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,” Read the rest of this entry »
Probably from the early 80s…Sly at home & in his studio right before he went into semi-retirement…
Surprisingly, he seems pretty lucid here.
An article written July 15, 2007 for The Observer, talking about Sly Stone’s recent tentative step back into the music world. Let’s hope for new music soon – or at least someday…
Sly Stone was the funkadelic pioneer who made the world dance, broke racial boundaries, raised hell and set Woodstock alight. Last week, in Italy, after years in the shadows, the famous rock recluse finally walked back on stage. Could he still cut it?
In pop’s small but stellar pantheon of legendary recluses, Sylvester ‘Sly’ Stone occupies an exalted position. His long disappearance from view has made him, in his absence, one of music’s mythical figures, up there with the likes of Brian Wilson and the late Syd Barrett in the lost genius league. If even a fraction of the anecdotes about his self-destructive tendencies are true, Sly is lucky to be still walking the earth, never mind performing.
It is over 20 years since he went completely AWOL; 36 since he made his last masterpiece, 1971’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On; 39 since Sly & the Family Stone had their first hit with ‘Dance to the Music’, and subsequently stole the show at the Woodstock festival with their extended, crowd-galvanising performance of ‘I Want To Take You Higher’. Now, 40 years after he formed the group, made up of friends and family members, that went on to change the course of popular music, Sly Stone, the Godfather of Seventies Funk, the first Psychedelic Soul Brother, the original gangsta, is back. After a fashion.
The crowd who almost filled the open air Arena Santa Giuliana in Perugia, Italy on Thursday night were comprised of the faithful, the curious and the couldn’t-care-less. They had all come to see a living legend. Having made us wait so long, Sly seemed determined to live up to his bad reputation and make us wait even longer. The band who shuffled on stage a half-hour after Solomon Burke’s no-holds-barred showbiz-soul set were patently not Sly & the Family Stone, although Cynthia Robinson was visible in gold lame, trumpet held high, among the four-piece horn section. I think I spotted saxophonist Pat Rizzo in there, too. It almost goes without saying that this bunch were not a patch on the original Family Stone. Then again, it is hard to imagine that a fully-reformed Family Stone would be a patch on the vintage version who, if the collected evidence currently collected on YouTube is anything to go by, was surely the most effortlessly dynamic and musically taut funk group ever to tread the boards.
Tonight, Sly’s sister, Vet, is out front for the obvious opener, ‘Dance to the Music’, which lifts the crowd to its feet. The song ends, though, without any sign of Sly. As does ‘Everyday People’. And ‘Hot Fun in the Summertime’. Likewise, ‘You’re the One’ and an extended ‘Somebody’s Watching You’, by which time the crowd are palpably restless and one or two of the band palpably nervous, throwing worried glances at the side of the stage. We’re six songs into what is starting to resemble a tribute-band set when the main man finally makes his appearance, flanked by what look like three black biker chicks, his head down, his arms aloft, his face hidden behind shades and underneath an outsize baseball hat.
The gaunt figure that shuffles unsteadily towards the keyboards centre stage is just about recognisable as Sly Stone. The signature afro is long gone, and, with it, the flamboyant stage clothes, replaced by an odd red, white and black ensemble that is a cross between a track suit and some old-school Formula One leathers. Sly does not look well. In fact, he looks like a broken man, old and infirm, the swagger that once bordered on pure arrogance replaced by a tentative, almost fumbling, vulnerability.
Then again, I tell myself, this is someone who first made his mark on pop music in 1964 – co-writing Bobby Freeman’s crossover soul hit, ‘C’mon and Swim’ – and is now 64, just one year away from retirement age. He seems much, much older though and, in close-up on the big screens that flank the stage, you can see he is wearing a neck brace beneath his high-collared top. His hunched gait is the result, not of the inevitable ravages of age and excess, but of a recent fall from the clifftop on which his Beverly Hills house is perched. “I had a plate of food in my hand,” he told Vanity Fair recently. “And when I landed, I still had a plate of food in my hand. That’s the God-lovin’ truth. I did not drop a bean.”
