Seems like our history is so easily overlooked, forgotten or worse yet, not even thought about these days. With every download of a new “beat” the genesis of that sound isn’t even considered let alone respected. In a somewhat small way I hope to course correct with this piece. I hope to introduce to a new set of eyes, a pathway that will inform the ears it shares a neighbored with of a way of deepening the experience and once done to never look back.
Todays lesson… Sly and The Family Stone.
Sylvester Stewart was born in 1943 in Texas. He and his family moved to the west coast when he was quite young and he grew up in the bay area of Northern California where he began mastering a number of musical instruments, primarily guitar and piano. ( Are you vibing with the title of this piece yet? No? Don’t worry, you will by the end!)
Soon to be forever known as Sly formed a group with his brother and sister and began to, like all great black artists, sing Gospel music. Regardless how you feel about the faith, believer or not, Gospel music is always the tie that binds us…but I digress.
By 1965 Sly had worked as both a record producer and a on air radio DJ but behind the scenes was not the spotlight in which he felt most comfortable. To the forever grateful of classic music he decided to join his band together with his brothers band and so was born “Sly and The Family Stone”!
It was a soon to be supergroup of both black and white, both male and female, both soul and rock and both bad and ass!
The year after the summer of love, 1968 Sly released “Dance to The Music” and “Everyday People”. The former peaking at #8 and the latter becoming their first #1 on both the Hot 100 Soul and Pop Charts! 1969 followed up with the #1 “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” and the classic anthem “I Wanna Take You Higher”. Other hits “Hot Fun In The Summertime”, “Stand”, “Everybody is A Star” etc came along with the fame and fortune but so did the crash and burn.
In the early 70’s there was no hotter concert ticket than Sly and The Family Stone that’s if the bands namesake wasn’t too high, too stoned or too drunk to make it to the gig. Sly’s drug consumption and ego had gotten the best of him. It was routine for him to show up HOURS late to shows if he showed up at all during those times. By 1975 the crowds had had enough.
Radio City Music Hall in New York was scheduled for the band and in a true twist of irony Sly showed up on time but the fans didn’t. The theater wasn’t even half full. That coupled with rapidly falling album sales the once mighty had surely fallen… but just like the Phoenix…
Cream does always rise to the top. After some particular hard times losing almost all of his money, fame, lifestyle, at one point he was rumored to be living in a camper, Sly made it back … for a minute.
The music legend, now 78, has made appearances at concerts some reminiscent of his heyday. Playing full sets and playing for 20 minutes, telling the audience he has to go urinate, assuring them he will return and then never finding his way back to the stage at least keeps the ticket holder on it’s toes!
Most recently Sly won a lawsuit against his former managers claiming they didn’t pay him royalties for a number of years. 5 Million little green reasons its good to write music coming his way…until the appeals court overturned the ruling based on a contract he signed years past. His lawyers filed a counter, fingers crossed.
No matter how it ends Sly Stone you did it. You achieved the un achievable. You Sang a Simple Song and really Took Us Higher! Your legacy will forever be. Respect paid.
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