“Southern Nights” Songwriter Allen Toussaint Dies at Age 77

New Orleans Legend’s Songs Also Recorded by Alison Krauss, Robert Plant, Elvis Costello and Many Others

Allen Toussaint, whose songwriting credits include Glen Campbell’s 1977 hit “Southern Nights,” died early Tuesday morning (Nov. 10) following a Monday night concert in Spain. The 77-year-old songwriter, musician, singer and producer died of an apparent heart attack after becoming ill during the performance in Madrid.

The New Orleans-based Toussaint is best-known in R&B circles for writing and producing such hits as Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-Law,” Lee Dorsey’s “Working in the Coal Mine” and scores of others later recorded by the Rolling Stones, the Who, Bonnie Raitt, Boz Scaggs and Phish.

In 2006, Toussaint and Elvis Costello released The River in Reverse and supported the album with a world tour. “Fortune Teller,” a 1962 hit for Benny Spellman, was recorded by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on their Grammy-winning 2007 album Raising Sand.

A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Toussaint received the Americana Music Association’s lifetime achievement award for a producer/engineer in 2006. Performing with his collaborator at the awards show in Nashville, Costello recalled growing up in England and first hearing Toussaint’s songs and productions.

“They were like mysterious messages from a different place and time,” Costello said.

Jimmy Webb, a songwriter who wrote numerous hits for Campbell, was inadvertently responsible for Campbell recording Toussaint’s “Southern Nights.”

“Glen is a curious character and a brilliant one, Webb told CMT.com in 2011. “ I can remember him one day walking into my house, and I was listening to an Allen Toussaint record that my friend Freddy Tackett had given me. And we sat there for a while and listened, and this song came on — ‘Southern Nights.’

“And Glen got so excited. I mean, he just got uncontrollably excited — ‘Can I have that? Can I have that?’

“I said, ‘Can you have it? Allen Toussaint wrote it.’

“He said, ‘No, no. I mean, can I have your copy of the record?’

“I said, “Well, OK.” And I gave him my Allen Toussaint album, and … he ran out of there. That song was literally on the radio, like, like two weeks later. It might have been three weeks later, but it was like a whisper in our world. It was like no time at all. The next time I was listening to the radio, I heard ‘Southern Nights’ by Glen Campbell.”

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.