Syl Johnson

Like many soul stars who became hitmakers in the late '60s and early '70s, singer/guitarist Syl Johnson's career has been through multiple generation-crossing chapters. He took off with two great records on Chicago's Twinight label -- 1968's funky Dresses Too Short and 1970's socially stirring Is It Because I'm Black?, the latter album one of the era's finest works of protest soul -- and he followed them up with a string of Willie Mitchell-produced classics on Hi Records that brought out the gruff yet smooth quality of his voice in a way that favorably recalls labelmate Al Green. A later generation knows him in a somewhat different sense: the James Brown-esque "unh!"s of his 1967 single "Different Strokes" have been sampled in over two dozen different hip hop tracks, including classics by Public Enemy and EPMD, and his Hi material has been a go-to source of vintage soul atmosphere for some of the RZA's greatest Wu-Tang beats. Whether you first heard Syl Johnson's voice through Total Explosion or Fear of a Black Planet, it's one that should definitely be heard live. (Photo by Masahiro Sumori)
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: Feb. 19. Continues through Feb. 20, 2010

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