Syl Johnson

Blues and soul singer, guitarist, harmonica player, and songwriter Syl Johnson was born Sylvester Thompson in Holy Springs, Mississippi on July 1, 1936. While he didn’t reach the commercial heights that he deserved, he is best remembered for his recordings for the Hi Records label and his early recordings for Twinight Records, which were later sampled by hip hop artists in the 1990s. When he was in his teens, his family – including his brother, blues guitarist Jimmy Johnson - moved from Mississippi to Chicago, Illinois. Syl Johnson began performing with his neighbor Magic Sam as well as Junior Wells, Howlin’ Wolf, and Billy Boy Arnold. After recording with Jimmy Reed in 1959, he recorded his first single, “Teardrops”, that same year. He continued recording for local labels and performing live before hooking up with Chicago’s Twinight Records and releasing his first hit, “Come On Sock It to Me”, in 1967. Two years later, his single "Is It Because I'm Black" – taken from the album of the same name - reached Number. 11 on the US R&B charts. After two albums and numerous singles on Twinight, Syl Johnson left the label and signed with Hi Records. Although he spent his career in the shadow of labelmate Al Green, Syl Johnson’s biggest hit was his 1975 cover of Green’s "Take Me to the River", which reached Number 7. After several years on Hi Records, he left the label and signed with Shama Records. The hits dried up and he focused his attention on work outside of the music business. Even though he released a few more albums in the late 1980s, he was largely forgotten by the general public. In the 1990s, hip hop artists such as Wu-Tang Clan, Kool G Rap, MC Hammer and Geto Boys began to sample some of his older tracks including “Different Strokes” (1968). Galvanized by this renewed interest in his music, he decided to return to the music business and released the albums Back in the Game (1994), Bridge to a Legacy (1995), and This Time Together by Father and Daughter (1995) which featured his daughter Syleena Johnson. Syl Johnson died on February 6, 2022, six days after the death of his brother Jimmy. Syl Johnson was 85 years old.

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Stations Featuring Syl Johnson

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