In the transition from the soul music of the 1960s to the R&B funk band era of the 1970s, all roads passed through Sly Stone and his groundbreaking group, Sly & The Family Stone. A visionary musician, composer and bandleader whose work transformed music in ways that still reverberate. Sly Stone created a style of music that blended elements of rock, pop, traditional R&B and the funk foundation built by James Brown into a new, universal music style the appeal of which crossed age, gender, racial and socioeconomic boundaries, and set the stage for future acts ranging from Earth Wind & Fire to George Clinton & P-Funk, and even to the later emergence of hip-hop. He was that important.
Coming out of their transcendent performance at Woodstock in 1969, Sly & the Family Stone lit up the charts through the mid 1970s with such iconic hits as “Everyday People,” “Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again),” “Dance To the Music,” “Stand!,” “I Want To Take You Higher,” and “Hot Fun In the Summertime.” Their albums were events – all wheat, no chaff.
Stone was born on March 15, 1943 in Denton, Texas as Sylvester Stewart, but moved to Bay Area of California with his family as a child. By the time he was a teen, Stewart, nicknamed “Sly,” was a multi-instrumentalist playing in several bands. After high school, he began producing a number of local bands for the Autumn Records label, scoring a top 10 hit with Bobby Freeman’s “C’mon and Swim” in 1964.
Sly & The Family Stone was born in 1967, as the merger of two local bands, and soon had put together its most famous lineup of brothers Sly Stone and singer/guitarist Freddie Stone, their sister singer/keyboardist Rose Stone, trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, drummer Gregg Errico, saxophonist Jerry Martini, bassist Larry Graham.
Signed to Epic Records, the band took awhile to connect with audiences – fortunately at a time when record companies were more patient - finally hitting in 1969 with “Everyday People,” which went all the way to #1 and set up the band’s Woodstock performance, and the years of hits that followed.
Ultimately, the highs and lows of it all took their toll and the group disbanded in 1975, going their separate ways. Stone became somewhat of a recluse, disappearing at time for years. Dozens of times he was falsely rumored to be returning to the forefront, and other times he would appear unexpectedly. Drug use took its toll on him, and he became the subject of wild rumors ranging from homelessness to lavish lifestyle.
By the time he hit his 70s, it was clear that Stone had effectively retired and was living a quiet life as he chose, even as others in the Family Stone occasionally reunited for shows. But his shadow has remained over popular music for a half century. Even as he remained silent, his influence has gone unabated, and continues well into the 21st century.
By Chris Rizik