comeback tour.

While their vocal take on “Blinded” is, to me, somewhat underwhelming, S & D do give it their characteristic touch. In their defense, this is a strange tune, no doubt about it, with that corkscrew central riff going on and the demanding staccato lyrical parts. Hard to get a good grip on it. Cropper had the band pretty much follow the Winter arrangement, with an added vamp (“It’s gonna be alright . ..”, etc); and everyone did their best to wrestle the feel back into soul territory from Johnny’s rock reading. But to me, it just doesn’t quite make jell-o. Still, this “Blinded” is fun to hear; and there’s some fine playing on it. I consider it a marked improvement over what Winter (and his producer, Rick Derringer) wrought. But no cee-gar. Then there's

"Blinded By Love" (AT)
Lydia Pense & Cold Blood, ABC, 1976

This was a fluke of a find. Many moons ago, my wife had mentioned liking Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, whom I had never paid much attention to, aside from hearing a song of theirs on the radio back in the 70’s. Then I noticed them showing up on some funk compilations. Hmmm. One day last year, I ran across this 1976 ABC album , picked it up, turned it over, and discovered they had a version of “Blinded”, too. So, I added another LP to the mounting storage crisis that we call home. As yet, I’ve only given the whole thing a cursory listen, but can tell it’s pretty damn funky; and their take on Toussaint’s quirk-fest here bears that out. Just listen to drummer Harvey Hughes cuttin’ up. The recording quality was not that great; and there’s that annoying fuzz effect on the guitar of head arranger Michael Sasaki; and then there’s also the fairly lame instrumental bridge that was tacked on. Yet, Cold Blood (produced by Bob Monaco) still pull off a version that sounds perfect for a late night throwdown at a little dive somewhere. Pense’s vocal doesn’t really rise above adequate for me. I’ll have to listen to her some more to see how she does on other things. In all, though, I’ll mark Cold Blood up for going funky with it, and moving the tune even further away from Winter. Nice attempt. Though, again, no El Producto given. And last (maybe), but certainly not in the least least, we have

"Blinded By Love" (AT)Etta James, from Etta Is Betta Than Evah!, Chess/All Platinum, 1976

Alright. Suspense is over. Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. I am crazy ‘bout this totally fresh take on “Blinded By Love”. Producer/arranger Mike Terry has shaped it into a supple, soulful funk/dance tune; and I’m sure Toussaint would approve. With the main riff simplified and integrated into the texture of the track, it avoids that over the top “everybody hit it in unison” exercise that became distracting in the other versions. Ms James, no stranger to singing about blindness, seems decidedly comfortable with and just right for this song. She and her backing band have made it their own. It’s one fine ride and, finally, a real keeper.

This album it’s on, which was new to me, came my wife’s stash of boxed up records recently retrieved from storage. Released in 1976, Etta Is Betta Than Evah! (gotta deduct a couple of points for that title) combined both fine new recordings, including this cut and a cookin’ version of King Floyd’s “Groove Me”, and some previously released material from the Chess vaults. Etta was recording for various labels at this stage, re-associating here with what was left of Chess, which had been taken over by the All Platinum Record Group. A few years later, she would work directly with Toussaint on her great Changes LP for MCA that I’ve
featured before.

* * * * *
From the looks of it, then, Johnny Winter had the original recording of “Blinded” in 1974. I am not sure if it was written for him (since it mentions “winter”, I wonder) or if Toussaint’s publishing company was just pushing the song to various artists. And where did the other producers and artists get the inspiration to cover it? While I’m wondering, did the writer himself ever make a demo of it? I’d love to hear him do it, even if Etta’s rendition seems hard to top. Finally, “Blinded” has a cryptic Steely Dan side to its lyrics, in that I’ve been listening to the various versions for days now and still can’t figure out exactly what the damn song’s about.


Blogger Tuwa said...

I'd love to hear these but the links aren't working for me.

1:42 PM, January 20, 2007  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

The server may have been down or on break or whatever servers do when they're not serving. . . Anyway, the links work both on my PC and my wife's. That's about as far as I can troubleshoot, tuwa. Try, try again.

4:54 PM, January 20, 2007  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Ah, this time they worked.

Very nice, thanks. The Etta James one is good, though I'm not averse to the Sam and Dave....

7:50 PM, January 20, 2007  
Blogger ndiginiz said...

Tena koe ehoa
Of the three versions it doesn't get much better than Etta James' rendition.
I'd have to admit to not having ever heard of Lynda Pense & Cold Blood before and was only slightly impressed by their version of Blinded By Love.
As for Sam and Dave, well what more can you say! That's Sam and Dave!

8:29 PM, January 28, 2007  
Blogger Lou Kash said...

Hi Dan, thanks for bringing the song back.

Last year I also found the Cold Blood LP here in Europe. I was thinking if I should let you know about the song, but then I thought possibly you might want to be moving on to some other stuff... :)

The connection is perhaps not very obvious - but in the mid 70s they have been produced by Cropper, too. I've got the 1974 album "Lydia" which has some pretty mediocre rock-soul stuff on it, but there's also the superfunky opener "Ready To Live" (credited to Hewitt/Smith) which sounds quite "neworleans-y" to me, a song in a very similar vein like the Pointers' version of Goin' Down Slowly.

9:05 AM, January 29, 2007  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Lou, never doubt my ability or willingness to take a good thing and run it into the ground ;-) Of course, if I hadn't put up the S&D and Cold Blood, we might not have discovered Browning Bryant's version for quite a while. Hope it evens out somehow.

I'm on the fence about Lydia Pense and Cold Blood. I did note in briefly researching them that, as you say, they recorded with Steve Cropper as producer. I'll just have to take some time to listen to 'em more and make a judgement.

Good to hear from you.

10:13 AM, January 29, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,
please could you repost Lydia Pense & Cold Blood lp?
Many thanks.

4:27 PM, October 08, 2009  

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