LIVIN’, LOVIN’, OVERDUBBIN’ ... Sly Stone: The Slippery One Who Got Away

by The Seth Man, 31/05/2007ce

“Counterpoint is the answer.”
-Sly Stone on The Dick Cavett Show, 1971

Originally a mischievous ad-lib thrown into the end of a verse of “Sing A Simple Song” with a chuckle by Sly & The Family Stone bassist Larry Graham, those same three verbs also concisely describe the main pursuits of the band’s founder, Sly Stone and as DJ, songwriter, vocalist, musician, producer, arranger and bandleader, the highlight of his career was without a doubt Sly & The Family Stone. Between 1967-1974, the group released seven studio albums: “A Whole New Thing”, “Dance To The Music”, “Life”, “Stand!”, “There’s A Riot Goin’ On”, “Fresh” and “Small Talk” as well as an accompanying landslide of singles, of which three non-LP sides (“Hot Fun In The Summertime” and their defining double A-side, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”/“Everybody Is A Star”) made their mid-career “Greatest Hits” LP essential.

Sly & The Family Stone were about as exciting and outrageous as a group could be at the time of their inception in early 1967, drawing immediate attention with not only their music, their style of dress but their interracial lineup comprised of young women and men fronted by a third young black man even more outrageous than the band he formed, led, wrote, arranged and produced. A flamboyant showstopper who crossed several musical boundaries and did his bit to ease up racial divides and everything else in the process, Sly Stone wound up transforming pop and soul music into, to borrow his title for the group’s first LP, ‘a whole new thing.’ Although now commonly known by the designation of funk, at the time Sly & The Family Stone were happening there was no such widespread term to categorise their music. Cumbersome phraseologies such as “progressive R&B” or “an upbeat fusion of gospel, rhythm and blues and psychedelia” were offered up by record company promotion departments but fell short of the mark in describing the breadth of vision it encompassed. And as for Sly’s style, it was just as influential. Directing the group’s look from their earliest incarnation, his preference for knickerbockers and other knee-cap demarcating leg wear/boot combinations would explode into vests, fuzzy boots, thick gold chain necklaces and crocheted knit caps to nearly reign in his gigantic afro. Later, Sly would settle for several years into his phase of white Nudie suits adorned with glittery studs, a jewel-encrusted name belt, a diamond inset Star of David necklace and topping off his “spaced cowboy” outfit was an assortment of huge, rhinestone-rimmed cowboy hats. The band also adorned gaudy colors and clashing textures of pre-glam splendor, and it all informed just about every Black American recording star of post-funk seventies of note (As well as the oddest white one: sporting fringe at Woodstock longer and even more animated than Grace Slick’s, Roger Daltrey’s and Jimi Hendrix’s put together and combined with flashing the peace sign from outstretched arms, Sly’s late ’69 look oddly predated Ozzy’s own onstage costume and energy traumas as immortalised on the cover of Black Sabbath’s 1972 album, “Vol. 4.”)

Beyond their music and style, the band was projected by their founder as not only a symbolic but a living model of tolerance. And this proposition fanned out over radio airwaves, television and live performances from the late sixties into the mid seventies. Prior to Sly & The Family Stone, there were only a handful of noteworthy sixties bands comprised of both black and white musicians. One of the earliest was Booker T & The MGs, who formed in Memphis in 1962 as an instrumental quartet fronted by keyboardist Booker T. Jones. In 1963, The Butterfield Blues Band formed in Chicago and the same year saw the emergence of the Long Beach, California surf band, The Pyramids. Best known for their hit instrumental “Penetration”, they counted black guitarist Willie Glover as a key member. A little farther up the north in Los Angeles, a folk-blues rock band called The Rising Sons formed in 1964 that included Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder while also newly settled in L.A. were the four Chambers Brothers, then currently getting their thing together with a white drummer. But best known of all and far more prolific were Love, the incomparable band put together by Arthur Lee in late 1965. However, none of these bands could count female players among their personnel as Sly & The Family Stone did. And thanks to the drive of their visionary leader, none of them were as defiantly proud of the mixed bag they were in as themselves -- or looked like they were having half as much fun doing it, as Sly would often break out into doing a hambone, run into the aisles or spend as much time dancing and moving as the rest of the band.

