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TRANSITIONS | Soul and Blues Legend Syl Johnson Dies At 85



Soul, funk and blues performer Syl Johnson, whose work became among the most-sampled in hip-hop history, died Feb 6 at the age of 85.

“He lived his life as a singer, musician and entrepreneur who loved black music,” wrote his family. “A fiery, fierce, fighter, always standing for the pursuit of justice as it related to his music and sound, he will truly be missed by all who crossed his path.”

Born Sylvester Thompson in Mississippi in 1936, Mr. Johnson moved to Chicago with his family at 14. His brothers, Jimmy and Mack Thompson, became prominent blues players, and Syl started out playing guitar with blues artists, most notably Junior Wells and Jimmy Reed before embarking on a solo career. It’s said that a record executive chose his showbiz name for him.

Johnsons’ earliest songs were loca and regional releases that showed traces of the early Chicago Sound, the post-doo-wop style also heard in that era from the Impressions and Major Lance and other Chicago-based artists, and his style evolved and continued through the funky soul in the vein of James Brown and later into a Memphis Sound, many of Johnson’s songs were written and produced by Johnson himself.

The late ’60s into the 70’s brought a more somber, socially conscious groove, and saw Johnson produce some of his best and most notable work which included “Different Strokes,”Is It Because I’m Black” and later into a different Memphis inspired sound in his “Take Me To The River”in 1975.

All told, It was 1967 before “Come On Sock It To Me” provided his first national recognition. He went on to amass 19 R&B chart entries over the next 15 years, Johnson’s biggest soul hit was when a cover of Green’s “Take Me To The River” reached No.7 in 1975.

Johnson became more noted in later years for the vast number of samples of his work in the burgeoning hip-hop field, to his ire and anger, when the brass line in his 1967 R&B Top 20 hit “Different Strokes” was used by the Wu-Tang Clan, and its vocals were appropriated by Kanye West and Jay-Z on “The Joy.” The track also formed part of De La Soul’s “The Magic Number, ”Eric B & Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul” and Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”

According to

Johnson was protective of his work. He filed a lawsuit against JAY-Z and Kanye West in 2011 for using portions of his song in “The Joy” without proper clearance. The suit was settled. Johnson also sued Michael Jackson, Cypress Hill, and others for sampling his music without permission.

 Johnsons’ “Is It Because I’m Black?,” attracted samples by Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, and Cypress Hill. The latter’s allegedly uncleared use of it promoted Johnson to sue, but he lost the case in 2008 and again on appeal three years later. In 2012, he did reach a settlement with West and Jay-Z over their use of “Different Strokes.”

Johnson retired in the late 1980s to develop a fried fish restaurant, Solomon’s Fishery, which became a chain, chiefly in the Chicago area. But he made a comeback to music a few years later and recorded his last album entitled “Back In The Game” in 1989 with his daughter Syleena Johnson.

A documentary about his life, Syl Johnson: Any Way The Wind Blows, directed by Rob Hatch-Miller, is now available on demand for the first time exclusively on Vimeo. 

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TRANSITIONS | Charles McCormick, Bassist And Lead Singer Of Bloodstone



The R&B/Soul Group Bloodstone has been around since the early 60’s, but has been an important part of R&B and Pop Music history since the release of “Natural High” back in 1973, the iconic song, lead by bassist and lead singer, Charles McCormick, topped the R&B and Pop Charts on it’s way to going Gold then Platinum, cementing the group in music history. We were recently informed that McCormick has passed away.

The group formed on the local scene in Kansas City as “The Sinceres” (a self contained vocal/instrumental group), band founders Harry Williams, Charles McCormick, Charles Love, Willis Draffen, Roger Durham, Melvin Webb, Hense Powell and Kenneth Smith took their unique sound to stages across their native Kansas City, crossing racial boundaries and working to establish harmony both on and off stage. The band honed its skills and crafted what became the distinctive BLOODSTONE sound before striking out for London, England, in 1972 where they were signed to Decca Records. The groups music was released stateside on Motown.

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Bloodstone’s other hits include “Never Let You Go”, “Outside Woman” and “My Little Lady”. Bloodstone was instrumental in the “black rock” and funk movement of the 1970s, and even played a role in the brown-eyed-soul movement with some Latin-tinged hits. Bloodstone performed with a virtual who’s who of stellar performers over the years.

