Trailer for the documentary Syl Johnson: Any Way the Wind Blows.

Fans of 1960s Chicago R&B know Syl Johnson, an influential African-American musician who cut classics like “Come On Sock It to Me,” “Is It Because I’m Black,” and “Different Strokes.” Despite a solid career and a dynamic stage presence, mainstream success never happened for Syl. He drifted into obscurity while the smooth, sexy voice of his chief rival Al Green (“Let’s Stay Together”) zoomed to stardom. Syl opened a chain of fast-food fish restaurants and disco crushed the memory of soul. Story over, right? Not so fast. Payback’s a bitch, and Syl—a righteously aggrieved curmudgeon—took his revenge in a most satisfying way. The opening seconds of his “Different Strokes”—primal grunts over a stark drumbeat with female laughter swirling overhead—became one of the most sampled tracks in hip-hop, so Syl turned into a litigation machine. And he was a natural! Syl got so much money from RZA and the Wu Tang Clan that he called his home “The House That Wu Built.” While he chased down more people to sue, a new generation of fans discovered classic Syl soul records, and the musician was reborn. With a funky, energetic soundtrack, an original score by Yo La Tengo (!), and interviews with hip-hop legends like RZA, Prince Paul, and Jazzy Jay, this doc is a buoyant and satisfying celebration of one man’s perseverance to stick around long enough to enjoy his redemption.

2 min 19 sec


Posted On
March 22, 2016
Robert Hatch-Miller

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April 8, 2016
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