A Whole New Thing
Sly and The Family Stone truly are ‘A Family Affair’. Hailing from San Francisco, the band started out as two separate bands: one led by Sylvester ‘Sly’ Stone, the other by his brother Freddie. Sister Rose Stone later joined to supply keyboards and vocals. The line-up also featured Larry Graham on bass, Jerry Martini on saxophone, Cynthia Robinson on trumpet and Gregg Errico on drums. Freddie took on the guitar duties and Sly agreed to learn the electronic organ. Sly and The Family Stone were made up of black and white members, which at the time was quite revolutionary.
The band’s sound was rich and unique. It blended influences from gospel, soul and funk, incorporating the use of wah-wahs and fuzz effects, to create a psychedelic musical backdrop to the late 60s. Bassist Larry Graham introduced the world to the bass-playing technique of slapping, favoured by many artists across the funk genre such as Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Level 42.
Their first album – ‘A Whole New Thing’ – was released in October 1967. ‘Dance to the Music’ was their debut single released that same year and reached the Top 10 in the US.
‘Stand’, their next album, was released in May 1969 and is ranked #118 in the Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All time. The band was asked to perform at Woodstock festival in August 1969. The single ‘I Want to Take You Higher’ had been previously released as a b-side, but was later re-released due the popularity of their performance at Woodstock. The track was later covered by Ike and Tina Turner and was about the joy of music taking one higher, rather than alluding to drug use.
However, following the band’s move to Los Angeles, Sly and his band mates were increasingly involved in the city’s drug scene. Friction set in with band members, which resulted in several line-up changes. Throughout the 70s, Sly’s creative output slowed down as the drug abuse took its toll, although he did release genre-defining albums and toured with George Clinton into the early 80s.
‘Different Strokes by Different Folks’, an album of Sly and The Family Stone covers, was released in 2005 featuring will.i.am, Arrested Development and Joss Stone. They performed at the 2006 Grammy Awards with most of the original line-up. Sly made the briefest yet startling of appearances. The band last toured in Europe in 2007.
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