Sly’s music reached not only black, white or audiences or both but as Sly offered during an appearance on the Dick Cavett Show, anyone who was 'young in the mind.’ And their music had a widespread appeal to both young and old as it resonating in equal measure with the innate catchiness of its hooks, melodies and strong rhythms balanced against the lyrics’ plain speaking language co-joined by playful rhymes, street slang and rhythmic verbalisations from “boom-laka-laka-laka” to all the “boom-boom-boom”s of doo-wop vintage inserted into phrases and places where words wouldn’t suit half as well. Even animal noises were chucked in when appropriate (as they did on “Chicken” and “I’m An Animal”) and even when they weren’t (like the egg-laying clucking in “Everybody Is A Star”) it was worked in so naturally that it didn’t stick out like the sore thumb gimmick that it could have been, but made the scene with an easy completeness...And so on, and so on, and scooby-dooby-doo...

With an uninterrupted supply of hit singles earning endless playtime, Sly & The Family Stone always stood out in the mix with production as tight and bold as their music. Even their lightest pop moment, “Hot Fun In The Summertime” stood out from other likeminded contemporary hits by The Lovin’ Spoonful, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, Harper’s Bizarre and The Association but with an impact that resonates far sweeter in the memory. In 1971 came a perverse sea change with “Family Affair,” a single plucked from the only Sly & Family Stone record with a substantial lack of production finish to match its near-unfathomable lyrical obliqueness. The album was “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” and was so entirely stripped of the band’s previous triumphant scene that it was yet again a whole new thing altogether. “Family Affair” exuded a new scene of muted detachment and narcoleptic sensuality with Sly’s slurring lead vocals countered his sister’s distant vocal chorus set against sparse and low-key backing and it STILL charted as a number one single. Why? And furthermore, how?

Because Sly WAS sly: His arrangements oozed manifold hooks beyond comprehension while his wordplay, witticisms and insights were clear and beguiling yet retained an undeclared mystery. Much of it spoke directly of his own past and present, like the songs of many true artists, but strangest of all was how many key lyrics so clairvoyantly touched on even his distant future life to be. Sly sang “My own beliefs are in my song” in “Everyday People” so it’s not absurd to presuppose his life was in his song, too: especially as that was where he always put his heart first and foremost. But whether or not he recognized he was foretelling his own future in so many songs remains something that may never be revealed, as Sly has, for the most part, remained silent and out of the public eye since the early eighties with his recent Grammy appearance one of the few exceptions.

But who knows -- maybe that line from Sly & The Family Stone’s 1968 “Love City” that Sly’s little sister Rose belts out so passionately may portend what so many fans have been waiting a quarter of a century for:

“I can see a big reunion
How can we go wrong now?
All these wonderful people singin’
All these wonderful songs, yeah...!”

It’s off their 1968 album, “Life.” And where there’s “Life”, there’s hope, right?

