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Sly and The Family Stone

Sly and The Family Stone , funk-pop-psychedelic band of the 1960s and early 1970s. Membership: M Sly Stone, lead voc, kybd., gtr. (b. Sylvester Stewart, Dallas, Tex., March 15, 1944); Rosemary Stewart, pno., voc. (b. Vallejo, Calif., March 21, 1945); Freddie Stewart, gtr., voc. (b. June 5, 1946); Larry Graham, bs., voc. (b. Beaumont, Tex., Aug. 14, 1946); Jerry Martini, sax., clarinet, pno., accordion (b. Boulder, Colo., Oct. 1, 1943); Cynthia Robinson, trpt., voc. (b. Sacramento, Calif., Jan. 12, 1946); and Greg Errico, drm. (b. San Francisco, Calif., Sept. 1, 1946).

As a child, Sylvester Stewart moved to Vallejo, Calif., where he sang with siblings Rose and Freddie in the gospel group The Stewart Four, who recorded “On the Battlefield of My Lord” when Sylvester was four. By then, he was already playing drums and guitar, and he eventually taught himself a number of other instruments, including piano and organ. In 1960, he scored a local hit with “Long Time Ago” and later manned The Stewart Brothers (with Freddie) and The Viscanes, who achieved another local hit with “Yellow River” when he was a high school senior. After graduation, he attended junior college and radio broadcasting school and secured disc jockey positions on San Francisco Bay Area black radio stations KSOL and KDIA. In 1964, Stewart met disc jockey Tom Donahue and soon became staff producer for Donahue’s Autumn label. There he wrote and produced Bobby Freeman’s smash crossover dance hit “C’mon and Swim” and produced the early hits of The Beau Brummels (“Laugh, Laugh,” “Just a Little”) while recording local groups such as The Vejtables (“I Still Love You”), The Mojo Men (“Dance with Me”), and The Great Society (with Grace Slick). Brother Freddie formed the soul band The Stone Souls in the mid-1960s, while Sylvester led The Stoners, with trumpeter Cynthia Robinson.

Around 1966, The Stoners and The Stone Souls merged to form Sly and The Family Stone. Developing a regional reputation as a live act, the group was joined by the Stewarts’ cousin Larry Graham, a veteran multi-instrumentalist, in 1967. Signed with Epic Records, the group’s debut album, A Whole New Thing, featured shared and contrasted lead vocals, psychedelic lead guitar, complex horn arrangements, and a funky rhythm sound rooted in Graham’s bass playing. Dance to the Music produced a near- smash pop and rhythm-and-blues hit with the title song, but Life fared poorly. Early 1969’s Stand!, sometimes labeled as soul music’s first concept album and regarded as one of the most influential albums of the era, firmly established the group with black and white audiences. It included the classic “I Want to Take You Higher,” “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey,” the ominous “Somebody’s Watching You,” and “You Can Make It if You Try.” The album yielded a major crossover hit with “Stand!” and a top crossover hit with “Everyday People,” backed by the funk classic “Sing a Simple Song.”

Sly and The Family Stone scored a smash pop and rhythm-and-blues hit with “Hot Fun in the Summertime” just days before their appearance at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969. One of the most dynamic and electrifying acts at the festival, the group next scored a top pop and R&B hit with “Thank You (Falet-tinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” backed with “Everybody Is a Star.” However, Stewart became mired in legal and drug-related problems and, by 1971, the group had developed a reputation for failing to show up at scheduled concerts, a circumstance that occasionally led to riots, as it did in Chicago. Their next album of new material, the ironically titled There’s a Riot Goni’ On, came more than two years after the release of Stand! and revealed a darker, disillusioned side to Sly’s songwriting. The album yielded a top pop and rhythm-and-blues hit with “Family Affair” and a major crossover hit with “Runnin’ Away.”

Sly and The Family Stone subsequently suffered the departures of bassist Larry Graham and drummer Greg Errico. Their next album, 1973’s Fresh, produced a major pop and smash R&B hit with “If You Want Me to Stay.” Sylvester Stewart married Kathy Silva in June 1974 during a concert at Madison Square Garden attended by 23, 000 fans. Sly and The Family Stone achieved their last important hit soon thereafter with “Time for Livin,’” a moderate pop and near-smash rhythm-and-blues hit.

Upon departure, Larry Graham formed Hot Chocolate, and the group evolved into Graham Central Station. Signed to Warner Bros. Records, the group became one of the era’s most popular funk bands, scoring a moderate pop and near-smash R&B hit with “Can You Handle It” in 1974. Ain’t No ’Bout-A-Doubt It, the group’s best-selling album, yielded a moderate pop and top rhythm-and-blues hit with “Your Love” and major R&B hits with “It’s Alright” and “The Jam.” Subsequent albums sold progressively less well as the group scored rhythm-and- blues hits with “Love,” “Now Do-U-Wanta Dance,” and “My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me” through 1978. In 1980, Graham went solo, achieving his biggest success with his debut album One in a Million You and its two smash R&B hits “One in a Million You” (a near-smash pop hit) and “When We Get Married.” After the 1981 R&B smash “Just Be My Lady,” Graham’s popularity waned. In 1987, he dueted with Aretha Franklin on her minor R&B hit “If You Need My Love Tonight.” Graham Central Station reassembled for a brief Japanese tour in 1992 and ultimately reunited with five of its six original members in 1995 to tour and once again record for Warner Bros.

By 1978, Jerry Martini had joined Rubicon with Jack Blades and Brad Gillis, scoring a major hit with “I’m Gonna Take Care of Everything.” In the meantime, Sylvester Stewart’s career was in serious trouble. He filed for bankruptcy in 1976 and switched record labels in 1979. In the early 1980s, he toured and recorded with George Clinton’s Funkadelic, appearing on 1981’s The Electric Spanking of War Babies. He recorded his final Sly and The Family Stone album in 1983. Thereafter better known for his legal and drug problems, Stewart unsuccessfully attempted comebacks with Bobby Womack in 1984 and 1987. He managed a minor pop and smash R&B hit in 1986 with “Crazay,” recorded with Jesse Johnson of The Time. Sly and The Family Stone were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

Discography

sly and the family stone: A WHOLE New Thing (1967); Dance to the Music (1968); Life (1968); Stand! (1969/1986); Greatest Hits (1970); There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971); Fresh (1973); Small Talk (1974); High Energy (1975); Heard Ya Missed Me, Well, I’m Back (1976); Ten Years Too Soon (1979); Back on the Right Track (1979); Ain’t but the One Way (1983); Slyest Freshest Funkiest Rarest Cuts (1996). sly stone: High on You (1975). graham central station:Graham Central Station (1973/1991); Release Yourself (1974/1991); Ain’t No ’Bout-A-Doubt It (1975); Mirror (1976); Now Do U Wanta Dance (1977); My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me (1978); Star Walk (1979); Graham Central (1996). larry graham:One in a Million You (1980); Just Be My Lady (1981); Sooner or Later (1982); Victory (1983); Fired Up (1985). rubicon:Rubicon (1978).

—Brock Helander

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