Tonight, though, there are more than a few dropped notes, several fluffed cues, and a general air of not-quite-thereness that makes even Brian Wilson’s tentative stage presence seem dynamic in comparison. He sits floppily at the keyboard like a broken marionette, barely moving the top half of his body, and begins singing the familiar line, “If you want me to stay…” His voice sounds even more low and hoarse than of old, but utterly unmistakeable. It raises a goodwill cheer from the crowd. He seems oblivious. Sly Stone is back. Almost.
To even begin to understand the legend of Sly Stone, and the weight of expectation that he carries as he walks on stage in Perugia, you have to step back in time to the moment when he reinvented soul and funk in the late Sixties, updating and expanding James Brown’s original template, and creating a series of ever more intricate and uplifting songs. In 1969, Sly & the Family Stone released Stand!, an album that bequeathed five hit singles and invented a psychedelic soul-funk sound that perfectly matched the tenor of the times. In his history of the group, For the Record: Sly & the Family Stone, Joel Selvin writes: “There are two types of black music: black music before Sly Stone, and black music after Sly Stone.” For once, the hyperbole is justified, even if the group’s reign was all too brief.
Soon after the success of Stand!, and the now-legendary Woodstock performance, stories of Sly’s excesses began to make the rounds in pop circles. The follow-up album, scheduled for release in early 1970, had not materialised by the end of that year, by which time Sly had become notorious for either arriving on stage several hours late or simply not turning up at all. He was known to promoters as Sly ‘No Show’ Stone. Most of the musicians quoted in Selvin’s book pinpoint Sly’s move from the Bay area of San Francisco to Los Angeles as the moment when he fell prey to his demons. Surrounded in his mansion by celebrity hangers-on, dealers and petty gangsters as well as a retinue of “bodyguards” and a pitbull terrier called “Gun”, Sly entered the terminal zone of drugs, guns, chaos and paranoia.
The effervescent character who had created the first soul-rock group where black and white, male and female came together to create that psychedelic soul signature had mutated into a monster, cut off from the friends and family members who had been his musical and spiritual mainstay. His music shifted in tone too, mutating from a thing of joyous, brightly hued celebration into insular, shadowy self-absorption. In 1971 Sly & the Family Stone released There’s a Riot Goin’ On, which came wrapped in a Stars and Stripes sleeve, and sounded like a warped reflection of early Seventies America, a country beleaguered by a war that had lasted too long, and shaken to the core by the race riots that flared across the inner cities in the previous few years. It wasn’t the sound of Watts burning, though, so much as an aural approximation of the paranoia and chaos inside Sly’s own head.
That this dark, brooding masterpiece had been made by the same group that had created ‘Dance To the Music’, ‘Everyday People’ and ‘Hot Fun in the Summertime’ seemed scarcely credible. But make it they did, and at Sly’s beckoning. The catalyst was cocaine and PCP, more commonly known as angel dust. The mood was enervated going on extremely strung-out.
For all that, There’s a Riot Goin’ On is an extraordinary artefact, not just for its dense and implosive energy but for the fact that it manages to be so listless and dark and yet so mesmerising. Like the Rolling Stones’s rough and tumble masterpiece, Exile on Main Street, Riot was recorded and mixed in a portable studio, which Sly had set up in a Winnebago near his home. The group that had made their name with the sheer propulsive energy of their playing, and the effortless musical chemistry that comes of years of dues-paying, were summoned one by one into the Winnebago to lay down their parts. Sly, strung out on powders, kept on overdubbing the tracks until the end result sounded literally overloaded, drained of clarity and focus. Then he put his own dreamy, drifty, oddly chilling vocals on top. To this day, ‘Family Affair’, the album’s hit single, sounds unlike anything else in the soul-funk canon.
