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Members include Greg Errico (left group, 1971) drummer; Larry Graham (left group, 1972), bass;Jerry Martini, sax player; Cynthia Robinson, trumpet; Freddie Stewart , guitar; Sylvester Stewart (a.k.a. Sly, born March 15, 1944, Denton, TS), arranger, composer, guitarist, keyboardist, manager; Vaetta Stewart, keyboards, vocals. Addresses: Record Company--Atlantic Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104.
Record blazing pioneers of a new type of exciting popular music called "funk," Sly and the Family Stone made musical history by creating a new genre of pop music. A mix never really heard before, it was a blend of psychadelic rock, James Brown's wild soul, rhythm and blues, and gospel. In addition to leading this trend setting band, founding member and leader Sylvester "Sly" Stewart also helped produce other well-known pop artists like Grace Slick & The Great Society, Billy Preston, Bobby Freeman, and the female soul group Little Sister, which was fronted by Sly's real-life little sister Vaetta Stewart.
Born Sylvester Stewart in Denton, Texas on March 15, 1944, the young musician and his family moved west when Sly was still quite young. His formative years were spent in the grim industrial suburbs of Vallejo, California, located just across from the San Francisco Bay. Music was the one great love of Sylvester's life. While pursuing an education at Vallejo's public high school, he was also hard at work perfecting his singing and songwriting talents. By the time he attended Vallejo Junior College, he started singing in a doo-wop quintet called the Viscaynes. The Viscaynes scored a big local success with their version of the song "Yellow Moon." This inspired Sly to cut the songs "Long Time Away" and "Help Me With My Broken Heart" for the G&P label. At the same time, he began a career as a DJ , first for radio station KSOL-AM then the famous KDIA-AM. At KDIA, people began to take notice of this energetic, young DJ. As good fortune would have it, Tom "Big " Drake and Bob "Mighty Mitch" Mitchell of KYA-AM decided to quit the station and start their own recording label, Autumn Records. Impressed with Sly's talents, they hired him as studio musician. Besides being able to write and arrange, Sly was also a very good guitar player, keyboardist, and drummer. He was given a contract for his talents at the outset. Sly's own Autumn recordings were "I Just Learned To Swim," "Scat Swim," and the industrial strength "Buttermilk." These songs were intended to make money off the latest dance crazes. As house producer, Sly managed to take Bobby Freeman's single "C'mon & Swim" all the way up to number five nationwide.
Besides this activity, Sly formed his own band called Sly and the Stoners, a band which frequently played local San Francisco clubs. Brother Freddie had started a group called Freddie and the Stone Souls. When Sly's Stoners began falling apart, Freddie suggested joining forces with his brother who proposed taking the most talented players from each group to merge into one. This formation, later to be called Sly and the Family Stones, featured Sly on keyboards and vocals, Freddie on guitar with backup vocals, trumpeter Cynthia Robinson from the Stoners and Freddie's drummer Greg "Handsfeet" Errico. They also added sax player Jerry Martini and bassist Larry Graham. Martini was a well-known session musician and Sly's friend and Graham was famous for the wild way he played his bass. He created the idea of "slapping," "plucking," and "thumping" the strings. This created a slap-bass effect that became the standard bass sound for funk and soul recordings. One night after hearing him play at an Oakland nightclub, Sly made Larry the offer to join the Family Stones. Larry agreed. After listening to the group, Epic promotional executive David Kapralik signed this newly formed group to the Epic label. He also became a co-partner and business manager.
After the debut album, A Whole New Thing , Stewart asked his talented little sister Vaetta to join the ensemble. She added her excellent keyboard talents. Their landmark blend of R&B, psychadelica, and rock quickly caused a local stir in the San Francisco bay area music scene. In 1968, their first nationwide hit "Dance to the Music" cracked the charts with a bullet. Yet superstar prominence didn't come for the group until their legendary musical moments at Woodstock in 1969. Many music critics think the Family Stone's performance there was one of the best of the entire concert.
Another "first" in pop music occurred when a drum machine was featured for the first time. Sly used it for his little sister Vaetta's group Little Sister. Yet a third groundbreaking trend of Sly's group started was one that transcended music. It was a social innovation. Black,white, and Latino, male and female performers made music side by side. They also released various songs which spoke about the possibility of racial harmony and tolerance like "Different Strokes," and "Everyday People." The latter song rose to a be a number one hit in 1969. Two other number one hits followed shortly thereafter with "Thank You," Everybody Is a Star," and "Family Affair" in 1970. However, in contrast, as if possessed by a love/hate political schizophrenia, the band also released militant songs which spoke about racial violence and destruction. In 1971, Sly and his group released the provocative There's A Riot Goin' On, which had an ominous threat to it. The militancy which came through in that song made some wonder exactly where Sly and the Family Stone were going with such calls for revolution. Also, Sly was becoming increasingly erratic with excessive consumption of drugs like cocaine. This eventually led to an unrealibility of showing up for concerts late or even not at all. After some rocky months, Sly moved from San Francisco to Los Angelse scene. The end result of all of this was that some of the Family Stones became restless and felt it was time to break and move on.
