Syl Johnson

Band members                             Related acts

- Syl Johnson (aka Sylvester Thompson) -- vocals, harmonica, guitar


  supporting musicians (1973)

- Howard Grimes -- drums

- Jack Hale -- trombone

- Charles Hodges -- organ

- Leroy Hodges -- bass

- Teenie Hodges -- guitar

- Wayne Jackson -- trumpet

- Andrew Love -- sax

- Ed Logan -- sax

- James Mitchell -- sax

- Archie Turner -- piano



  supporting musicians (1978)

- Judi Brown -- backing vocals

- George Doering -- guitar

- James Gadson -- drums

- Makr Gibbons -- keyboards

- Roger Henely Saint -- backing vocals

- Harry Kim - fluegel horn

- Bob Mack -- backing vocals

- Patrick Moten -- keyboards

- Joel Peskin -- sax

- Greg Poree - guitar

- Stephanie Spruill -- backing vocals

- Eddie Watkins -- bass

- Melvin Webb -- percussion

- Maxine Willard -- backing vocals




- none known





Genre: soul

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Back for a Taste of Your Love

Company: Hi

Catalog: XSHL 32081

Country/State: Holly Springs, Mississippi

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2261

Price: $80.00


In 1970 famed producer Willie Mitchell brought Syl Johnson to Hi Records.  Inexplicably it took two years for Mitchell  to get around to releasing an album with Johnson.  Produced and arranged by Mitchell, about all you can say is 1973's "Back for a Taste of Your Love"  was largely worth the wait.  But before going any further let me warn you that Johnson's voice bore at least a passing resemblance to Al Green.  To my ears Johnson was a bit funkier and "street", but those differences were largely lost amidst Mitchell's patented Hi production, which included support from the same group of musicians who played on all of Green's mid-'70s successes.  I guess the good news was anyone who liked Al Green was guaranteed to appreciate Johnson's work.  There may have been plenty of Green echoes across these grooves, but you could argue Johnson beat Green at his own game on 'Wind, Blow Her Back My Way'.  Elsewhere  Green seldom got as funky as the Hi-meets-shag 'We Did It' and the blazing 1971 single 'The Love You Left Behind '.   In fact, to  my ears there was only one disappointment on the album - the sappy ballad 'You Don't Know Me'.  


One of my favorite overlooked '70s soul albums.   Worth tracking down.


"Back for a Taste of Your Love" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Back for a Taste of Your Love   (C Carter - Syl Johnson - B. Johnson) - 2:32    rating: **** stars

The heavy orchestration (strings and horns) that opened the song left you wondering what you'd gotten into, but when Johnson's sinewy voice kicked in (imagine Al Green sucking on a lemon), everything fell into place.   Nice up--tempo tune that simply dripped that early-'70s Memphis sound.   Easy to see why it was tapped as a single:

- 1973's 'Back for a Taste of Your Love' b/w 'Wind, Blow Her Back My Way' (Hi catalog number 45-2250) # 72 pop; # 16 R&B

2.) I'm Yours   (C. Carter - Syl Johnson - B. Johnson) - 2:51   rating: *** stars

'I'm Yours' has never struck me as being one of his best performances.  The song's not bad, but just lacked the focus of his best efforts, sounding like it had been patched together from a series of song fragments.  

3.) I Let a Good Girl Go   (Earl Randle) - 4:19    rating: **** stars

' I Let a Good Girl Go' was the first of five tunes written, or co-written by Earl Randle.  Kicking along by the ever smooth Hodge brothers, it was a wonderful bluesy ballad that brought out the deeper registers in Johnson's voice.  A sterling chorus certainly didn't hurt.   Few singers do regret as well as Johnson.   Should have been tapped as a single.   And today this one would be described as dope !!!  

4.) Anyway the Wind Blows   (Earl Randle) - 2:52   rating: *** stars

I'm certainly not doing it on purpose, but whenever I hear that unique Hi sound I'm always reminded of Al Green.  That's certainly the case on this old school ballad.   Johnson did a great job on the song,, but Green's shadow was stamped all over these grooves and it's easy to see why someone might confuse the two singers.

5.) You Don't Know Me   (C. Walker - E. Arnold) - 4:00   rating: ** stars

The album's first true disappointment, smothered in vapid strings and angelic backing singers, 'You Don't Know Me' was a sappy, almost MOR-ish ballad.   


(side 2)
1.) Feelin' Frisky   (Earl Randle - Syl Johnson) - 2:59
    rating: **** stars

Hard to not smile when you here this rollicking track.  Yeah, Johnson's nasally delivery bore more than a passing resemblance to Green, but I don't think the Reverend Green ever got as downright slinky as 'Feelin' Frisky'.    With those killer horns this is probably one of  the tracks I would have tapped as a single.   

2.) We Did It   (John Moore) - 2:32    rating: **** stars

Ever wondered what a mash-up of Memphis soul and Carolina beach music would sound like?  Well, you don't need to go any further then the magnificent 'We Did It'.  Criminally propulsive, the Hodges seldom sounded as good; check out Charles Hodges organ fills.  The only think wrong with this one was the song simply wasn't long enough.   A perfect tune to kick back, have a couple of import beers, and spend the evening shagging on a beach with the wife.    Simply one of the best performances in Johnson's entire catalog and that is saying something.

