Sly and the Family Stone - Sly: the Lives of Sylvester Stewart and Sly Stone (Book Review) (2008)

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Sly: the Lives of Sylvester Stewart and Sly Stone, by Eddie Santiago 

I have a confession to make; in spite of having constantly heard my parents' well-worn vinyl copy of Sly and the Family Stone's Greatest Hits and my father reminiscing about a delayed, yet dynamic performance he witnessed by the band in the 1968 ("he turned the place out"), I grew up woefully ignorant of the musical genius Sylvester Stewart, aka Sly Stone. Fortunately,  Sly... (remarkably, the first-ever published book solely about him) opened my eyes to his talents, his influence and the performer's still-unfolding legacy.

Sly: the Lives of Sylvester Stewart and Sly Stone, by Eddie Santiago 

I have a confession to make; in spite of having constantly heard my parents' well-worn vinyl copy of Sly and the Family Stone's Greatest Hits and my father reminiscing about a delayed, yet dynamic performance he witnessed by the band in the 1968 ("he turned the place out"), I grew up woefully ignorant of the musical genius Sylvester Stewart, aka Sly Stone. Fortunately,  Sly... (remarkably, the first-ever published book solely about him) opened my eyes to his talents, his influence and the performer's still-unfolding legacy.

In the book's preface, music executive turned author Eddie Santiago admits that a lack of one-on-one interviews with the subject or his associates officially classifies Sly... as unauthorized, but this doesn't diminish the writer's exhaustive level of research, awe and enthusiasm. In the ten chapters that follow, Mr. Santiago combines vivid imagery and biographical facts about Sylvester Stewart, while intertwining them with a backdrop of pivotal events in history that shaped his life ("It was in this environment of diversity and disillusionment that Sylvester Stewart was raised. However, the Stewart home was an oasis of positive attitude, faith and music rooted in deep spirituality.").  As any fan would, the author delves into his birth in Dallas, TX., his Vallejo, CA. roots, his formative years as a member of his family-cultivated church band, sessions musician and disc jockey that eventually gave rise to his pimptastic, cool-as-a-cucumber Sly Stone persona.

The book details the methodical, then meteoric rise of Sly and the Family Stone; the detours along the way with the series of bands, pop-oriented production work for other artists and even his early back-up work with The Supremes. Given the effect that Sly &The Family Stone has had on musical trends, his peers and pop culture in general, it's hard to believe that their first album, A Whole New Thing, didn't catch on, but from then on, as the cliché goes, the rest is history.

Sly... doesn't simply recount the avalanche of hits ("Everyday People," "Stand," "Dance to the Music," "If You Want Me to Stay," etc.) and the legendary performances---it explains the band's painful decline due to the recreational, then pervasive drug abuse that lead to lethargic performances, habitual tardiness and---later on---riots. The groupies, the marriages, the arrests and countless conflicts inside and surrounding the Family Stone unfolded, according to Mr. Santiago, because after decades of cocaine addiction, Sly and Sylvester were inseparable, constantly "engaged...in a psychological and spiritual battle that at times would turn dangerous. ... Sylvester would constantly be at war with himself."

If you're a fan of the Family Stone or fancy yourself a lover of biographies wanting to learn about one of entertainment's all-time mesmerizing and mercurial performers, then Sly... fits the bill. It's an appreciative, yet unflinching glimpse into the "....charismatic, intelligent...consummate musician" and "paranoid, violent, insatiable drug addict," both sides that equally summarize Sylvester "Sly Stone" Stewart.

By Melody Charles

 
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