Song:Take Me To The River
Though music fans probably know that Al Green wrote Take Me To The River, Hi Records never released his recording as a single. Instead producer Willie Mitchell gave it to labelmate Syl Johnson and Take Me To The River was his biggest hit in 1975. At the time, Johnson was overlooked but his 70s recordings are a must for soul fans. He was born Sylvester Thompson July 1, 1936 in Holly Springs, MS. His brothers are guitarist Jimmy Johnson and bassist Mack Thompson. His family moved to Chicago in 1950 and Magic Sam was his next door neighbour. Johnson started out as a backup singer, guitarist and harmonica player for blues artists. He toured with Howlin' Wolf in the 50s. Johnson first recorded as a solo artist for King's Federal label in 1959 and in the mid-60s he had some success on Twinight Records with R& B hits like Come On Sock It To Me, Different Strokes and Is It Because I'm Black. Willie Mitchell produced some of those recordings and when Mitchell joined Hi Records in 1970, he brought Johnson with him. Twinight folded in 1972. Of course Johnson's problem at Hi was he played second fiddle to labelmate Al Green. So he was always overlooked. But he had a few R & B hits like We Did It and Back For A Taste Of Your Love. Take Me To The River reached #7 on the R & B Singles chart in 1975 and it was Johnson's biggest hit. Of course Al Green wrote the song with his guitarist Mabon "Teenie" Hodges and Green recorded it on his 1974 album Al Green Explores Your Mind. But Hi never released Green's version as a single. Mitchell had Johnson record it with the same musicians. The only difference was Johnson's harmonica solo. Take Me To The River was popularized by Talking Heads and David Byrne made sure fans knew Green wrote it. But Byrne didn't connect it to Johnson. Johnson left Hi in 1979 and recorded for his own label in the early 80s. This comp from the British reissue label Demon Music's Backbeat label is a good intro to Johnson's music. In the mid-80s, Johnson opened a restaurant and semi-retired from music. In the 90s, when Johnson found out that hip hop guys were sampling his music, he signed with Delmark Records and released the 1994 album Back In The Game. His daughter Syleena Johnson has had some success as a singer working with R. Kelly and she revived the Twinight imprint for him to record new music. And they are raising money through Kickstarter to produce the Syl Johnson documentary Any Way The Wind Blows. So Syl Johnson is still kickin' it and you don't want to overlook his great music. Here's Syl Johnson performing Take Me To The River at the 1975 Memphis Blues Festival. I know the clip is not professionally shot and it cuts off but it is footage of Syl Johnson in his prime.