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Artist: Sly & The Family Stone

Sly & The Family Stone

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Sly & the Family Stone were an important and influential band from Vallejo, California, United States. Active from 1966 until 1975, the band was pivotal in the development of soul, funk and psychedelia. Headed by singer, songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist Sly Stone, and containing several of his family members and friends, the band was the first major American rock band to have an integrated lineup in both race and gender. Brothers Sly Stone and singer/guitarist Freddie Stone combined their bands (Sly & the Stoners and Freddie & the Stone Souls) at the end of 1966. Sly and Freddie Stone, trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, drummer Gregg Errico, saxophonist Jerry Martini, and bassist Larry Graham completed the original lineup; Sly and Freddie's sister, singer/keyboardist Rose Stone, joined within a year. This collective recorded five Top 10 hits and four groundbreaking albums, which greatly influenced the sound of American pop music, soul, R&B, funk, and hip hop music. In the preface of his 1998 book For the Record: Sly and the Family Stone: An Oral History, Joel Selvin sums up the importance of Sly & the Family Stone's influence on African American music by stating "there are two types of black music: black music before Sly Stone, and black music after Sly Stone". The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. During the early 1970s, the band switched to a grittier funk sound, which was as influential on the music industry as their earlier work. The band began to fall apart during this period because of drug abuse and ego clashes; consequently, the fortunes and reliability of the band deteriorated, leading to its dissolution in 1975. Sly Stone continued to record albums and tour with a new rotating lineup under the "Sly & the Family Stone" name from 1975 to 1983. In 1987, Sly Stone was arrested and sentenced for cocaine use, after which he went into effective retirement. Cynthia Robinson - January 12, 1944 – November 23, 2015 Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.
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Sly and the Family Stone: Bournemouth Opera House Mojo, Aug 2007

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YOU'RE A LIFE-LONG fan of a band that fell apart long before you were old enough to see them play. Suddenly, you hear that the greatest rock-funk supertroop of our lifetime, fronted by its gifted, troubled leader is back in shape and on the road again, coming to Europe...and is booked to play an 1800 capacity club in Bournemouth! It's crazy enough to be true. It'd be rude not to go.

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Mind you, it's a quarter of a century since Sly and the Family Stone last showed up for a gig, and to be frank, it's a brave man who'd bank on this happening smoothly. One such is the promoter at the swishy, newly refurbished Opera House, and the other is your correspondent, hoping for a transcendent show and expecting the opposite, but, whatever happens, happy to pay homage to the great integrator, and say thank you.

Sly was notorious at his peak for cancelling shows at the last moment, for doing everything in his power to derail a gig – demanding helicopters back home to pick up a forgotten talisman before he went on: silly shit that tested his promoters, his band, his public and his own sanity to see if they were all still there and on his side. Eventually, all of them gave him up and Sly has been out of it – in several senses – for nearly 30 years. Bar an occasional sighting – a Letterman show in 1983, a recent Grammy ceremony – he's been one of music's most famous recluses.

A famous recluse who has come to Bournemouth. There's plenty of time to reflect on this. Two excellent support bands, The Baker Brothers and Unklejam, come and go without a hitch, to a warm response from the audience. Sly is due on at 10pm. By 11.20 there's still a small army of sound-men milling about on the stage. How's this for genuine '60s atmosphere? We're waiting for Sly Stone to show up.

The predominantly white crowd – soul freaks willing this to be great, coming from London, Scotland, even Norway, and locals who seem to be treating it as a distraction from their regular Saturday knees-up – has paid about £40 a head to be here and is starting to wonder if it's been had.

Musicians appear and begin noodling. This is a soundcheck, not an impressive start. After about 5 minutes, they launch into 'Dance To The Music', then 'Everyday People'. Fears of a Sly-flavoured tribute no-show are partly assuaged, this sounds good. Vet Stone and her singers, among them Sly's daughter Lisa, are particularly splendid. There's only one original member of the Family among the dozen on stage, trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, though she's still looking and sounding great.

All too soon, after a relaxed 'Hot Fun In The Summertime', the night falls apart. Sly's obviously supposed to appear at this point, but guitarist Anthoney Yates has discovered Sly's mike isn't audible through the monitor. (We can hear it fine.) For the next ten minutes he intones "one two, one two" into it repeatedly as if it might help. He starts up a chant of "Fix Sly's mike, fix Sly's mike." It's pathetic. The band looks embarrassed. The crowd is starting to jeer. Sly may not have played live in 30 years, but you'd think his crew might have done a few shows in that time. With nothing better to do, the band stutters into a muted version of 'Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey', which seems an odd choice, in the circumstances.

Finally, something is done, and Sly appears, to a roar of welcome. He looks, I'm afraid, like the Grim Reaper at a Harry Potter convention, a shambling figure in an elaborate spangled smock with dice motifs, hunched rather than lithe, but still seemingly playful. What we can see of his face under the garb and shades is smiling. He sits at his keyboard and begins to play.

Crikey, it's 'If You Want Me To Stay' – almost my favourite Sly tune. Unfortunately, his voice is now inaudible out front. People are starting to walk out. During 'Sing A Simple Song', Sly's mike pops on and we're in danger of being entertained. Sly speaks: "Back soon y'all, just going to take a piss." And slopes off. "Take the piss, you mean," shouts one of the crowd.

The band slide into a dreary ballad I can't identify.

By this point, one of the party from Glasgow is outraged, holding court on the steps to the bar: "I've never seen anyone piss over his legacy so conclusively in my life – this is fucking terrible." The queue for refunds is growing. The gents is packed during the ballad. "Better atmosphere in here," says someone.