Sylvester & The Family Stewart
Born Sylvester Stewart in Denton, Texas on March 15, 1944, the very first ‘Family Stone’ relocated to Vallejo, a suburb north of Oakland, California soon after Sylvester’s birth. Sylvester exhibited a natural aptitude for music from the time he could walk, and since the Stewarts were a devout couple, he was often singing in church (with a voice noticeably louder than most) while at home, Mr. and Mrs. Stewart encouraged all of their five children’s musical development to such a degree that by 1952, Sylvester along with his younger brother Freddie and younger sisters Rose and Vaetta had already cut “On The Battlefield For My Lord”/“Walking In Jesus’ Name.” Credited to The Stewart Four, both sides were penned by the young Sylvester and the 78rpm record was distributed after church services to family and friends. Although still singing on a regular basis in the church choir, as Sylvester grew up he branched out into more secular recordings by 1959 when he and Freddie teamed up as The Stewart Brothers, cutting two singles on small local labels. Once in junior high school, he joined The Biscaynes (a vocal group better known as The Viscaynes due to a typographic error on the labels of their 45s) who scored a local hit in 1961 with their single, “Yellow Moon.” They recorded a further single before Sly moved on to record a string of singles of his own material under the pseudonym of Danny Stewart later the same year. Simultaneously, the energetic Sylvester was also earnestly attending classes at Vallejo Junior College, taking courses in trumpet, composition and music theory. His teacher, David Froelich, recalled in Joel Selvin’s book ‘Sly & The Family Stone: An Oral History’ that Sylvester “worked real hard and would stay after class…His work was always excellent. An A student.” Froelich would be a critical influence on Sylvester that would never be forgotten, even when he was Sly Stone, superstar. He listed Froelich in album credits and when he appeared for the second time on the Dick Cavett Show in 1971, during a highly erratic and animated interview he quickly refocused when prompted by Cavett’s mention of his former teacher. Immediately warming to the subject, Sly declared Froelich “the baddest cat in the world” before spontaneously bad rapping of the Marquis de Sade like a DJ running down the ‘Nifty Fifty’ singles of the week:

“LOOK AT ALL YOU CATS AND KIDDIES OUT THERE WHOOPIN’ AND A-HOLLERIN’ AND SUCKIN’ UP ALL THAT JUICE...and pattin’ each other on the back...and asking each other WHO...the greatest cat in the world is. But I’m gonna lay a cat on yew...WAS THE COOLES’, the strongest cat that ever dogged this sweet, swingin’ sphere. They call this here cat Mr. Froelich...
It’s his NAME!
Mr. Froelich!

...Mr. Froelich...

He was BAD!!”

In and out of class, Froelich’s star pupil was learning all the time: from music theory books, Ray Charles, soul singles, radio jingles, doo-wop vocal groups, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Lord Buckley and anything else that crossed his path and caught his ear. He continued his studies at the Chris Borden School of Broadcasting in San Francisco with the goal of becoming a radio disc jockey and by the time he graduated in October 1964, he was behind the studio glass of not one but two locations in San Francisco. The first was radio station KSOL, where he combined his unique on-air charisma and wild patter with tearing up the formatted soul/R&B playlist with spinning records by The Beatles, The Stones and Lenny Bruce. The second locale was that of San Francisco studio Coast Recorders, where he had been installed as in-house producer for the newly-formed Autumn Records label by its co-owners, Tom Donahue and Bob Mitchell. Now going by the name Sly Stone, recording a pair of singles on Autumn as ‘Sly’ and always keeping his productions credited to ‘Sylvester Stewart’ he maintained a schedule hectic enough to keep all three of his alter-egos busy. He ricocheted between DJ spots at KSOL while writing, producing, arranging and playing sessions for Autumn’s roster, performing in groups at various nightclub spots around town and emceeing teen hops at the Cow Palace in Daly City. In the course of these chaotic two and half years, Sly would wind up producing over 30 singles and several albums for the Autumn label. His sessions ranged from collaborations with a young Billy Preston to composing ballads for soul singers to recording emerging folk rock and garage punk bands. He also recorded Grace Slick when she was pre-takeoff with The Airplane in The Great Society and demoed the proto-Grateful Dead when they were still called The Emergency Crew. And although none of these were commercial successes on the scale of his work on hit singles like Bobby Freeman’s “C’mon And Swim” or The Beau Brummels’ “Laugh, Laugh” this firsthand involvement with such a diverse assortment of musical styles and approaches would more than amply prepare the young and already music biz savvy Sly for what lay ahead.