- 1972's 'We Did It' b/w 'Any Way the Wind Blows' (Hi catalog number 45-2229)

3.) Wind, Blow Her Back My Way   (Earl Randle) - 2:39     rating: **** stars

Yes, Johnson's delivery certainly echoed Al Green's sound with Mitchell's parented Hi sound only serving to underscore the resemblances.   BUT, anyone under the impression Johnson was nothing more than a second tier Green needs to hear the heartrending  'Wind, Blow Her Back My Way '.   On this bluesy ballad he may have outdone Green at his own game. 

4.) I Hate I Walked Away   (Earl Randle) - 3:25     rating: **** stars

Admittedly this one didn't immediately sink in.   Compared to some of the other performances the melody on this one seemed disjointed, like it had been stitched together from a couple of songs.   But give it a couple of spins and  those criticisms became some of the things that made this such a great tune.   Love Johnson's dry, measured vocals on this one and the chorus was simply killer.

5.) The Love You Left Behind   (Willie Mitchell - Al Jackson) - 2:45     rating: **** stars

In terms of Johnson's discography, 'The Love You Left Behind' was initially released in 1971, serving as his debut for Hi.   Thanks to Howard Grimes' crushing drums, the song was easily the album's toughest performance.   Curiously, perhaps due to the way his voice was miked, on 'The Love You Left Behind' Johnson sounded a bit like Hot Chocolate's Errol Brown.  

- 1971's 'The Love You Left Behind' b/w 'Anyone But You' (Hi catalog number 45- 2201)







Genre: soul

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Diamond In the Rough

Company: Hi

Catalog: SHL 32085

Country/State: Holly Springs, Mississippi

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2277

Price: $70.00


1974's "Diamond In the Rough" was Syl Johnson's second album for Willie Mitchell's Hi Records.  If you liked the smooth, silky Memphis soul sound that Mitchell had crafted for Al Green and others, then the chances were good you were going to enjoy this collection.  That said, this one wasn't a major departure from the previous album.  Surrounded by the cream of Hi sessions players, like the previous album, this ballad heavy set made if very hard to ignore Johnson's resemblance to Al Green.  Mind you, being compared to Green wasn't the worst thing that could happen to you, but to be fair to Johnson, a bit of differentiation probably would not have hurt his career.   The thing was that if you concentrated, it was easy to hear the differences between the two singers. At least to my ears Johnson had a slightly rawer feel, seemingly more comfortable on funkier material like 'Don't Do It', the title track, and the Carolina Beach Music sounding ''I Want to Take You Home (To See Mama)'.  


Maybe not quite as dazzling as his previous Hi album, but song-for-song a gem; an album that should be in more soul collections.


"Diamond In the Rough" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Let Yourself Go  (Charles Hodges - Archie Turner - D. Carter) - 3:06    rating: **** stars

Ah, 'Let Yourself Go' was a wonderful example of Willie Mitchell's instantly recognizable sound ... Coupled with Johnson's measured vocal, this was silky smooth, highly commercial, radio-friendly soul that gave the Reverend Green a run for his money.  The chorus was one of the best found on a Hi recording.  Hi even tapped it as a single:

- 1974's 'Let Yourself Go' b/w 'Please, Don't Give Up on Me' (Hi catalog number 2269)

2.) Don't Do It   (M. Hodges - Darryl Carter) - 2:44    rating: **** stars

Admittedly 'Don't Do It' has always reminded me a bit of 'Take Me To the River', but the fact remained that no matter who they were backing, nobody did slinky soul as well as the Hodge brothers.  Great, if completely overlooked tune.

3.) I Want to Take You Home (To See Mama)   (Darryl Carter - B. Johnson) - 2:32   rating: **** stars

With a breezy, instantly likeable vibe, 'I Want to Take You Home (To See Mama)' had more of a Carolina Beach Music sound than Johnson's typical Memphis groove.   Another album highlight and another single:

- 1974's' I Want to Take You Home (To See Mama)' b/w 'I Hear The Love Chimes' (Hi Catalog number 5N-2275)  

4.) Could I Be Falling In Love   (Willlie Mitchell - Earle Randle) - 3:03    rating: **** stars

'Could I Be Falling In Love' was simply one of Johnson's best ballads, displaying a bit of his seldom heard higher range - and the punchy horn arrangement was to-die-for.   

5.) Stuck In Chicago   (Earl Cate - Ernie Cate) - 2:47   rating: *** stars

As much as I liked Johnson's cover, The Cate Brothers' original (known by the title '(Stuck in Chicago) Trying to Get to You') crushed it.  Nice enough, but ultimately an "also-ran" performance


(side 2)

1.) Diamond In the Rough   (Erma Clanton - Darryl Carter) - 2:51    rating: **** stars

Stunning ...  all praises to the Hodge Brothers.  not sure there's much more to day about this one.

