Syl Johnson – Dresses Too Short


Syl, looking slick (and wicked)


I said bayyyybeee…your dresses too short!

Say what?

It’s Syl Johnson kids.

The one, the only, blues wailing, soul singing, harmonica wrassling, Sock It To Me man, running the route between Mississippi and Chitown, and like he said, your dresses too short (though I’m having a hard time seeing his point of view).

A few weeks ago I dropped Mr. Johnson’s name in reference to an excellent cover version of one of his best tunes, the mighty ‘Is It because I’m Black’, as offered by one Ken Boothe, reggae singer extraordinaire. Mr Boothe will be featured in this space, laying down that very same song in a few short weeks (during Funky16Corners all-Jamaican week, really…).

Syl Johnson is one of those cats, that despite being a dependable R&B hitmaker for almost 20 years, starting out with Chicago’s storied Twinight imprint, and then moving on to even more fine work in the hallowed Memphian halls of the Hi label (home to the right Rev. Green – “Al” to his friends – Anne Peebles and Willie Mitchell among others).

As I said, he erupted from Mississippi, and crash landed in Chicago in the late 50’s, working for legends like Magic Sam (the cat that makes me wish I had a blues blog on the side), Junior Wells and Billy Boy “I Wish You Would” Arnold, before making it into the studio with the laconic (some would say somnolent), and highly influential blues giant Jimmy Reed.

He started laying down his own wax for Federal that same year, making a number of 45s for that label into 1962.

Between ’62, and ’67 when he made his first sides for Twinight he recorded for a few small labels. He had one of his biggest hits right out of the gate with ‘Come On Sock It To Me’, his very first single for Twinight. An outstanding example of rough-edged sock soul, it can also be found in its non-vocal form on the Shama label as played by Syl’s backing band The Deacons (featuring Syl’s brother Jimmy on guitar). It’s a nice slice of mid-60’s organ bashing and remains rather affordable (at least the last time I checked). The Deacons version – ‘Sock It To Me’ hit the R&B Top 40 in December of 1968, just a month after ‘Dresses Too Short’ did the very same thing.

‘Dresses Too Short’, a similarly savage entry into the Big Book of Fine Chicago Soul Sides, though committed to wax in the Windy City, sounds as if Syl dragged the gang back down below the Mason-Dixon line for the session. The drums, they snap, the gee-tar, she twangs, the organ grinds and the horns sound like they wafted in on a strong wind from McLemore Ave. It’s a lively take on, if I may borrow a phrase from Mr. Lou Courtney – “chick check’n” – and sounds like the sound produced by a hot room full of funky butts, cheap wine and Continental suits.

That’s a PARTY son!

When Syl, who wails mightily starts going on about how,

You’re looking good

You’re looking so good, now

When you sock it to me

Rock it to me one more time

I can’t stand it

I’m going out of my mind


You wear your dresses too short!

You’re there in the room with him, reaching up to mop the sweat from his brow, so his vision of such a fine, fine woman should not be in any way obscured.

The flip side, ‘I Can Take Care of Business’ is a very tasty soul ballad that incorporates a bit of Syl’s blues past.

Very nice 45 indeed.

NOTE: This, otherwise known as the regularly scheduled Friday post, is going up tonight on account of I got some bidness to take care of on the morrow. I’ll be back on Monday with a week of some high quality New Orleans sounds, including a new installment of Funky16Corners Radio.

Buy Syl Johnson’s Music on Amazon

Donate to the 2006 Funky16Corners Pledge Drive


4 Responses to “Syl Johnson – Dresses Too Short”

  1. The Doctor Says:

    Wow!!! Read a lot about Syl, but this is the first time I’ve heard him. Funny thing is – I just surfed over here from the Soulwalking music blog where they have a review of his daughter’s (Syleena Johnson) new CD.

  2. Niall Says:

    Great tune, thanks Larry.
    Looking forward to NOLA week.

  3. Phil Says:

    Not the easiest of Syl’s singles to find, but track one down, it’s one of his best. In fact I LUUUUURRRVE this record. It’s “as funky as a gnat’s tweeter” as the saying goes, and Larry’s description of the backing band on this tune is spot on. When they go into the chorus, your feet just wanna move. I think it’s the Hi Records house band, with arrangements by the estimable Willie Mitchell.

  4. RARE FUNK …., archives, LINKS, PODCAST « RodolphepilaertROOTS Says:

    […] (Kapp) 10. Laura Lee – Crumbs off the Table (Hot Wax) 11. Cyril Neville – Gossip (Josie) 12. Syl Johnson – Dresses Too Short (Twinight) 13. Preston Love – Cool Ade (Kent) 14. Sammy Gordon & The Hiphuggers – Upstairs on Boston […]

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