Whole New Things (1967-69)
By 1966, Sly had arrived. He had a townhouse in Daly City, drove a green Jaguar XKE and dated a string of young ladies taken with his dapper style, Beatle-styled hair and dulcet tones. Sly was truly LIVIN’, LOVIN’, OVERDUBBIN’ but was still on the verge of discovering something to unlock an even hipper Sly that lurked within. When Autumn Records went out of business in March 1966, he continued his nighttime DJ slots at KSOL and formed the greatly-named Sly & The Stoners that included a beautiful trumpeter named Cynthia Robinson. Although short-lived, it provided Sly with the excuse to lay out a plan he’d been mulling over for some time. Inviting Robinson to join him in the formation of an band that would combine everything that had been turning him on music in a patchwork of soul, pop, psychedelia, R&B and all the tiny eccentric touches that were crowding his hipster mind, he also persuaded brother Freddie and drummer Gregg Errico from The Stone Souls and called on a saxophonist he knew from the North Beach club scene named Jerry Martini. They all accepted, and once Sly located bassist Larry Graham at a club performance on over-amplified electric bass, that completed the family that Big Daddy Sly had in mind.

At the first rehearsal, the band ran through Ray Charles’ “I Don’t Need No Doctor” and found it easy under Sly’s guidance and insistence of constant rehearsals to steadily build up a repertoire of covers alongside his own originals. Fronted by Sly on electric organ and his fantastic vocal range and keen arrangement sensibilities, the band was quickly whipped into shape and soon performing gigs at a local teen spot, Winchester Cathedral. Performing several gigs a night, news of their after-hours performances spread and caught the attention of the head of A&R at Columbia Records, David Kapralik. Blown away by their high energy performance, he immediately signed them to Columbia subsidiary label, Epic Records where they swiftly set about recording their first album, “A Whole New Thing.” Scored with Sly’s ear for back line horn accompaniment with thrusting counterpoint, the material was pieced together from a potpourri culled from Sly’s Autumn-era back catalogue of tunes, original numbers that sounded like the result of a marriage of Otis Redding and The Rolling Stones and rounded out with an assortment of original ballads. Very much an embryonic debut, “A Whole New Thing” is nearly always viewed in retrospect as ‘the Sly & Family Stone album with no hits’ for even though the melodies of pop, the fuzz guitars of Rock, the vocals of gospel and the rhythms of soul were all weaved expertly together throughout, it only made a modest impression in terms of sales.

They followed this up with “Dance To The Music”, the first of two albums The Family Stone would release in 1968, and it is where things really started to happen for the band. Full of songs Sly wrote in reaction to record company pressure to write ‘simpler songs’ in the wake of the lukewarm public response to “A Whole New Thing”, he went so far as to write not only “Dance To The Music” but a twelve minute medley that linked three further deliberate variations of the song: “Music Is Alive”, “Dance In” and “Music Lover.” From this album, the title track was released as a single and it hit the Top 10 in the charts. Their follow up album, “Life” saw the group switching into more Rock-based territory, and with a more dynamic range than before. While “M’Lady” once again continued with the motif of “Dance To The Music”, “Dynamite!”, “Into My Own Thing”, “Love City”, “Chicken”, “I’m An Animal” and especially “Plastic Jim” were all highly original Sly compositions that exploded forcefully from the album in a variety of forms and pop art shapes. And courtesy of the engineering of Don Puluse, the record leaps from the speakers like none other. Oddly, the album did not fare as well as “Dance To The Music” in the charts, but in terms of development, Sly & The Family Stone were maturing into a fearsomely powerful ensemble and Sly was taking chances with his songwriting all the time.

