Glen Campbell will be forever linked to songwriter Jimmy Webb, who provided the Rhinestone Cowboy with signature hits like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.” But it was Allen Toussaint, the legendary New Orleans musician who died earlier this week at 77 after suffering a heart attack on tour, who penned the final Number One of Campbell’s career, “Southern Nights.”
While visiting Webb at home to see if he had any new songs for him to record, Campbell heard Webb playing the title cut of Toussaint’s Southern Nights LP. Released in 1975, the writer’s original version is a languid, slightly psychedelic bit of soul, written in tribute to Toussaint’s Creole family in Louisiana, and the gatherings they would have on their front porch, where tall tales were shared and Toussaint would watch the leaves on the trees as day turned to night.
Campbell played Toussaint’s album for his producer, Gary Klein, who later admitted he loved the music, even though he had no idea what the song’s lyrics were about. Intent on recording on the song, Campbell came up with the record’s bouncy guitar intro and gave “Southern Nights” a more whimsical treatment. For his efforts, the Arkansas-born entertainer earned a gold record, a CMA Song of the Year nomination and his second Number One single on the pop chart (following 1975’s “Rhinestone Cowboy”), wedged in between Thelma Houston’s disco hit “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and the Eagles’ “Hotel California” in the spring of 1977. Campbell performed the song on a number of TV shows at the time, including NBC’s late-night concert series Midnight Special. (Watch the clip above.)
In 1990, Campbell cut another Toussaint tune, “You Will Not Lose,” as a duet with singer-guitarist Steve Wariner. In 1994, Toussaint teamed with Chet Atkins on a version of the song for the Rhythm, Country and Blues LP, a Number One country album which paired stars of the genre with R&B performers.