The dislocated cocaine-funk of ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)’ spurred the American music critic Greil Marcus to re-imagine Sly as a latterday Stagger Lee, the mythical bad-to-the bone black antihero whose ruthlessness is matched only by an utter lack of remorse. Even before he retreated into the realm of rumour and conjecture, Marcus’s book, Mystery Train, had conferred a kind of mythic status on Sly Stone, one that would only grow and grow in his long absence. On YouTube you can witness him in all his stoned arrogance on the Dick Cavett show, jiving with his bemused host. “You’re great, Dick. You are so great,” drawls Sly. “You’re not so bad yourself,” counters Cavett. “No,” Sly responds, shaking his head and closing his eyes, “I am kinda bad.” Back then, he seemed intent on being the baddest.
There were flashes of the old Sly Stone during this time. In 1973 he released the uneven Fresh. In 1974 he briefly broke cover to wed his 19-year-old girlfriend onstage during a sold-out Madison Square Gardens show. He still had the sass, the swagger, the confidence that blurred into arrogance, but the inspiration had all but dried up. His 1976 album was called Heard You Missed Me, Well I’m Back, but it bombed. By the mid-Eighties he had all but disappeared from view, another pop eccentric existing primarily in the realm of rumour and conjecture.
Sightings of Sly Stone have been rare in the last 20-odd years, though he did make a brief and eccentric appearance, sporting a blond Mohican haircut, at last year’s Grammy Awards, singing a snatch of ‘I Want To Take You Higher’ with an all-star tribute band. Rumours of a Sly & the Family Stone reunion have surfaced and died with a monotonous regularity.
It is somehow typical of Sly that he finally chooses to return without most of the original musicians who were such an integral part of the musical revolution he set in motion. In Perugia, they were sorely missed. Then again, so was Sly. The figure who graced the stage for about 15 minutes and a handful of songs seemed like a phantom, oblivious to the crowd’s goodwill and, as the minutes passed awkwardly, to their growing bemusement. He seemed barely there on ‘Sing A Simple Song’, and took ‘Family Affair’ at a slow and wavering pace that was fascinating to behold but only in the manner of a faltering tightrope walk.
‘I Want To Take You Higher’ almost took off when he rose, Lazarus-like, from his chair and shuffled to the front of the stage, almost animated, a cruel caricature of his former self. Then he was gone without a backward glance, and the group lurched into an extended jazz-funk jam that, in its interminable pointlessness, eventually drove me to the exit. It was an oddly enervating night, sad and somehow unnecessary. I guess he needs the money but one can’t help thinking that Sly’s heart is not in it. Never mind his soul.
A great live performance – a medley of “Dance to the Music” and “Music Lover” with a bit of “I Want to Take You Higher” thrown in. I don’t know the date on this – probably 1969 or 1970. Not sure of the TV show either.
Vince Aletti wrote this review of this infamous classic for Rolling Stone Dec. 23, 1971…
Maybe this is the new urban music. It’s not about dancing to the music, in the streets. It’s about disintegration, getting fucked up, nodding, maybe dying. There are flashes of euphoria, ironic laughter, even some bright stretches but mostly it’s just junkie death, oddly unoppressive and almost attractive in its effortlessness. Like going to sleep very slowly. The music has no peaks, no emphasis, little movement; it seems to fall away like a landslide in a dream (you falling slowly too, not panicking) or merely continue, drained of impetus, self-destructing. Smack rock.
It’s Sly & the Family Stone’s fifth album (not counting the Greatest Hits collection) and their first new LP since April 1969. Perversely titled–There’s a Riot Goin’ On (Epic KE 30986) implies action–irrelevantly packaged–a wordless open-fold with “flag” cover, the stars replaced by white sunbursts on black and a terrible junior high Polaroid collage of Family and friends on the back–the album is a testament to two years of deterioration rather than two years of growth. One of the most influential innovators in recent years, Sly retains a certain inventiveness and a characteristically high-strung sound but he’s left behind much more.