Their breakthrough album arrived the following year in the form of “Stand!” Comprised of eight original Sly songs, it’s practically a greatest hits album in the same manner as “Are You Experienced?”: Every other song is a recognizable radio hit, while the ones that aren’t should’ve been except they were either too long (“Sex Machine”), too controversial (“Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey”) or were planned as a single but cancelled at the last minute (“You Can Make It If You Try.”) The last non-hit track of the album, “Somebody’s Watching You” is lightly scored with horns and even lighter organ as a gentle nudge of the conscience holds an uncannily prognostic lyric in “The higher the price/The nicer the nice.” The four remaining tracks on “Stand!” wound up released as singles, with “Everyday People” / “Sing A Simple Song” becoming an instant number one single. Although Sly had previous handled issues of prejudice with wit or humor, now he illustrated the positive power of plain common sense tolerance and with the lightest touch and laid it all out for everyone to see: blue or green, yellow or black or white or square or longhair, we’re all part of the same thing no matter how different we look to each other. Its B-side, “Sing A Simple Song” is a killer -- a veritable blueprint for the heavier moments of the first three Funkadelic albums and could’ve been called “Thursday Night, August the 13th” in retrospect only. Two further undeniable anthems were issued in the form of the “Stand!”/ “I Want To Take You Higher” 45, only both sides were so equally popular that it wound up being reissued the following year with the A and B sides reversed. With all this on one album, “Stand!” is rightly considered by most to be Sly & The Family Stone’s most even and accessible album and overall, their strongest statement.

“When You Do All The Things You Set Out To Do” (1969-1970)
Sly & The Family Stone earned universal accolades as one of the highlights of the entire three-day Woodstock festival after the band woke, shook and then got the assembled half a million Bethel congregation on their feet and movin’ at 3:30 in the morning. And once the accompanying film and soundtrack album were released the following year, it catapulted their reputation and popularity beyond the reaches of both pop and R&B charts and into superstardom. But with fame came far-reaching implications that would cause everything to change forever for the band. Several months after Woodstock, Sly moved his base of operations from San Francisco to Coldwater Canyon in the Hollywood Hills and shortly thereafter to a mansion in Bel Air previously inhabited by John and Michelle Phillips. It was here that a major flashpoint in Sly’s life occurred, as he began to assert complete control over the band. Months passed with no new material forthcoming from Sly, resulting in Epic Records suspending his contract for a period. Sly also started failing to show up for scheduled concerts in 1970 which in the long run proved to be detrimental to the band’s gigging credibility.

As a stop-gap measure, Epic released “Greatest Hits”, which would go on to sell over two million copies. A fantastic compilation, for years it was the only place to pick up on LP “Hot Fun In The Summertime” as well as the double A-side “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” / “Everybody Is A Star.” The latter single was released midpoint in their career and is the defining moment for Sly & The Family Stone as well as one of the greatest singles of the sixties: Larry Graham’s percolating bass, the undulating rhythm, the chorus and lyrics that reverberated with meaning beyond its oblique edges as its euphoria and cynicism cut both ways at once and everything about it was a coalescing of everything swirling in Sly’s kaleidoscopic musical mind and he harmonised it into a whole new thing. Agin. Neither song appeared on LP, and remains every inch an outsider 7” single standing on its own two sides like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” remaining outside the walls of “Beggar’s Banquet.”
Like many compilations, “Greatest Hits” capped off an era, as 1970 would be a period of extreme changes for the group. The shared vocals and round robin solos were discarded as the direction of the sound was filtering down to Sly alone in the studio obsessively overdubbing for months. In what was probably an anguished and much needed sigh of relief after three years of continued and sustained activity with the Family Stone, he set about offering himself up to luxury like never before. Most of the year saw him hanging out in his newly acquired Bel Air mansion, spending much time in the studio and becoming gradually more involved in the use of pharmaceutical downers, cocaine and PCP.

