Funded! This project was successfully funded on August 8, 2013.

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A documentary about the best soul singer you’ve ever heard–even if you've never heard of him.

Thank you to all our backers for helping us hit our goal! In the final hours of the campaign we're aiming to hit a new STRETCH goal of $50,000.

$40,000 is the minimum we need to finish a rough cut of the film, but it's only a fraction of the overall budget needed.

Every extra dollar pledged between now and our funding deadline will go toward:

  • SHOOTING: We have lots more to do. We're already planning a shoot with Syl in Chicago later this month and we're scheduling interviews with producers and DJs including Jazzy Jay, DJ Cool V (Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie) and Prince Paul. 
  • EDITING & ANIMATION: We need to work with experienced, talented people and that isn't cheap. We've already talked with several editors and animators and we'll be making decisions about our team very soon!
  • MUSIC: Our film is ALL about music, so the soundtrack is incredibly important and we intend to make it awesome. In addition to licensing Syl's songs, we'll have to license tracks that sample him. We'll also need someone to compose original music for some parts of the film.
  • ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE: We already have great vintage clips like Syl's Soul Train performances, but an experienced archival researcher can help us find more hidden treasures like his lost American Bandstand appearance.

Please keep pledging and spreading the word!

Watch A Teaser For The Film:

In the documentary Syl Johnson: Any Way The Wind Blows, we invite you into 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–he’s not telling!–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.

Our film follows Syl’s life from 2009 through today, incorporating interviews, animation and archival material to illuminate his life and music. With a propulsive soundtrack spanning Syl’s half-century career, Any Way The Wind Blows offers a window into the artistic rebirth of a nearly forgotten legend.

Here's a little background...

Born Sylvester Thompson in rural Holly Springs, Mississippi, young Syl spent his days picking cotton alongside his brothers and sisters, and his nights on the front porch learning the blues from his father and his uncles. His family moved to Chicago in the second wave of the Great Migration and Syl quickly made a name for himself as a sideman for blues legends including Junior Wells and Magic Sam.

By the late 60s, Syl was local Chicago label Twinight Records’ biggest star. When that small label shut its doors, he left town and tried to hit it even bigger. But after spending the 70s in Al Green’s shadow at the legendary Memphis label Hi Records, Syl failed to break through to a wider audience.

Syl went back to Chicago, retired from music and founded Solomon’s Fisheries, a popular fried fish chain frequented by local politicians and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey. But that success didn’t last any longer than his earlier career in music. By the early 90s Solomon’s went out of business and Syl’s second wife filed for divorce. For a brief time, Syl was homeless. 

And that’s where a lot of people thought the story ended, but Syl was just getting his second wind. He started hearing some very familiar sounds on the radio and MTV. Sounds he hadn’t heard since back when he was appearing on Soul Train and American Bandstand in the heyday of his career. He recruited kids from his neighborhood to help find Hip Hop artists who'd sampled him and the royalty checks started pouring in.

Today many of Syl’s peers are dead or just done with music. He’s not. He can’t stop. Syl can’t stop fighting for what he’s owed (a bunch of royalties from 40 years ago, if you ask him). He can’t stop reminding the world that he’s responsible for sounds in today’s pop music that are directly taken from his pioneering recordings in the 60s and 70s. And he can’t stop performing–on the stage and off. 

The reissue label Numero Group has been instrumental in relaunching Syl's career and keeping him active. They organized his first major headlining tour in decades and released the Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology box set, which earned him his first ever Grammy nomination. 

Syl Johnson rehearsing in Brooklyn, 2010 (photo by Jacob Blickenstaff).
Syl Johnson rehearsing in Brooklyn, 2010 (photo by Jacob Blickenstaff).

Why tell Syl's story? And why now?

We're huge Syl Johnson fans, and we agree with the many music critics and historians who compare him with legendary artists like James Brown and Al Green. Learning about Syl’s life through his songs and his stories creates a unique opportunity for people to consider the history of racial politics in America, the complexities of the music business, and issues of creative ownership and compensation.