Gone is the energy and flash that exploded in Sly’s early music. In the beginning, the message was music is alive, dance to the music, sing a simple song, I wanna take you higher. Then, you can make it if you try, everybody is a star, Stand! (all the things you want are real). And the music repeated that message with intensity and joy. But there’s no exhilaration left and no immediately clear message. Only an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion.
After all the past electricity, the first shock of the new album is its sound. Listening to it is like watching a junkie nodding, each breath measuring the slow descent of his head as he drops his comb for the tenth time in two minutes. It feels like slow motion, like batteries running down, like a lot of downs. But once you get into the haze of it, it can be rather beautiful: measured, relaxed, hypnotic. The new version of “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”–inexplicably retitled “Thank You for Talkin’ to Me Africa” (a cross-reference to another cut and to the original title for the album, Africa Talks To You) but otherwise unchanged lyrically–is paced at about half the speed of the original. The reduced speed is perhaps more appropriate to the dream-like quality of the opening verses but gives a bitterly ironic feeling to the refrain, sung over and over to the fade-out, passionless and dead: “Thank you falettinme be mice elf again”, even if it means destroying myself.
“Thank You” provides the link between Riot and Sly’s previous work and points to the radical changes his music has undergone. A relentless pattern, varied only slightly throughout the song’s more than seven minutes, is repeated three times before the vocals begin: a deliberately plodding, thick bass, echoed by drums with a nervous, sharp guitar. At times Sly underlines the guitar on organ or slashes at the keyboard for an accent, but the monotony of the pattern remains. When the voices enter, they sound agonized and weary, pulled up from the depths, struggling against inertia. Sly stands out from the others who set a purposely flat, low-key tone for him to play against. He seems to scrape his voice across the song, bringing phrases out of full-throated growls or stifled screams. It’s a magnificent, if frightening, contrast with the original; at first I was appalled, now I’m fascinated.
The rest of the album brings out a similar ambivalence, When you get over the initial shock (Sly ain’t gonna take anybody higher this time), the minimal, downer qualities of the music and singing begin to take on a certain appeal. This doesn’t cancel out the overall sense of disintegration but it does make such a state of euphoric coming apart seem somehow enviable.
The tone is set with the opening cut, “Luv n’ Haight” which begins, “Feel so good inside myself/Don’t want to move/Feel so good inside myself/Don’t need to move.” Although stripped of the force of Sly’s old stuff, “Luv n’ Haight” is practically speedy in the context of the Riot album. The tension between the song’s languid, stoned qualities (mainly the vocals, with Sly again, and throughout the album, playing with the limits of his voice) and the prodding, nervous qualities of the music (especially the wah-wah guitar) is the perfect mirror of the lyrics, which vary in their wasted indecision between the original “Don’t want to move” and “Feel so good/I want to move.” But you know the dude is too fucked up to move even if he wants to.
“Luv n’ Haight” also contains these lines; “As I grow up,/I’m growing down./And when I’m lost/I know I will be found.” As one of the many cryptic hints of Sly’s condition spread through the album, this is a typical combination of hope and pain, two elements constantly at war here.
It’s a very personal album and if there’s a riot goin’ on, it’s inside Sly Stone. David Kapralik, Sly’s manager, has a line about the “riot” being in the environment, implying that the title cut, listed and timed at 0:00, is space for examination of the “riot” all around you; the interpretation is up to you. If Sly seems weaker lyrically than on his previous work, it can be laid in part to pure stoned self-indulgence and the kind of dumb incoherence he often displays on stage, but more importantly, it’s the result of a very real personal struggle, with only tentative, vaguely grasped solutions. On “Africa Talks to You” he asks (himself), “When life means much to you,/Why live for dying?/If you are doing right,/Why are you crying?”
“Family Affair,” its sound at once mournful and playful, deals with these questions a little further down the line toward understanding them and their answers. The double meaning of the title–a private matter, A Family (Stone) affair–emphasizes its concerns are close to home. The singing is plain, gritty, stripped of any pretty vocal qualities, just Sly in the lead with Sister Rosie repeating almost plaintively, “It’s a family affair,” At the end, Sly states quite clearly the conflict at the center of the album: “You can’t leave, ’cause your heart is there./But you can’t stay, ’cause you been somewhere else!/You can’t cry, ’cause you’ll look broke down,/But you’re cryin’ anyway ’cause you’re all broke down!”