“The Nicer The Nice…The Higher The Price...” (1971)
The time leading up to “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” was a period of both relief and stress for Sly and the Family Stone. The post-Woodstock celebratory mood soon converged into parties that stretched beyond 24 hours and across entire weekends but things began to turn heavy once massive amounts of cocaine and then PCP began to be consumed by Sly and his circle of cohorts, musicians, lovers, friends and hangers-on. Wearing away his nasal cartilage at the same rate as his perspective on reality, Sly started spending sizeable amounts of money on an endless supply of material items from guitars and lavish clothing to antique cars, guns, mobile phones, stereo equipment as well as hiring several personal assistants and then bodyguards. The atmosphere was thick with tension and not a little paranoia and it wound up creating a divide between Sly and the band. The first to depart was drummer Gregg Errico and a replacement was found in the highly unlikely form of Gerry Gibson, previously the session drummer on recordings for the TV cartoon/bubblegum band, The Banana Splits. Within a year, he too would also disappear along with bassist Larry Graham after growing friction between Graham and the two Stone brothers climaxed in a post-gig fracas that resulted in Graham’s swift departure and eventual formation of his own group, Graham Central Station in 1972.

Such uptight conditions led to a major change in the music of Sly & The Family Stone, and if all their previous albums were ‘tight but loose’ then what followed could only be called ‘loose but tight’ as Sly’s musical direction began to drift into regions previously uncharted by anyone. The once omnipresent horn arrangements were replaced with lighter brass touches while loose guitar rhythms weaved and bobbed against metronomic drum machine rhythms. And when there were drums, they were as rudimentary as the slow grooves they gently propelled were complex and with few exceptions, Sly’s vocals replaced the earlier Family Stone call and response vocal trademark and his delivery was slow, low and wavered. It was apparent that there was SOMETHING goin’ on, even though at the time few knew exactly what “Riot” would be Sly’s highest and deepest artistic statement, with an unfixed weightlessness that was and remains one of the most unique albums of the 1970s.

“Selling Out Is Harder” (1973)
Despite its cover credit of ‘Sly & The Family Stone’ by the time “Fresh” was released, it was obvious that this was now Sly’s show. Not only did Sly play the majority of instrumentation on the album himself, but he also appeared alone on its monochromatic front cover. What remained of the original Family Stone -- Freddie, Rose, Cynthia and Jerry -- were now relegated as a backing band alongside the new rhythm section of bassist Rusty Allen and drummer Andy Newmark. Little Sister were also added into the mix on backing vocalists for the album and respective tour, causing the ranks of The Family Stone to swell up to ten members backing Sly.

Recorded at the studio installed by Epic Records in his Central Park West apartment in New York City, “Fresh” was a sonic improvement over “Riot” but was also a step ahead of itself in its hermetic perfection. “Fresh” was smoother, streamlined and tightened up with a vengeance and its warmest moments were resigned to Sly’s bedroom vibe vocals. Simultaneously, it was funky as hell with no less than Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock so taken with its sound it wound up influencing their respective albums. Although “Fresh” has been called everything from funk to ‘stylized soul’ its edgy syncopation feels more like a product of then-nascent jazz-rock fusion commingled with sophisticated, proto-disco stylings.

A multitude of 1973 television performances were filmed, with “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” showing the band still more than capable of delivering live. Medleys were always common for the band in live performance, but now many of the old hits felt as though they were being proficiently streamlined into early retirement. But of all the older material, “Stand!” especially suffered: instead of maintaining the uplifting, energy-driven qualities of yore it was now quietly performed as if a postscript to the group’s fading retreat from the top. That is not to demean the performance, for despite Sly’s languid arrangement, it is always heartbreaking when his slow and unaccompanied introduction reaches the line “when you do all the things you set out to do.” With all the emotion and none of the words, it speaks volumes that its irony did not escape Sly and it’s surprising he didn’t sing it in past tense. He had already arrived years ago, overachieved his way to the top and yet there was nothing more to do than record another album, hit the concert trail once again (and try to show up), buy up another rack of flashy stage threads and trot out the latest single surrounded by the familiar comfort of past hits. Sly had probably seen it coming ever since late ‘69 when he first sang “selling out is harder” because face it: when you’re at the top, where else can you go but down as you try to maintain that position of gravity?

