Meet One Of The Best Soul Singers You’ve Ever Heard But Never Heard Of

Alvin Melathe

Syl Johnson's voice could melt a frozen stick of butter. After decades of that fact standing in stark contrast with the state of his career, his records started being sampled by a wide array of rappers.

While I'm not sure how I feel about how he's decided to approach that development (with an army of lawyers), I think having this man back in front of a microphone is something we can all celebrate.

And now Mr. Sock-it-to-me returns now with a groove that sure enough makes me want to move real smooth. He says anyway the wind blows is cool with me. Syl Johnson.

You remember the last time, you went to leave me girl. I got down on my knees.

With a certain crew of people, he's, you know he's a real legend. For the amount of influence he's had, he is relatively unknown. He should have been much more famous.

It just wasn't the promotion it should have been to really put his name out there. He's just as good as Al Greene, no question about it.

Phil's got the kind of voice man, that you know it's him. Certain singers man, just have it.

I ain't going through no more changes to keep you girl.

I think he's a very hurt man. That didn't get his just due. And old school thinking is why not me, when everybody else got it?

Do you feel over the years that you've gotten the credit you deserve?


Why do you think that is?

That's the way life goes. [laughs] That's the way the ball rolls.

The first time we ever called Syl Johnson, he threatened to sue us. We hadn't done anything with his music, but he had been so accustomed to people, uh ripping him off that he you know he immediately thought that was our our motivation.

Do you know how many rappers I am getting ready to sue? Eighty five.

No kidding.

Yeah, [laughs] eighty five.

My dad was like, I'll give you a hundred dollars per person, you find who sampled me. So we were all running to the record store buying little cassettes, trying to listen, listen to his records. Cause people really wanted to cash in on that.

Who would have thought that all these years later all of these people saying okay, put that in there. Uh, we gonna use that.

Yeah, yeah. Yo Yo this is the OBP. New radio version for ya. Called shame on the nigga. Show everybody. Jump on it. Shame on the nigga who tried to run game on the nigga.

I've been very successful. I built the house I'm living in right now with the woo-tang money. Ya'll like my house I built. [laughs]

Phil was no fool. He knew what he was doing. He was a good businessman. I'll give him credit for that.

Amen, if I can hear anything, the judge can hear, the jury can hear. We can make bag.

Nobody wants to go to court, you know what I'm saying? My dad wants you to pay. He wants to hurt you like you've hurt him. That's what he's saying. You need a subpoena, you're not gonna run over Syl Johnson.

Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you, fresh out of Chicago, the one and only Mr. Syl Johnson.

That's the cat and you know cats like him inspired us to do you know what we do
on our instruments. You know just go back to the sixties just being in the studio with him uh we did that, we can all say, you know what I'm saying. We did that. We were the true original cats.

Syl Johnson is hugely talented and totally unpredictable and as far as I can tell, unstoppable.

To have that much energy, at that age, still going on the stage girating. It's like your grandfather girating [laughs]. Who wants to know that?

Oh shit, I don't look appropriate for this.

We had a show in Detroit and he was on stage and was was getting it so good that he didn't want to come off stage, man [laughs]. They had to try to force him off stage.

Syl Johnson's box set has been nominated for two Grammys. I think in a lot of ways it is a culmination of his career you know. It's like a validation for him.

So, then you say is life fair? You damn dead sure it is.

He may not have received his full due years ago, but I think he is getting it now. So, I think he is embracing it and he loves it and that's why he is not going to ever quit.

Why is it that I hit every part of the globe except that little green piece of shit up there next to Canada. See that little green piece of shit, that little green spot of land that's pretty good size. What is that Greenland? I ain't got no music been up in there.

Not a lot of people there.


Not too many people live up there.

Oh, I've never been up there.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

This clip is from a the documentary "Any Way the Wind Blows." Here's a pretty incredible mashup of some of the rappers who have sampled Syl's song "Different Strokes."

Lastly, because I'm more than a little obsessed at this point AND because I've got nothing but love for you: Syl's daughter, Syleena Johnson, is the very same Syleena Johnson who sang the hook on Kanye West's "All Falls Down." It's a small world, I guess.


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