Syl Johnson: Any Way The Wind Blows is more than just the story of a forgotten musician finding success late in life. Syl is a deeply complex person and an ideal subject for a documentary. He is, in turns, charming and combative, playful and arrogant, paranoid and wise. More than once he's referred to himself as "a multi-talented genius." We want to produce a film that explores Syl Johnson’s story with depth and honesty, while also introducing his music to a wider audience. 

The film is already taking shape. We’ve followed Syl Johnson in cinema verité style and witnessed the astounding recent developments in his career. In addition to an unprecedented level of access to Syl himself, the film will include interviews with the people close to him including his family, musical peers, and fans. We’ll also go back in time through archival footage and interviews to explain the larger cultural and political scene in America in the 60s and 70s, when Syl was at his artistic peak. He may still put on rocking live shows, but back then Syl was a force of nature! 

The Rewards:

We've put together some truly amazing rewards that we're excited to share with you.

For $10 or more you'll get a download code for an exclusive one hour Syl Johnson-themed mix by one of New York City's greatest DJs, Duane Harriott (WFMU/Negroclash/Bim Marx/Desiree West).

For $20 or more, you'll get a digital download of Syl Johnson: Any Way The Wind Blows when it's commercially released!

For $25 or more you'll get a full color 18"x24" Syl Johnson poster designed by Richmond, VA artist Eliza Childress.

Eliza Childress Syl Johnson Poster
Eliza Childress Syl Johnson Poster

NEW REWARD: For $40 you'll get an "Afro Kitty" tote bag by Project Runway Season 11 designer Joseph Aaron Segal, creator of the world famous Pretty Snake "Cuckoo Kitty" sweater.

Pretty Snake "Afro Kitty" Tote
Pretty Snake "Afro Kitty" Tote

For $50 or more you'll get to download a special version of the movie with bonus Syl Johnson live performance footage, available only through Kickstarter!

For $60 you'll get a Syl Johnson tote bag by Project Runway Season 11 designer Joseph Aaron Segal.

Pretty Snake Syl Johnson Tote
Pretty Snake Syl Johnson Tote

For $75 you'll get a Syl Johnson t-shirt by Rotter And Friends, produced exclusively for this Kickstarter campaign.

Rotter And Friends Syl Johnson T-Shirt
Rotter And Friends Syl Johnson T-Shirt

For $100 you'll get all of the above plus a reproduction of a vintage 8"x10" glossy promo photo of Syl.

Vintage 8"x10" Photo Reproduction
Vintage 8"x10" Photo Reproduction

For $150 and up you'll get an invitation for you and a guest to attend a rough cut screening and reception with the filmmakers in either Chicago or New York City next year. If you can't be in Chicago or New York, you can pledge $500 to host your own rough cut screening of the film anywhere on earth! The filmmakers will Skype in afterwards to do a Q&A with you and your guests.

For $200 you'll get Syl Johnson's albums Dresses Too Short and Is It Because I'm Black on vinyl plus the Mythological 45s box from Numero Group. Or for $250 you can get their Grammy-nominated 6 LP + 4 CD Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology box set!

Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology box set
Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology box set

NEW REWARD: For $500 you'll get a Royale ST electric guitar from DBZ Guitars, autographed by Syl Johnson!

DBZ Royale ST electric guitar
DBZ Royale ST electric guitar

For $500 you'll get one of five hand-numbered, limited edition 11"x14" fine art prints of a Syl photo by Jacob Blickenstaff from a photo shoot that we filmed for the movie.

Jacob Blickenstaff Fine Art Photo
Jacob Blickenstaff Fine Art Photo

For $1,000 you and a guest can attend the film's festival premiere and sit down for a celebratory meal with the filmmakers.

Where will the money go?

This film is a labor of love for us. So far we've made it almost entirely out of our own pockets and with the help of dedicated volunteers. And now we need your help to raise the funding necessary to work with an experienced documentary editor, and hire an archival researcher and an animator to help us finish this film and share it with the world.

