Blues/soul singer and record producer Sylvester Thompson, a.k.a Syl Johnson, was born in Mississippi in the late 30’s. Moving to Chicago in 1950 with his family, his earliest introduction to music was to come from his next door neighbour and blues guitarist, Magic Sam!
Over the coming years Syl Johnson began playing alongside Magic Sam, also performing with an array of other blues artists including Billy Boy Arnold, Junior Wells and Howlin’ Wolf. Releasing his debut solo album in 1959 via Federal records (a subsidiary of Cincinnati’s King Records), Johnson also recorded with Jimmy Reed for Chicago’s blues/jazz label, Vee-Jay.
By the mid-60’s Johnson began recording and producing for Chicago’s R&B/soul label Twinight Records, releasing his first album Dresses Too Short in 1967. This was also the year that Johnson recorded and released today’s song which featured as the B-side to the single, Sorry Bout Dat. Different Stokes is a tremendously funky track so it came as no surprise to discover that it had been sampled many times, especially by break beat and hip hop artists such as De La Soul, Public Enemy, Wu-Tang Clan!
Johnson’s recording career continued right up til the mid-80’s, after which he decided to retire from performing so that he could open his own restaurant. But in 1992 he made an unexpected comeback after finding just how many times Different Strokes and Is It Because I’m Black had been sampled by hip hop/rappers! This discovery inspired his return to the music industry and less than two years later he had released a brand new album which also featured his singer-songwriter daughter, Syleena Johnson.
For decades Syl Johnson has blessed the world of funk and soul with his music, shaping the sound of hip hop to this day and if you listen to Different Strokes it’s so easy to see why so many have chosen to sample it!…Check it out above.
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