“Runnin’ Away” picks up the conflict with more irony, more distance, but the same painful self-awareness folded into a deceptively bright package. “Look at you fooling you,” the song taunts, “You’re stretching out your dues.” As an insight into Sly’s own delusions and everyone’s, the song is one of the only moments of genuine self-satisfaction on the album. “You Caught Me Smilin’,” on the other hand, seems full of self-deception; the smile sounds like a mask and. Sly is really saying, like Smokey Robinson in “Tracks of My Tears,” “Take a good look at my face/You’ll see my smile looks out of place.” He drops the pretense slightly in the last line: “In my pain, I’ll be sane to take your hand,” but covers himself immediately with the smiling mask of sanity. Look at you fooling you.
“Africa Talks to You ‘The Asphalt Jungle'” and “Brave & Strong” are both more complex, more irritating and less accessible. The lyrics are broken and puzzling, near-impenetrable in “Africa”; the sound, too, is fragmented, ominous, jittery, again, more so in “Africa” where the last half of the cut drifts off as if dazed, mixing with these ghostly voices warning “Timber!” Both songs seem to be warnings, personal, but directed outward to all of us more so than much of the other material here. In “Africa” the warning is “Watch out, ’cause the summer gets cold …/When today gets too old”; time is running out (“Timber … all fall down!”) and ain’t nobody gonna save you but yourself. “Brave & Strong” pushes the point–”Survive!”–more emphatically but less effectively–a more muddled, less interesting song.
Much of the rest is just bad: pretentious (“Poet”), cute, dumb (“Spaced Cowboy”), inconsequential (“Time”). Kapralik, again, says that when any “great creator” has reached the top, “the only thing to do is step back and lay back.” Is that what you call it? Feels more like being knocked back and struggling to recover. “Thank you for the party/I could never stay,/Many thangs [sic] is on my mind/Words in the way.” Sly has cut to the minimum, reduced his music to bare structures, put aside the density and play of voices in the Family in favor of his anguished, unpolished lead and quiet choruses. Maybe he had little choice. You couldn’t say Riot is a pulling through or an overcoming. It’s record of a condition, a fever chart.
As such, it doesn’t invite an easy response. At first I hated it for its weakness and its lack of energy and I still dislike these qualities. But then I began to respect the album’s honesty, cause in spite of the obvious deception of some cuts, Sly was laying himself out in all his fuck-ups. And at the same time holding a mirror up to all of us. No more pretense; no more high-energy. You’re dying, we’re all dying. It’s hard to take, but There’s a Riot Goin’ On is one of the most important fucking albums this year.
Resurrected from the dead!!…Sly comes back out of retirement after way too many years. This was recorded at the North Sea Jazz Festival on July 15, 2007.
The band performs “If You Let Me Stay,” “Sing a Simple Song” and “I Want to Take You Higher” (which unfornutately cuts out after a minute or so).
Another track from the 1979 disco remix album Ten Years Too Soon (see details below).
This was from a disco remix album called Ten Years Too Soon that was put out in 1979 (now long out of print). The remixes were done by a guy named John Luongo. It got terrible reviews at the time – critics thought it was blasphemous to be tampering with the original recordings which were classics and didn’t need “improving” upon (which in some ways, they were right). The idea behind the title was that Sly’s work was ten years ahead of its time. The ironic thing is that in the years to come, remix albums would become popular items and so actually, this album actually came out “ten years too soon.” If it had come out in the late 80s, it might have been accepted a bit more. Perhaps not…
Anyhow, it is certainly interesting, if nothing else, to hear this classic song from 1968 remixed to sound like a disco song (the remix is actually decent). You be the judge…
I’m not sure what show this is from or the date on it – but I’m assuming probably 1969 or 1970…?