Thursday, November 28, 2013

The happy sounds of music from an entertainer whose lyrics took you higher to a family affair

Sly Stone makes brief appearance at Grammy Awards
The year and date was February 8, 2006. The place was the 48th Grammy Awards show. The special attraction was Sly and the Family Stone. To hype the anticipation, a press release was sent to the media that Sly would be making an appearance. Sly had not made a stage appearance since 1993. Sly Stone fans thought he was back, ready to take them higher once again, like he did when he was at the peak of his musical career. He received a resounding welcome, replete with  screams and applause as he appeared on stage in the middle of a tribute to Sly and The Family Stone. He sported a platinum Mohawk hair-do, wore a full length metallic coat over metallic pants and dark sunshades. 

The TV audience and those at the awards show were ready to see an old-style Sly Stone performance. He stood at the keyboard, sang a few lines of one of his hits, and exited the stage, leaving everyone to wonder what happened. The performers on stage complete the song. Final analysis? Noting happened. It was Sly Stone being Sly Stone.

During his early days on stage, Sly was outlandishly fabulous, all the time sporting a huge afro wig and colorful costumes, as did his band members. Sly was also known for nodding off in a narcotic haze in the middle of a performance. That did not his stop fans from loving him and his talent. In the end cocaine stole Sly Stone’s musical career, maybe his voice. He attempted to make a comeback, but drugs proved to be stronger than his desire to reunite with his career and The Family Stone.

Fly Stone and The Family Stone in 1968. From left to right: Sly, Cynthia Robinson, Freddie Stone, Rose Stone, Jerry Martini and Larry Graham

Sly and The Family Stone, and every band member is a star of the show
Sly and The Family Stone were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. In the midst of the presentation Sly’s behavior was unexpectedly surprising.

“He suddenly appeared from the wings, made a brief remark to the audience, and disappeared again. Similarly enigmatic was Sly’s brief participation in a multi-artist tribute to the band at the 2006 Grammy Awards, a grand affair starring John Legend, Fantasia, Adam Levine, Ciara, Steve Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, and others.

"All were startled when Sly abruptly waved goodbye to the audience in the middle of “I Want To Take You Higher,” exiting the stage and leaving the stars to complete the song as he disappeared into the night.” (Sly Stone’s official website)

Although he was longer on the music charts, Sly Stone was still on performing on stage until the late 1980s. His music is still played on radio. When bad luck revisited him several years ago, the bottom was crueler. Sly went from living lavishly in a mansion in Napa Valley to living in a van in Los Angeles. He had made fortunes and lost them. Drugs stole Sly’s fortune and diminished one of America’s innovative, creative musical icons.

Sly parted ways with his manager Jerry Goldstein in 1989, who he said cheated him on his royalty checks. He filed a lawsuit against Goldstein for $50 million. Goldstein, likewise, countered with a lawsuit against Stone for slander. Sly said he was tricked into signing a contract with Goldstein, giving him complete control of his finances. In 1984 he sold to Michael Jackson, his music publishing rights for $1 million. Still touring in 2007, Sly earned enough money to purchase the Napa Valley mansion. He lost it in 2009. He was flat broke.

In a Washington Post story, the reporter wrote that Sly “has been bouncing between cheap hotels and the van for the past two years, but Stone appears to have a fairly good attitude.”

Stone said, “I like my small camper. I just do not want to return to a fixed home. I cannot stand being in one place. I must keep moving.” Despite his homelessness Stone was producing news tracks in his van, holding onto them until the lawsuit is settled. On a TV interview Sly said he is still recognized by people. Some of them ask: “Sly is that you?” He said his fans look take care of him.

Homeless Sly Stone living in Los Angeles
 Mail Online, a British paper, wrote: “The van was parked on a residential street in the Crenshaw neighbourhood, where director John Singleton's gritty film Boyz n the Hood was set. A cable can be seen running from the side of the van, which is plugged into the mains to provide it with electricity. As he has no running water he has to rely on the kindness of a retired couple, who allow him to shower inside their home and also make sure he eats once a day. 

Sly Stone posing on his yellow motorbike on his Napa Valley estate
"It is a long way from his old lifestyle, made possible due to his success as one of the pioneers 1960s and '70s funk. He used to drive a host of stylish cars, including a Jaguar XKE, Hummers and even a London taxi. Just a few years ago he could regularly be seen zooming around the streets on a custom three-wheel chopper-style motorbike.”

Sly and The Family Stone were hot in the 1960s and 1970s, but love for each other was not always shown by Sly, not even to his children. According to a story in a 1996 issue of People magazine, “Stone, 53, has alienated many of those close to him, including his daughter Sylevette, a 20-year-old student in Sacramento, whose mother, Cynthia Robinson, played trumpet in Stone's race-and-gender-mixed band. Sylevette hasn't seen her father since 1993—and that was only in passing. She was supposed to meet him two years earlier in L.A., but he stranded her at the airport.

"That was harsh," she says, sadly. "I don't know why he treats me like that." He has also turned his back on his rock family. When the Family Stone was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, Stone hardly talked to his old bandmates. "When we were starting out, Sly Stone had the power to control 80,000 people with his eyes," says former Family saxophonist Jerry Martini, "but in '93, he couldn't even look at me."