But yet, even at this late date audiences were still spellbound by it all; although possibly more by his legend, reputation, past hits, dazzling wardrobe and overall star vibe than by the music alone because something somewhere was missing in the band’s sound, which was now more an augmentation to Sly instead of being fully integrated together with him as it had done effortlessly in the past. In all fairness, the live 1973 recordings do exhibit the highest degree of professionalism, the band with more than enough sparks to get the job done. Sly would say in a later interview that he could always have secured a job in order to survive, but LIVIN’ was not the same thing.

“Time For Livin’” (1974)
And Sly was continuing to LIVE: and in high style, at that. On June 7, 1974, Sly and Kathy Silva were wed onstage at Madison Square Garden prior to a Sly & Family Stone performance in front of 20,000 witnesses amid massive media coverage and a lavish post-gig/wedding reception at the Waldorf-Astoria attended by the likes of Andy Warhol, Miles Davis and Edgar Winter. It was also reported in Playboy that Sly completed thirty to forty tracks at the Record Plant in Sausalito for his upcoming album, paring them down to the strongest eleven. These would comprise the seventh (and for all practical purposes, final) Sly & The Family Stone album, “Small Talk.” The personnel shook up once again with only Vaetta retained from Little Sister, a new drummer and the addition of violinist Sid Page that added an extra dimension of sweetness and warmth that was influenced greatly by Sly’s newfound view on life as a married man and father. It was time for LIVIN’, as he sang on the first side and concluded the album with a track that brought Sly’s musical odyssey full circle with the simple and sweet doo-wop proclamation, “This Is Love.” But leave it to Sly to whip out one last randy batch of bachelor funk in the middle of the record with the pulsing sexuality of “Loose Booty” which drives its syncopation to the brink with the repetitive and highly unlikely refrain of “Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego.”

Things started to unravel for Sly when one half a year later, Sly’s marriage ended in divorce. Shortly thereafter, in January of 1975, another family fell apart on Sly when the entire The Family Stone save Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Rizzo quit after an eight night stand booked by the band at Radio City Music Hall was marred by a disheartening amount of empty stalls. Sly continued alone, releasing his first solo album “High On You” the same year, but subsequent sales and the string of albums that followed showed a sharp decline in quality until Sly all but dropped out in 1982 after the release of what twenty five years later still remains as his final album, “Ain’t But The One Way.” Sly departed from the sessions and for the first time in his life, he left an outside producer to complete one of his records.

A Coda of Silence (0:00)
“You can’t figure out the bag I’m in” Sly sang on “Everyday People.” And after 25 years of near-complete withdrawal from music into a coda of silence, that statement resounds louder with each passing year. Because Sly is the one you never could figure out, anyway: Unique, chic and a freak, Sly Stone was a singularity and it’s enough just to draw deeply of his legacy and just be grateful he existed in the first place. For Sylvester Stewart aka ‘Slippery,’ ‘Slippy,’ ‘Danny Stewart’, ‘Syl’, ‘Sly’ or (most famous of all) ‘Sly Stone’ was a total DUDE and one slippery Piscean fish who swam wide and deep through that electric ocean of vibrations who was always in touch with that which way the currents were heading, where they had been and his navigations still ripple to this day.

There is a unity to Sly’s musical expression with The Family Stone as he strove for the highest, not lowest common denominator. After all, he always wanted to uplift, inspire, make people happy and just take things HIGHER!!! And you know what? He did. He did “all the things he set out to do,” did them his way, made it seem all too easy and did it with such style and finesse that it wound up transforming a sizeable sector of Anglo-American popular music forever with successive waves of psychedelic, rock, soul, R&B, funk, disco, rap, hip-hop artists all continually dipping into the resource of his music for inspiration, samples, grooves, lyrics or just to vibe up a recording session. And although many still wait for his non-too imminent return to stage and recording, his outstanding legacy is more than could be reasonably expected from even the brightest of stars that are musical pioneers. But despite an output the fraction of a George Clinton, Miles Davis or James Brown he was on their level as a teacher, preacher and explorer of his own thing.