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Mon, Dec 29, 2014

VINSON: Sly and the Family Stone are piece of rock history

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Of the musical acts thus far announced to perform at the 2013 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, to take place June 13-16 in Manchester, Tenn., there are four that immediately captured my attention: Paul McCartney, ZZ Top, Gov’t Mule, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

All I’m gonna say about McCartney is that he, at the senior citizen age of 70, is still rockin’ away, is a founding member of the Beatles, and, according to the Guinness World Records, is the most successful composer and recording artist of all time. That should tell you all you need to know.

As for Petty, ZZ Top, and Gov’t Mule, let’s just say they play the kind of straight-ahead rock-blues that keeps the bartender steadily pouring, the dance floor full, and forces the more “responsible” members of society to unconsciously hum and tap their feet as they listen to the radio in the morning on their way to work at corporate headquarters.

That said, let’s board the Magic Carpet, fly back in time a few decades, and hang out with a group that, I think, is often overlooked as being one of the more influential acts in rock ‘n’ roll history: Sly and the Family Stone.

While most of the Baby Boomers are familiar with this trend-setting act, some of the younger audience might not be.

Based out of San Francisco, the group Sly and the Family Stone formed in spring 1967.

Prior to that, however, Sly Stone had his own band called Sly and the Stoners, and at the same time, Sly’s guitar-playing brother, Freddie Stone, had a band called Freddie and the Stone Souls. The two brothers decided to amalgamate their respective bands, thus Sly and the Family Stone.

Although band membership would change over the years – as is the case with a lot of bands – the core lineup of the group during its heyday consisted of siblings Sly Stone on lead vocals and organ, brother Freddie Stone on lead guitar, sister Rose Stone on keyboards and backup vocals, Greg Errico on drums, Cynthia Robinson on trumpet and Larry Graham on bass.

Many music historians credit Larry Graham with inventing the “slapping technique” on bass guitar, which became synonymous with funk music, and is a technique that has been copied by virtually every bass player in the business.

In February 1968, Sly and the Family Stone burst onto the national scene with the release of their hit single “Dance to the Music” (written by Sly Stone), which rose to No. 8 on the Billboard Charts.

In late 1968, they released the single “Everyday People,” which became the band’s first No. 1 hit.

A line in “Everyday People” goes, “different strokes for different folks,” and as a result, become an iconic catchphrase used on a daily basis by just about every ethno-eco-socio-politico group the world over.

Other hit songs followed, songs that not only resulted in mega 45 record and 33 album sales back then, but continue to sell and, too, remain regularly played staples on major rock radio stations across the globe: “Sing a Simple Song,” “Stand,” “I Want to Take You Higher,” Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Thank You,” “Everybody is a Star,” “Family Affair,” etc.

From my perspective, Sly and the Family Stone were the ultimate “crossover” band.

Possibly more than any other pop act to date, they successfully – and genuinely – created a “melting pot of many influences and cultures,” including James Brown proto-funk, Motown pop, Stax soul, Broadway show tunes, and psychedelic rock music, wah-wah guitars, church-styled organ lines, topped off by sharp horn sections.

With his tight leather outfits, wash-tub-size afro, and no-holds-barred showmanship, Sly Stone, arguably, was one of the better rock “front men” in history.

The music of Sly and the Family Stone remains popular from the urban ghettos to the honky tonks of the Deep South.

And for that, and with pun, I proclaim Sly and the Family Stone as a “solid piece of rock history”

I wager that Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, ZZ Top and Gov’t Mule would have positive comments about Sly and the Family Stone’s contributions to rock music.
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Mike Vinson, Music, Sly & Family Stone
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April 21, 2013 at 12:28pm
For more on Sly and the band, in breadth and depth, read my "I Want to Take You Higher: The Life and Times of Sly & the Family Stone" (Backbeat Books, 2008). An authorized biography, with intros by Sly and George Clinton.
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