In recent years McCormick continued the group with Harry Williams and Donald Brown and has also recorded a few songs outside of Bloodstone as a single artist. We have included a couple of those solo recordings below. Our condolences to the family.

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TRANSITIONS | Former Parliament/Funkadelic & Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Calvin Simon Dead at 79



 A few media outlets are now reporting the death, at age 79, of Calvin Simon – one of the founding singers with the Parliament – Funkadelic entourage.

Simon was born in West Virginia in 1942 and in the late 50s joined George Clinton in his doo-wop/embryonic soul group The Parliaments. Old soul fans will have fond memories of their ‘I Can Feel The Ice melting’ and ‘Don’t Be Sore At Me’.

Over time the Parliaments morphed into Parliament and countless other offsprings acts. In 1977 Simon argued with Clinton (money matters, it seems) and quit Parliament-Funkadelic.


Then with Fuzzy Haskins and Grady Thomas, he formed an alternative Funkadelic and released an album ‘Connections And Disconnections’. In the late 90s he re-joined Clinton only to leave again to form his own Original P.

Eventually Simon turned to gospel music  and set up his own label Simon Says Records. For his work with Parliament he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1997.

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TRANSITIONS | Robbie Shakespeare, Deemed the ‘Wickedest Bass’ in Reggae by Rolling Stone Mag, Dead at 68



Robbie Shakespeare, best known as one half of the production duo and reggae rhythm section, Sly and Dunbar, died on Wednesday.

He reportedly died in a hospital in Florida following kidney surgery. He was 68 and had been ailing for some time.

Minister of Entertainment, Olivia Grange, was one of the first to acknowledge the work of a man she called her “brother”.

“I am in shock and sorrow after just receiving the news that my friend and brother, the legendary bassist Robbie Shakespeare, has died,” the minister said in a post on social media.

“Robbie and Sly Dunbar, the drummer, as Sly and Robbie, have been among Jamaica’s greatest musicians. The fantastic team took bass playing and drumming to the highest level as they made music as a group and for many artistes locally and internationally,” Grange continued.

She aid Shakespeare’s loss will be a huge blow to the local music fraternity.

“Robbie’s loss will be felt severely both home and abroad. My condolences to those he left behind. Love you, Robbie,” she concluded.

Known affectionately by some as ‘Basspeare’,  he was widely regarded as one of the most influential reggae bassists of all time, and was known for his iconoclastic and creative use of electronics and production effects units.

Shakespeare worked with ‘The Who’s’ of reggae artistes such as Bunny Wailer, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Sugar Minott, Black Uhuru, among others. He also worked with international acts Cyndi Lauper, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and Joe Cocker.

Prior to his involvement in Sly and Robbie, he was a member of the session groups The Revolutionaries and the Aggrovators.

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TRANSITIONS | Esteemed Drummer Melvin Parker, James Brown Drummer and Maceo Parker Sibling dead at 77



UK’s The Sun Newspaper reported the sad news today that legendary drummer, Melvin Parker who drummed on many of James Browns biggest hits died last Friday, December 3, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland at the age of 77, a cause of death was not specified.

Parker, the brother of Sax Man Maceo Parker played on many noteworthy songs such as “Out of Sight”, “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good)”.

His drumming style became an innovative part of Brown’s funk music in the late 1960s. Like many of Brown’s band members and for various reasons and often later returning only to leave again, Parker initially left the band in the mid-1960s after being drafted. 

Upon discarge from the Army, Parker rejoined Brown’s band in 1969 playing on the album, Sex Machine, but left again in 1970 to join his brother’s band, Maceo & All the King’s Men.

It is well-known in the industry about James Brown’s on again-off again, tumultuous relationships with Maceo and another esteemed horn man, Fred Hampton, but Melvin Parker’s relationship with Brown was also tumultuous at times. There was reportedly one incident where Parker allegedly pulled on a gun on Brown after the musician got into a confrontation with Parker’s brother, Maceo.

There are no reports on the nature of Parker’s relationship with Brown in his later years preceding his death at age 73 in a hospital in Atlanta in the early hours of Christmas Day 2006.

The news of Parker’s death was conveyed via an obituary released by the Parker’s surviving family, the funeral home later issued a statement “The Parker family is in the process of making arrangements for a final goodbye.” R.I.P. Mr. Parker.


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