The documentary SYL JOHNSON: ANY WAY THE WIND BLOWS will take you inside the world of a man who might be the best soul singer you've never heard of. But you have heard his music already, even though you might not realize it.
Syl Johnson's songs have been sampled so many times in the last 25 years that he's practically had more radio presence than Lil Wayne. When you hear artists like Run-DMC, Public Enemy, De La Soul, Boogie Down Productions, Kid Rock and Cypress Hill, you hear Syl. He's got so much money from licensing his samples that he calls his home "The House That Wu-Tang Built."
At almost 80 years old, Syl Johnson has outlasted Jay-Z and Kanye West in the courtroom, gone up against Elvis and Paul McCartney at the Grammys, run a chain of seafood restaurants, started an organic urban garden on the South Side of Chicago, and played hundreds of concerts for fans all around the world.
Chicago reissue label Numero Group has been instrumental in relaunching Syl's career in recent years. They organized his first major US headlining shows in decades and released the Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology box set, which earned him his first ever Grammy nomination.
Director Rob Hatch-Miller and producers Puloma Basu and Michael Slaboch have been filming with Syl Johnson since the singer headlined Numero Group's Eccentric Soul Revue tour in 2009.
"We started shooting footage here in Chicago leading up to the very first show we produced at the Park West in Chicago," Slaboch explains. "The rehearsals for that particular show--where we made Syl learn all of these tunes he had never performed on stage before--were when I first noticed how fun, charming, and crazy Syl is in person and on camera."
"Before the tour came to New York, Michael asked if I wanted to film some stuff for Numero to put on the web," Hatch-Miller says. "I really liked Syl as a character right away. He's somebody who made his own comeback. He found out that hip hop artists were using his music and he went after money for it, and used that money to win the rights to his own catalog. Now he has his own masters and he's made a lot of money in a tough business."
The documentary is still in production, and requires further funding for its completion. The filmmakers have launched a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $40,000 for production and editing.
Production Company Productions was founded in 2010 by Rob Hatch-Miller, Puloma Basu and Tom Scharpling (host of The Best Show On WFMU). Their work includes music videos for Aimee Mann, Wild Flag, Real Estate and The New Pornographers, and the recent Funny Or Die viral video "The Postal Service Auditions."