Documentaries on unappreciated, long-lost musicians are all the rage right now, from Sixto Rodriguez in Searching For Sugar Man to Detroit punk pioneers Death in A Band Called Death. Soul artist Syl Johnson falls into that category of relative obscurity, but he stands out from the rest with a feisty, determined attitude and a load of bitterness about never achieving fame on par with James Brown and others.
Johnson reached minor notoriety in the 1960s, appearing on Soul Train, but when his local Chicago label Twinight Records went under, he failed to achieve wider success, ending up in Al Green’s shadow. Business success and failure followed with a chain of fried fish restaurants, but what really turned the tide was Johnson hearing his music on the radio again—in the form of unauthorized hip-hop samples. So Johnson went about doing what any bitter, under-appreciated musician who never got his due would do in his situation: he sued the pants off every last one of them, and started raking in royalty checks.
Syl Johnson: Any Way The Wind Blows is the story of Johnson’s tumultuous career from obscurity to homelessness to renewed appreciation, with a firebrand character unwilling to forget his past failures. The Rob Hatch-Miller-directed documentary has a Kickstarter campaign that starts today and is aimed at raising funds to finish a rough cut after years in production and apply to film festivals. They’ve got some cool rewards including reissues of Johnson’s music via Fat Possum Records, so check out the campaign and learn about a forgotten soul legend.
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