Young Sly Stone
Sylvester Stewart was born in Denton, Texas, March 15, 1944 to mother Alpha and K.C. Stewart. According to his official website, “Sylvester Stewart was born the second of five children (Loretta, Sylvester, Freddie, Rose, and Vaetta, known as Vet) in Denton, Texas, on March 15, 1944. His devout African-American family was affiliated with the Church Of God In Christ (COGC) and took their beliefs with them when they moved to Vallejo, California, a northwest suburb of San Francisco. Reared on church music, Sylvester was eight years old when he and three of his siblings (sans Loretta) recorded a 78 rpm gospel single for local release as the Stewart Four.

“A musical prodigy, he became known as Sly in early grade school, the result of a friend misspelling ‘Sylvester.’ He was adept at keyboards, guitar, bass, and drums by age eleven, and went on to perform in several high school bands. One of these groups, the Viscaynes, boasted an integrated lineup, a fact that did not go unnoticed in the late 1950s. The group cut a few singles, and Sly also released a few singles as well during that period, working with his younger brother Freddie.

Sly on stage taking the audience higher and higher
“Into the early ’60s, Sly’s musical education continued at Vallejo Junior College, where he added trumpet to his mixed bag, and mastered composition and theory as well. Around 1964, he started as a fast-talking disc jockey at R&B radio station KSOL. His eclectic musical tastes made Sly hugely popular, as he became an early proponent of including R&B-flavored white artists (especially British Invasion bands like the Beatles, the Animals, and the Rolling Stones) into the station’s soul music format. Sly later brought his show to KDIA, where he deejayed right up through the start of Sly and the Family Stone in 1967.

“But as early as 1964, the result of a hookup with legendary disc jockey Tom Donahue, Sly had also been tapped as a producer for the San Francisco-based label, Autumn Records. The small label was known for its successes with first generation Bay Area rock bands the Beau Brummels, the Charlatans, the Great Society, and the Mojo Men, all of whom benefited from Sly’s unerring ear. Sly was paired with Black singer Bobby Freeman, who had previously recorded one of the Pop/R&B crossover anthems of an era, 1958’s “Do You Want To Dance” (Josie Records). In 1964, Sly produced Freeman’s bona fide #5 Pop hit, “C’mon And Swim” (Autumn), which ironically never appeared on the R&B charts at all.

“The stage was set for a quantum leap in 1966. Sly was leading a band called Sly And the Stoners, featuring African-American trumpeter Cynthia Robinson. Freddie was also leading a band, Freddie And the Stone Souls, featuring white drummer Gregg Errico. It was white saxophonist Jerry Martini who urged Sly and Freddie to combine the best of both bands, leading to the birth of Sly and the Family Stone in March 1967. Freddie took over on guitar as Sly quickly mastered the organ. Their sister Rose joined on keyboards and vocals, and bassist/vocalist Larry Graham completed the lineup.

Sly Stone is still optimistic

“Every band’s story includes their “discovery gig,” and for Sly and the Family Stone it was at a club called Winchester Cathedral in Redwood City, where they frequently played until dawn. They mixed cover tunes with original material, until the originals took over altogether. “When we started doing our own thing,” Freddie told rock writer Bud Scoppa, “it really was our own thing, and we threw all those other things out of the window.” A local CBS Records promotion man caught their act and alerted A&R executive David Kapralik in New York. He flew to the West Coast and wasted no time signing the band to Epic Records and becoming their manager.”

In 2011 Sly released an album called titled “I’m Back! Family and Friends’, but it was nowhere close to the old Sly Stone. The album was a flop. Sly said of his music, “My music is a format that will encourage you to have a song you won’t forget,” Stone says. “That’s why I got so much money, that there are so many people around, and that’s why I am in court. Millions of dollars! But now please tell everybody, please, to give me a job, play my music. I’m tired of all this shit, man.” (The Hollywood Reporter, 2011)

Sly Stone at LAX on his way to drug rehab
 The Grio, in a story titled “Why did we let Sly Stone slip away?” wrote: “Of course, addiction is another thing that likely kept him from seeking out the spotlight. It’s easy to draw the line from genius to dark and troubled soul, but something about Sly suggests that he simply enjoyed getting high more than he enjoyed performing and being fawned over. And that’s just Sly, the main reason we haven’t heard from him in so long and the main reason we haven’t been able to be there for him the way we may have been for other fallen legends who needed our support: he just didn’t want it.

“It’s hard to say for sure, but one hopes that the 68-year old who brought us such brilliant social commentary in the form of funk music will beat the addiction that looks to be crippling him. Not for us, and our selfish want to pick his brain or perform, but for himself, his health, and his family.”
Sly Stone stopped performing on stage in 1987.

"On Memorial Day 2009, Stone appeared on Seattle's KCRW show "Morning Becomes Eclectic," talking about his life and career. He confirmed that the song "If You Want Me to Stay" was written as a question to his fans, but gave no indication as to his future plans. That same year, he signed with the small L.A. independent label Cleopatra, planning to release an album that was a combination of new material and re-recorded greatest hits in 2010. In June of 2009, a recording of the group's legendary performance at the Woodstock Festival was released. In January of 2010, Sly & the Family Stone were announced as performers in that year's Coachella festival." (Rolling Stone)

Sly and The Family Stone split in 1970 due to Sly's drug habit and not showing up for shows. Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini have formed a band called The Family Stone. They still play the old hits songs they performed when they were all together.