2.) Keeping Down Confusion  (Darryl Carter - Willie Mitchell) - 2:37    rating: **** stars

Kicked along by Charles Hodges's ominous organ fills,'Keeping Down Confusion' was the album's steamiest performance.  In an ocean of cheatin' best friends themed songs it was also a nice change of pace.  Hats off to a man who stood his morale ground, even if it was because he feared for his life.   LOL

3.) Please, Don't Give Up On Me   (Earle Randle - B. Jarrett) - 2:30   rating: ** stars

Lyrically 'Please, Don't Give Up On Me' was interesting, but it was wrapped in a forgettable melody and ultimately didn't do a great deal for me.

4.) Music To My Ears   (Charles Hodges) - 2:40   rating: *** stars

For better or worse 'Music To My Ears' was the only song on the album to escape Willie Mitchell's signature sound.  Not necessarily my favorite performance, but it was quite commercial and probably would have done well as a single.   

5.) I Hear the Love Chimes   (Darryl Carter - Earle Randle) - 2:39    rating: **** stars

'I Hear the Love Chimes' had the album's most mesmerizing groove.  In fact the only thing wrong with this one as the song was simply too short.  




Genre: soul

Rating: 2 stars **

Title:  Uptown Shakedown

Company: Hi

Catalog: HLP 6010

Country/State: Holly Springs, Mississippi

Grade (cover/record): NM/NM

Comments: sealed; cut lower right corner

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2721

Price: $30.00



Like so many soul artists, by the late 1970s Syl Johnson had largely been relegated to the sidelines by the public's fickle taste and the rise of disco madness.  Released in 1978, "Uptown Shakedown" marked the end of his partnership with Hi Records.  With longtime producer Willie Mitchell having severed his relationship with Hi when it was purchased by Cream Records, production responsibilities for the album  fell to Hal Winn, Jerry Barnes, and Mark Gibbons.  Reportedly the collection was little more than a "contractual requirement" set recorded.  If so, that would go a long way to explaining the results.   This is probably the worst album in the man's catalog. Low lights include mindless disco ('Mystery lady'), the worst remake of Brenton Wood's 'Gimme Some Kind of Sign' known to mankind, and an almost criminal disco-fied Otis Redding medley.  The latter is so bad, it almost has to be heard.


"Uptown Shakedown" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Mystery Lady   (Hal Winn - Mark Gibbons) - 5:49   rating: ** stars

Sounding like he was suffering from a nasty sinus infection, 'Mystery Lady' was a truly horrible slice of mindless disco.  Not sure who the featured female singer was, but she didn't sound any better than Johnson.  Why Hi tapped it as the leadoff single is a complete mystery.

- 1979's 'Mystery Lady' b/w 'Let's Dance for Love' (Hi catalog number H 79529)

2.) Let's Dance for Love - 4:38   rating: *** stars

Well, at least 'Let's Dance for Love' avoided the blatant disco moves, though the song had a dance theme and a lame refrain.  As a breezy ballad it wasn't great by any stretch of the imagination, but surrounded by the rest of the album, served as one of the LP highlights.

3.) Gimme Little Sign   (Alfred Smith - Joe Hoveen - Hal Winn) - 3:49    rating: ** stars

Since he co-wrote the song, I'm guessing Hal Winn had the idea of setting this soul classic to a reggae beat.  Maybe the concept looked good on paper, but the final product was pretty horrific  Hit skip and pull out your old Brenton Wood album instead.  

4.) You're the Star of the Show - 4:28   rating: **** stars

Thankfully side one ended with a song that wasn't horrendous.  Yeah, there was a touch of disco in the arrangement, but kicked along by a bubbly synthesizer and some nice horns, Johnson actually sounded mildly engaged on 'You're the Star of the Show''.


(side 2)

1.) Blue Water - 4:21

With a sweet old school sound (and nary a disco influence anywhere to be heard), you had to wonder if 'Blue Water' was a leftover from earlier sessions.  This is the tune I would have tapped as a single.  rating: **** stars

2.) Who's Gonna Love You - 4:40  rating: ** stars

Silky smooth and largely forgettable "love man" ballad that would have effortlessly fit on adult contemporary radio - geez, there were even a couple of Harry Kim fluegel horn solos.  The refrain was okay, but the rest of the song was simply zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

3.) Otis Redding Medley - 8:58   rating: * star 

 i.) Respect  (Otis Redding) 

 ii.) Wholesale Love  (Otis Redding) 

 iii.) Snatch a Little Piece  (Otis Redding) 

 iv.) I Can't Turn You Loose  (Otis Redding) 

  v.) Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) (Otis Redding - Steve Cropper) 

 vi.) (SIttin' On) The Dock of the Bay  (Otis Redding - Steve Cropper)

I'm not even going to guess why Johnson felt the need to take on some of the holy grails in the Otis Redding catalog.  The fact these songs were set to an anonymous disco beat was, well, the word criminal comes to mind.  Sadly Hi tapped the song as a 12" dance single:


- 1978's 'Otis Redding Medley' b/w 'Mystery Lady' (Hi catalog number HD 4001)