Then a miracle occurs. For ten minutes everything locks into place. Sly returns and the band crunch into 'Thank You Faletinme be Mice Elf Again', 'Stand' and 'I Want To Take You Higher'. Sly's in remarkably good voice. The crowd seizes its chance. Hands punch the air for 'Higher', a good time is being had. Sly picks up on the improved vibe and decides to meet the people. He jumps off the stage and prowls along the front for a while. It's a tantalising glimpse of the showman of yesterday. Then it has passed. Sly's gone again and things deteriorate. The band go into "good-time" mode and start giving us bass solos and a cover of James Brown's 'Sex Machine' nobody ordered. They finish to boos from the crowd. Inexplicably, someone thinks they must have pulled it off, because they come out for an encore. Sly's daughter does 30 seconds of substandard rapping and then, incredibly, Sly's back on for 'Thank You For Talking To Me Africa' and a reprise of 'Higher'. Once again, the neck hairs ready themselves to ripple...but it's not to be. The show phuts to a halt. The scotsman has complained so long and loud he's been ejected and let back in again. Some fans at the front have had a great time. Others are milling around in confusion, not sure whether to be appalled or pleased that they came.

This truly was the strangest show I've ever witnessed: an indefinable product of expectation, location, technical incompetence, mercurial crowd and an inscrutable, mercurial legend still living "on Sly time".

Unforgettable. Though not in the way anyone present might have wished.

POSTSCRIPT

The management of the Bournemouth Opera House subsequently issued the following statement regarding this show:

"The management of the Opera House would like to thank the audience at Saturday night's event. We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received for what were very difficult circumstances. The vast majority of people have said that they loved the venue, had a great start to the night and then were bitterly disappointed by what occurred during the Sly and The Family Stone set.

We were also very disappointed.

After the well-publicised problems with Sly and his band on their recent performance at the Lovebox Festival the previous weekend, we sought reassurances about arrival and appearance times, the commitment to be shown and the amount of time on stage and the capability of Sly Stone himself. Regrettably, many of the same issues encountered at Lovebox, were repeated on Saturday – right down to the phrase that Sly Stone used to exit the stage the first time.

The vast majority of the audience were savvy enough to realise that the sound problems were greatly exaggerated and were almost entirely caused by the band's late arrival. We cannot comment in full as yet because there were some very serious issues and also because the Opera House is seeking compensation, both on our behalf and on behalf of the fans who were let down. Our senior management talked with many people after the show and we have been told that this was greatly appreciated. We are now following up by talking to our customers on an individual basis."

Sly Stone: Small Talk Let It Rock, Nov 1974

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BY SLY'S SLUGGISH standards, it's not that long since the last album, Fresh; maybe married life has given him a creative surge.

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Much the same territory's covered here – a little mellower, happier, more together maybe. Certainly more so than on Riot – the sniffing self-pity of that period has mercifully gone; a couple of cuts even approach the 'up' feel of his early hits. This time out, brother Freddie helps out on the production; Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson are still hangin' in there; and soulful Sister Rose, joined by Vet Stewart (a cousin?) luckily gets more vocal action than erstwhile. New faces include drummer Bill Lordan, hornman Pat Rizzo, bassist Rusty Allen (though which tracks Sly himself plays bass on is unclear), and Sid Page, whose deft violin recently, I believe, graced Dan Hicks' Hot Licks – here he comes into his own on the non-too-successful single side 'Time for Livin'.

Straight string charts, by one Ed Bogas, whose name must be good for a cheap gag if I could only think of one, enhance the smoother feel of the whole set; and Sly's lyrics, even with the help of enclosed sheet, read as monosyllabically incomprehensible as ever. I'm trying, but it's hard! Things get off to a sticky start with the title track, a simple riff given the dubious benefit of the Stewart offspring's infant noises, which lose their endearing novelty appeal after about twenty seconds. (The track lasts 3 mins, 30 secs). 'Mother Beautiful' is short (1.59) and as sweet as Sly has ever sounded; 'Holdin' On' is a grower, sweet strings over a relentless funk groove and the girls' sanctified wailing; 'Can't Strain My Brain' sports a weird, compelling horn part; there's a lunatic bass figure on 'Livin' While I'm Livin' '; and you can hear that ole drum machine ticking away regardless on the sloppy starts to some tracks, where Sly's left the song to meander in, studio chat and all. Two great tracks, however, give the album distinction: firstly, a throwback to the Family of old, on a superfunky dance thing called 'Loose Booty', powered by an irresistible chant of 'Shadrack Meshack Abednego' – the words obviously chosen for sound alone – which Epic would be crazy not to put out as a single; and secondly, a total surprise, by way of a delightful excursion into doo-wop nostalgia – 'This Is Love', which closes the album, and leaves you feeling good (background shoo-bup-doo-bups straight out of the Flamingoes song-book).

I'm convinced that Sly, were he in control of his considerable faculties at all times, could come up with a whole album up to the standard of these two tracks. Till he does, this'll do fine.

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Top Albums

There's A Riot Goin' On cover art

There's A Riot Goin' On

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Anthology cover art

Anthology

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Stand! cover art

Stand!

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Fresh cover art

Fresh

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Dance to the Music cover art

Dance to the Music

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Top Songs

Everyday People cover art

Everyday People

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Dance to the Music cover art

Dance to the Music

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Family Affair cover art

Family Affair

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If You Want Me To Stay cover art

If You Want Me To Stay

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I Want To Take You Higher cover art

I Want To Take You Higher

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Hot Fun In The Summertime cover art

Hot Fun In The Summertime

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Stand! cover art

Stand!

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