Errico left the band in 1971 during a production of There's A Riot Goin' On. He decided to go into producing as well as being a studio drummer. Shortly thereafter, Errico's solo efforts proved fruitful. He started producing work by the band War's Lee Oskar and vocalist Betty Davis. Errico also did some gigs drumming for Carlos Santana, Peter Frampton, the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart, David Bowie, even Josef Zawinul's Weather Report.
Graham quit the band in 1972 after Riot was released. Graham went on to form the very successful Graham Central Station. Undaunted by these two desertions, Sly went on and continued to produce and play the music he wanted to. He received some scathing criticisms from music critics and record company people who thought his work was heading downhill. In 1974, Sly married actress Kathy Silva onstage during a sell-out Madison Square Garden concert. Some critics even said Sly did it as a publicity stunt to boost his image. Six months later the couple divorced. 1974 was a year of even more dissolutions. Long time manager and business partner David Kapralik decided to call it quits as well. Although the split was amicable, management duties were quickly assumed by Ken Roberts.
Most members of the original Family Stone have gone in diverse directions but still manage to maintain very successful careers. Freddie became a pastor and delivers Sunday sermons as well as occasionally playing electric guitar for his congregation. He regularly holds court at the Evangelist Temple Fellowship Center in Vallejo, California. Greg Errico presently plays with Quicksilver Messenger Service as well as doing various gigs in the Bay area where he is still in high demand. His latest appearance has been in the radio documentary I Want To Take You Higher, hosted by ex-Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek. Errico's musicianship can also be heard on television and radio commercial such as, Taco Bell, Sprint, Bryer's Ice Cream, even Matell Matchbox Cars. Graham is working on a new Graham Central Station CD and has recently worked with The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. Martini still plays his sax even at the age of 56. Lately, he's played in a rock band in Wakiki, Hawaii on Lewers Street at a place called Irish Rose. Robinson released some work on Funkadelic's The Electric Spanking Machine released in 1981. Since then, she has divided her time between raising her two daughters and playing with a local Sacramento band called Burgandy Express. She also plays trumpet with Larry Graham's band on occasion.
As for the leader, founder, producer, and arranger himself, Sylvester "Sly" Stewart continues to make and release records.Arrested for drug and alimony charges, Sly went to jail for a period. He tried several comeback tours but no tour clicked with the old successes that he and his original group previously enjoyed. Still, Sly's tenacity is remarkable. He has continued to release an album every year or so. "I've been blessed with the gift of writing songs," Stewart told David Letterman in a 1992 interview. "And for me not to make use of this gift would be the same as not contributing to society."
by Timothy Kevin Perry
Sly & the Family Stone's Career
Group formed in 1965; merger between Sly & the Stoners and Freddy and the Stone; Sylvester continued to write, arrange, produce, and perform for this group, released debut, A Whole New Thing, Atlantic Records, 1967; Dance To The Music, Atlantic Records, 1968; Life, Atlantic Records, 1968; Stand!, Atlantic Records, 1969; released Greatest Hits, Atlantic Records, 1970; group music was featured on the Woodstock soundtrack, 1970; released album There's A Riot Goin' On in 1971, released album Fresh in 1973, later as Sly using a totally different band he releasedSweet Talk, 1974; High Energy, 1975; Heard Ya Missed Me Well I'm Back, 1976; Everything You Always Wanted To Hear, 1976; Recorded in San Francisco 1964-67, 1977; Wanted: Vintage Sly, 1977; 10 Years Too Soon, 1979; Back On The Right Track, 1979; Anthology, 1981; Ain't But the One Way, 1982; Encore Appearance, 1989; Family Affair, 1991; Dance To The Music, 1991; featured artist in Club Epic: A Collection of Classic Dance Mixes Vol. 2, 1991; Do the Rattle Snake Snake & More Psychadelic Soulsongs, 1991; The Best of The Best:Sly's Stone's Greatest Hits, 1992; Take My Advice, 1992; Oh! What A Night, 1992; Star Box, 1993; Remember Who You Are, 1994; Musical Magic, 1994; Woodstock Diary, 1994; In the Still of the Night, 1995; Slyest Freshest Funkiest Rarest, 1996.
- Selected discography
- A Whole New Thing , Atlantic Records, 1967.
- Dance To The Music , Atlantic Records, 1968.
- Life , Atlantic Records, 1969.
- Stand! , Atlantic Records, 1969.
- Greatest Hits , Atlantic Records, 1970.
- There's A Riot Goin' On , Atlantic Records, 1971.
- The Official Sly & the Family Stone Web Site, http://www.slyfamstone.com
- The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum Web Site, http://www.rockhall.com/induct/slyfam.html
Sly & the Family Stone Lyrics
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