We also need to travel and shoot additional interviews. We plan to interview Hip Hop producers like RZA, Prince Paul and Pete Rock who've sampled Syl's music. And we plan to go to Memphis to film at Willie Mitchell's Royal Studios and interview members of the legendary Hi Rhythm Section, who played on Syl's classic albums.

Historic Marker At Willie Mitchell's Royal Studios In Memphis
Historic Marker At Willie Mitchell's Royal Studios In Memphis

$40,000 is only a fraction of the overall budget for this film. But it's the bare minimum we need to finish a rough cut that we can use to raise finishing funds and apply to film festivals.

Our goal is to finish the film in time for a festival premiere in late 2014 or early 2015. As a backer of the film you'll be continually updated on our progress. And you'll be among the first to know when and where the film will premiere.

Our team:

Rob Hatch-Miller (Director) - Rob's short films Republican Dad and A Man Named Magick have screened at Rooftop Films, the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival and New York’s Anthology Film Archives and are available online from Snag Films. He's also worked on award-winning documentary features such as The Oath, The House I Live In and André Gregory: Before And After Dinner. Since 2010 Rob has worked with writer/director Tom Scharpling as a producer and editor on music videos for Aimee Mann, Wild Flag, Titus Andronicus, The New Pornographers and many others.

Puloma Basu (Producer) - Puloma's first job in the film industry was on Mira Nair’s film The Namesake. Since then she’s worked on numerous TV shows including Bored To Death and Flight Of The Conchords and feature films such as Brooklyn’s Finest, Arbitrage and Kill Your Darlings. She works with Rob as a producer on music videos by Tom Scharpling (host of The Best Show On WFMU).

Michael Slaboch (Producer) - Michael's work at the Chicago reissue label The Numero Group has given him the tremendous opportunity to share rediscovered artists, music, films, and photographs with new audiences around the world. He's also a historical judge for the national chapter of the Grammys and an adjunct faculty member at Columbia College Chicago in their recording arts and documentary film programs.

To stay up to date, please "like" Syl Johnson: Any Way The Wind Blows on Facebook or follow us on Twitter: @SylJohnsonMovie

#syljohnson

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

When it comes to our remaining challenges, we are confident that this movie will be completed. We’ve already shot over 50 hours worth of interviews and over 50 hours of live and cinema verité footage, to go along with a treasure trove of archival material. It's going to be a great film and we can't wait for you to see it!

We’re so grateful that you’ve taken an interest in helping out and we’re excited to introduce you to Syl Johnson. He’s a truly special person and we feel so lucky to have met him. People like Syl don’t come around very often and there’s no way we're going to let him slip through the cracks of history.

FAQ

Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.

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    Full color 18"x24" Syl Johnson poster by artist Eliza Childress. Plus the digital download, poster and DJ mix.

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    NEW REWARD! "Afro Kitty" tote bag by Project Runway Season 11 designer Joseph Aaron Segal. Plus the digital download, poster and DJ mix.

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    Syl Johnson canvas tote bag by Project Runway Season 11 designer Joseph Aaron Segal. This tote is 100% cotton, made in the USA and great for carrying records or anything else! Plus the digital download, poster and DJ mix.

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    Syl Johnson t-shirt by Rotter And Friends, printed on an American Apparel Power Washed Tee. Sizes XS-2XL available. Plus the digital download, poster and DJ mix.

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    Complete Syl Johnson pack: The t-shirt and the tote bag plus a reproduction of a vintage 8"x10" glossy Syl Johnson promo photo, digital download, poster and DJ mix.

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    Syl Johnson's Total Explosion LP and Diamond In The Rough CD from Fat Possum Records. Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster and DJ mix.

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    Attend a private rough cut screening of the film and reception with the filmmakers in NYC in 2014! Date TBD, includes admission for you and a guest (travel and accommodations not included). Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster and DJ mix.

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    Attend a private rough cut screening of the film and reception with the filmmakers in Chicago in 2014! Date TBD, includes admission for you and a guest (travel and accommodations not included). Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster and DJ mix.

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    Syl Johnson's Dresses Too Short LP, Is It Because I'm Black LP and Mythological 45s box from Numero Group. Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster, DJ mix and admission for you and a guest to a rough cut screening of the film in NYC or Chicago in 2014.

