His daughter Syleena, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, has her new album dropping in May 2013 entitled “The Rebirth of Soul.” She is a Grammy Award nominated R&B and soul singer-songwriter and actress. She has released a number of recordings under her own name beginning in 1999. Syl Johnson is also the father of former NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson. Adding to the Johnson’s famous family are his brothers, Blues guitarist and singer Jimmy Johnson.
Syl Johnson, whose music career dates back to the 1960’s in the Chicago Soul arena, migrated with his family to Chicago in 1950.Johnson began recording for Twinight Records of Chicago in the mid-1960s. Beginning with his first hit, "Come on Sock It to Me" in 1967, Johnson dominated the label as both a hit maker and producer. His song "Different Strokes", (1967), was featured on the Ultimate Breaks and Beats breakbeat compilation. Like other black songwriters of the period, several of his records at that time explored themes of African-American identity and social problems in songs including "Is It Because I'm Black", which reached Number 11 in the US Billboard R&B chart in 1969.
Sly Johnson has become one of the most sampled artists of all time largely from "Different Strokes" and "Is It Because I'm Black". Johnson knew in 1992, that his song "Different Strokes" had been sampled by a plethora of major rappers, hip-hoppers and other artist’s in the industry and decided to show the “new musicians” how authentic rhythm and soul is made from scratch, and thus began his comeback in the music industry. In 1994, he released the album “Back in the Game” on Delmark Records. He passionately feels that taking music from an original artist without proper permission and compensation constitutes theft and has sued for copyright infringements.
Today, Syl Johnson strives to produce classic Soul music with a new generation of talent, Melody Whittle who is a Soul singer from Perth, Western Australia. She and Johnson met when she sang background for him on his Australian tour in 2009. He describes her best when he says that she has a great Old School like sound. Together they have put together a powerhouse of Soul treasures. Johnson says “this is authentic and not synthetic. There are no drum machines and no sampling here, what you hear is old school classic American Soul Music and Every Instrument has a heartbeat behind it”.
The 16 track CD Highlights from the album are “The Thrill Is Gone” which is a duet with Johnson and Whittle. It opens up with soulful Chicago guitar licks which introduce the sultry voice of Whittle who is soon joined by the Bluesy voice of Johnson. This is the first duet that Johnson has recorded during his long successful career. Whittle appears again on “Turn Back the Hands of Time” a Chicago classic. This was first sung by Chicago Soul legend Tyrone Davis in 1969. A powerful moment comes when his daughter, Syleena Johnson performs the Betty Everett classic “There'll Come a Time.” Syleena has a strong soulful voice that reminds you of a young Aretha Franklin.
The project is produced by Syl Johnson and arrangements are made by the legendary Tom Tom Washington, Willie Henderson, Gene Barge and Larry Blashingane. Johnson states that the “production process was made the same way as it was done back in the day.” All of the musicians on the album are local Chicago professionals and the rhythm section is young musicians are sons and nephews of the seasoned old school musicians who played on the old hits.” Johnson said he used them in order to give the project a more lively up-tempo sound that is full of life. He says that “they have the technique and the color of the old school rhythm.” For the horn section he used old school musicians who have played on many of the classic hits. The percussionists are Hispanic Latin Jazz musicians who play a variety of instruments.
Johnson states that “Fans of Rhythm and Blues and Soul music will truly appreciate this music package and I am sure that they will love and cherish it for many years.” Johnson goes on to say “In an age when music professionals are trying to recreate an old school 60s and 70s Soul music sound, they often fall short” and feels that this collaboration “hits a home run.”
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