'Eyesight To The Blind' and the Rock Opera 'Tommy'
Sonny Boy Williamson was a blues originator who helped shape the sound of modern blues. In his life, he knew the first generation of Delta bluesmen, and would go on to see the birth of modern rock music. He played with Robert Johnson in the 1930’s, and with Eric Clapton in the 1960’s. His ability to span eras is a testament to the timelessness of his voice and harmonica.
As a major radio star in the 1940’s on King Biscuit Time, America’s first live blues radio show, he helped up-and-coming players like Elmore James and Robert Nighthawk get exposure. Many of his songs have become standards of the blues including “Help Me”, “Bring It On Home” and “Eyesight to the Blind”, which he recorded in early 1951.
The Larks were an early vocal group that blended the sound of their gospel roots with the R & B that was becoming popular in the 1940’s and 50’s. One of their most popular recordings was “Eyesight to the Blind”, which they released later in 1951.
In 1969 the British rock group The Who released a concept album that was controversial at the time. Considered the world’s first Rock-Opera, Tommy told the story of a deaf, dumb and blind boy who becomes a messianic figure. It was initially banned by the BBC and many US radio stations, but is now ranked as one of the most important works in rock. “Eyesight to the Blind” is the only song on the album not written by The Who. This is The Who performing the song live in 1970:
6 years later, in 1975, The Who starred in a movie version of Tommy along with Ann-Margaret, Elton John, Tina Turner and Jack Nicholson. Eric Clapton also appeared as The Preacher, leader of a cult that worships Marilyn Monroe. Here’s the scene from the movie featuring Clapton with “Eyesight to the Blind”:
Here are the complete versions of “Eyesight to the Blind” tracked through time:
Sonny Boy Williamson “Eyesight to the Blind” 1951
The Larks “Eyesight to the Blind” 1951
The Who “Eyesight to the Blind” 1969
Eric Clapton “Eyesight to the Blind” 1975