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    PRICE REDUCED! Attend the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, IL and meet the film's producer Michael! Includes a pair of sold out 3-day passes to the festival July 19-21, 2013 (travel and accommodations not included). Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster, DJ mix and admission for you and a guest to a rough cut screening of the film in NYC or Chicago in 2014. YOU MUST PLEDGE BY JULY 18TH, 2013 TO RECEIVE THIS REWARD.

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    Syl Johnson's Complete Mythology 6LP + 4CD box set from Numero Group. Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster, DJ mix and admission for you and a guest to a rough cut screening of the film in NYC or Chicago in 2014.

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    Attend the 2013 Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans, LA "Celebrating The Unsung Heroes Of American Music" and meet the film's director and producer Rob and Puloma! Includes a pair of 3-day passes to the festival Oct 3-5, 2013 (travel and accommodations not included). Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster, DJ mix and admission for you and a guest to a rough cut screening of the film in NYC or Chicago in 2014.

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    Attend the 2014 Tomorrow Never Knows Festival in Chicago, IL and meet the film's producer Michael! Includes a pair of 5-day passes to the festival in January 2014 (travel and accommodations not included). Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster, DJ mix and admission for you and a guest to a rough cut screening of the film in NYC or Chicago in 2014.

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    Daptone Records pack: A box of soul and funk releases from Daptone Records and Gabriel Roth, who has worked with Syl Johnson and appears in the film. Five LPs, five 45s, two slipmats and a Daptone tote bag! Each pack contains one autographed LP and one rare out-of-print 45. Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster, DJ mix and admission for you and a guest to a rough cut screening of the film in NYC or Chicago in 2014.

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    NEW REWARD! DBZ Royale ST electric guitar autographed by Syl Johnson! Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster, DJ mix and admission for you and a guest to a rough cut screening of the film in NYC or Chicago in 2014.

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    Hand numbered, limited edition 11"x14" Syl Johnson fine art photo print by Jacob Blickenstaff. This photo of Syl was taken during a shoot that we filmed for the movie. Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster, DJ mix and admission for you and a guest to a rough cut screening of the film in NYC or Chicago in 2014.

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    Host your own private rough cut screening of the film in 2014, anywhere on earth! Filmmakers will participate in a Q&A with you and your guests afterwards via Skype. Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster and DJ mix.

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    The complete Eccentric Soul LP series from Numero Group. 15 releases including Twinight's Lunar Rotation (featuring many tracks produced by Syl Johnson) and the Book + Download release of the Omnibus 45 box. Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster, DJ mix and admission for you and a guest to a rough cut screening of the film in NYC or Chicago in 2014.

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    Attend the film's festival premiere and sit down for a celebratory meal with the filmmakers. Includes screening tickets for you and a guest (travel and accommodations not included). Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster, DJ mix and admission for you and a guest to a rough cut screening of the film in NYC or Chicago in 2014.

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    The film's director and producer Rob and Puloma will do a one day shoot and edit a video up to 10 minutes in length, just for you! It could be a promotional video for your business, a music video for your band, a short film, or a documentary of an event. The possibilities are endless! We'll find a shoot date that works for you within one year (cost of travel and accommodations for shoots outside of NYC not included). Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster, DJ mix and admission for you and a guest to a rough cut screening of the film in NYC or Chicago in 2014.

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    The filmmakers Rob, Puloma and Michael will DJ at your party or event! We'll find a date that works for you within one year. Includes the cost of equipment rentals and our travel and accommodations within the continental US. Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster, DJ mix and admission for you and a guest to a rough cut screening of the film in NYC or Chicago in 2014.

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    Executive Producer: You'll be part of our filmmaking team, watch rough cuts and give feedback, and get invitations to our festival premiere and all other events. Plus the t-shirt, tote bag, 8"x10" photo, digital download, poster, DJ mix and admission for you and a guest to a rough cut screening of the film in NYC or Chicago in 2014.

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Funding period

- (30 days)