(Various Artists) – “Listen to the Voices: Sly Stone in the Studio 1965-1970” (2010)

January 5, 2011 at 2:04 am (Music, Reviews & Articles, Sly Stone)

A 5-star review from May 25, 2010 by Lois Wilson in Record Collector magazine. This compilation is an excellent collection of some early Sly & the Family Stone demos, plus various Stone Flower productions by Sly and other odds & ends. A must for any serious Sly lover…

In 1965, where this 25-tracker picks up the story, Sly Stone was a key player at Autumn, the San Franciscan label run by DJs Tom “Big Daddy” Donahue and Bob Mitchell. Sly & The Family Stone, with whom Sly would revolutionise funk, weren’t conceived yet – it’s a year from their live debut on 15 December 1966 at Winchester Cathedral in Redwood City, and two years before they release A Whole New Thing, their debut long-player. The ideas utilised in the band are incubating as we find Stone in the studio with The Beau Brummels, recording practise runs for future Family Stone gems.

The Brummels’ previously unissued “Underdog,” recorded at Golden State Recorders in October 1965 and featuring Sly on guitar, is a glorious garage yelp, capturing the group in a raw, expressive state. It’s very exciting and the song will provide The Family Stone’s debut single 18 months later. Stone also cuts a version of a song called “Are You Sure” with them; also previously unreleased, that will later metamorph into The Family Stone’s “Life of Fortune & Fame,” a semi-sung intense ballad recorded in 1967. Both versions are included here – and both are great, but Stone’s is the most potent reading.

In December 1965, Stone’s back in Golden State Recorders with organist Billy Preston putting down “I Remember”; Sly contributes bass, drums and guitar and Preston will reconfigure it as “Free Funk” on his 1966 album, The Wildest Organ In Town.

Also of interest are the three tracks by Freddie & The Stone Souls, led by Sly’s brother Freddie and featuring percussionist Greg Errico. By the time Sly gets them on tape in June 1966, Autumn has gone bust and Stone is working as a DJ on The Sly Stone Show on R&B station KSOL and leading his band The Stoners with Cynthia Robinson on trumpet. Freddie and his band record “LSD” and “Superfunk,” two percussive Stax-like instrumentals, plus a straightforward cover of The Four Tops’ “Something About You” in August ’66. It’s a far cry from The Family Stone, who Freddie will join by the end of the year.

And so to The Family Stone. Alongside the aforesaid “Life of Fortune & Fame” is their “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” a hip-shaking take on Otis Redding’s 1965 single with all the main ingredients that make The Family Stone almost in place. There are exhilarating brass stabs, fervid percussion and thrilling vocal harmonising – the song would, of course, be later reworked as “Turn Me Loose” on A Whole New Thing. There’s also a run-through of first album track “Take My Advice,” here a JB-styled tight funk workout with phenomenal drumming, plus a version of the first original they ever performed, the barnstorming “I Ain’t Got Nobody (For Real).”

Out of the 25 tracks featured there’s just one that doesn’t quite work; Sly’s remaking of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” with his brother and sister, Freddie and Rose, recorded in July 1966 as a demo for Bobby Freeman. Sly would revisit the song more creatively on his 1982 LP Ain’t But the One Way. Added to the mix, meanwhile, are Alec Palao’s detailed sleevenotes, a fascinating read with Sly Stone himself interviewed.

Lois Wilson


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