Thursday, November 03, 2005

Serious Work from a Father-Daughter Team/Remembering Syl Johnson:

I think it's so cool that Syl Johnson made an album with his daughter! Can you imagine anything more encouraging?

Do you remember him? He was the Hi Records (Memphis)/Willie Mitchell's attempt at replacing Al Green, following Al's conversion. Syl had a similar falsetto, and made for a fatter, much less sexy, less subtle, pot-head version of Al Green. His songs about women have a certain, obvious quality that was never to be found in Al Green's innuendo-laden classic love songs. Compare the following examples of lyrics, and song titles:

Al Green: "I wanna soothe you, baby..."
Syl Johnson: "I'm comin' (for a taste of your love)..."
Al Green: "You Oughta Be With Me"
Syl Johnson: "Feeling Frisky"
Al Green: "Look What You Done For Me"
Syl Johnson: "Watch What You Do To Me"

I think I read somewhere that Syl Johnson went on to own a chain of fried fish restaurants in Chicago. He was also the first musician on Hi Records to record "Take Me to the River", which both Al Green and The Talking Heads made famous. Interestingly, his best album (not so subtly entitled: "Is It Because I'm Black?") was recorded before he made the move to Hi Studios. The Wu-Tang Clan and especially Ghostface Killah have made excellent sample-use of this early album, as well as two songs from his third album ("Back For A Taste Of Your Love").

Across the board, I would say that most of his catalogue ranks as a solid B-, with a few serious B+ efforts/(exceptions?) as well. I love listening to him parry between the sentiment of "Any Way The Wind Blows (Is Cool With Me)" and, soon after, "Wind, Blow Her Back My Way". Once again, irony stands in the way of great art, but only just barely in the case of Syl Johnson.


p.s., On a side note, and not to steal any of Syl's "thunder" (i.e., notice the marijuana leaf medallion!), Hi Records has three other phenomenal artists that are worth checking out (not including Al Green): O. V. Wright, Emma Coffee, and, most importantly, Anne Peebles.

p.p.s., Also, on the outskirts of Baltimore, MD, I once totalled a car while listening to the Al Green's song, "Have You Been Making Out Okay?" I swear the song didn't even skip once!

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