Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Syl Johnson poses for a portrait circa 1972. A box set collecting much of his work has been nominated for two Grammys.
Syl Johnson poses for a portrait circa 1972. A box set collecting much of his work has been nominated for two Grammys. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
The 54th Grammy Awards will be handed out Sunday — not all of them during the evening telecast. The winners of the lower-profile categories are announced earlier in the day, and Weekend Edition host Rachel Martin spoke to Ken Shipley, who's nominated for two of those: Best Historical Album and Best Album Notes.
The album that got him into consideration, where he's up against the likes of Neil Diamond and Paul McCartney, is Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology. It's a compilation of the veteran Chicago soul singer's music. Shipley is one of the founders of the record label Numero Group, which finds and preserves obscure musical recordings.
"Syl Johnson is one of those guys who fell through the cracks of — not only the Chicago soul scene — but the national soul scene as well," Shipley says. "He lived his entire career in the shadows of two of soul music's largest names." He's talking about James Brown and Al Green.
Shipley says Johnson's output was almost overwhelming, but he and his fellow producers didn't want to just do a deluxe reissue of one album.
"Once we wrapped our brains around how massive the scope of the project was gonna be, it became really easy to see that it was necessary to do," he says.
What they did was collect 81 tracks, and release them with a 52-page booklet of liner notes and photos.
"I think there's a service there, because there's a historical kind of scholarship happening," Shipley says. "Nobody else is doing this work. And if in 20 or 30 years, someone wants to look back on the career of Syl Johnson, I'd like to think that they'd come to our box set first and say, 'Well, this is the place we start.'"
"I feel like this is the best work I've done in my career," he says.
Shipley calls the set a "five-year labor of love." Though he's been nominated for a Grammy before, he says it would be special to win one for this project — not least because Syl Johnson himself will be in the audience.
"This is as close as he's probably ever going to get to any kind of lifetime achievement award and national recognition. And he deserves to be recognized."