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Sly Stone

From Academic Kids

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Sly Stone, as depicted on the cover of the 1981 greatest hits compilation Sly & the Family Stone Anthology.

Sly Stone (born Sylvester Stewart in Dallas, Texas on March 15, 1944) is a pivotal African-American musician, songwriter, and record producer, most famous for his role as frontman for Sly & the Family Stone, a band which was pivotal in the development of soul, funk and psychedelia in the 1960s and 1970s.


Contents

Biography

Early career

Main entry: Sly & the Family Stone.

Sylvester Stewart was the second of five children. After the family moved from Dallas, Texas to Vallejo, California (near San Francisco), he and his brother Freddie and their sisters Rose and Vaetta formed "The Stewart Four" as children, performing gospel music in the Church of God in Christ and even recording a single in 1952. All of the Stewart children except oldest sister Loretta would later adopt the surname "Stone" and become members of Sly & the Family Stone.

As he got older, Sylvester learned to play a number of instruments, settling primarily with the guitar, and joined a number of high school bands. One of these was The Viscaynes, a doo-wop group in which he and a Filipino teenager where the only non-white members. The Viscaynes released a few local singles, including "Yellow Moon" and "Stop What You Are Doing"; during the same period, Sylvester also recorded a few solo singles under the name "Danny Stewart".

In the mid-1960s, Sly worked as a dee-jay for San Francisco radio station KSOL and also as a record producer for Autumn Records, working with such bands in the San Francisco area as The Beau Brummels and The Mojo Men. Adopting the stage name "Sly Stone," he then formed "The Stoners" in 1966 which included Cynthia Robinson on trumpet. Robinson went on to join Sly & the Family Stone as well, when it was formed in 1967. Freddie Stone (guitar and vocals), Larry Graham (bass guitar and vocals), Greg Errico (drums), Jerry Martini (saxophone) and Rosie Stone (piano and vocals) were also in the original line-up. On backup vocals were Little Sister: Vet Stone, Mary McCreary, and Elva Mouton. Sly himself played guitar, piano, and harmonica, among other instruments, for the band's records and performances. Their debut single as Sly & the Family Stone was "I Ain't Got Nobody", a major regional hit for Loadstone Records.

Sly & the Family Stone's early success

The Loadstone single attracted the attention of Epic Records, who got Sly & The Family Stone to sign to their label. After a mildly received debut album, A Whole New Thing (1967), Sly & The Family Stone had their first hit album and single in Dance to the Music (1968) and its title track. Although their third album, Life (also 1968), also suffered from low sales, their fourth album, Stand (1969), became a runaway success, selling over three million copies and spawning a number one hit single, "Everyday People." By the summer of 1969, Sly & The Family Stone were one of the biggest names in music, releasing two more top five singles, "Hot Fun In The Summertime" and "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)", before the end of the year, and appearing at Woodstock.

Personal problems and decline

In the fall of 1969, Sly moved from San Fransisco to Los Angeles. Not long after the move, he found himself crushed under stress from a number of angles: record executives wanting more product, the Black Panther Party and other Black activist groups who wanted Sly's music to become more militant and reflective of the black power movement (and also the removal of Caucasians Errico and Martini from the band), and also inter-personal conflicts within the band. He developed ulcer problems because of the stress, and began turning to a variety of drugs, primarily cocaine and PCP, for relief.

Sly's drug abuse soon began to affect his career: he became notorious for missing interviews and concerts, his demeanor became erratic and unpredictable, and the band's fifth album, There's a Riot Goin' On (1971), captured all of it on wax. Most of Riot was recorded with overdubbing as opposed to The Family Stone all playing at the same time; in fact, Sly played most of the parts himself and performed more of the lead vocals than ususal.

The band slowly began to erode, and its sales and popularity began to decline as well. Greg Errico withdrew from the group in 1971 and was eventually replaced with Andy Newmark. Larry Graham and Sly were no longer on friendly terms, and Graham was fired in early 1972 and replaced with Rusty Allen. The band's later releases, Fresh (1973) and Small Talk (1974), featured even less of the band and more of Sly. The band's shaky reputation for showing up at concerts caused promoters to avoid booking them, and after a disastrous engagement at the Radio City Music Hall in January 1975, The Family Stone broke apart completely.

Later years

Sly went on to record four more albums as a solo artist (only High on You (1975) was released under just his name; the other three were released under the "Sly & The Family Stone" name). He also collaborated with Funkadelic on The Electric Spanking of War Babies (1981), but was unable to re-jumpstart his career.

Bobby Womack, who had worked with Sly in the early 1970s, arranged for Sly to enter a drug rehabilitation program in 1984, but Sly was never able to fully overcome his addictions. He made sporadic appearances on other artists' records and released a unsuccessful single called "Eek-a-Bo-Static" in 1987, but was arrested and jailed for cocaine use and possesion by the end of the year.

After his release, Sly went into semi-retirement and became a recluse. His last major public appearance was during the1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony where Sly, much to the surprise of everyone, including his fellow bandmates, unexpectedly showed up onstage to be entered into the Hall of Fame along with the Family Stone. In 2003, the other six members of the original Family Stone entered the studio to record a new album. Sly was invited to participate, but decined.

A Sly & The Family Stone tribute album, to be called Sly 2K, is in the works and due for release in 2005. The project will feature contributions from Beck, The Roots, Lenny Kravitz, Maroon 5, and Floetry, among others, and is to include both cover versions of the band's songs and songs which sample the original recordings. One song from the collection, The Roots' "Star," has already been released as a single.

Personal

Sly was married to Kathleen Silva for five months in 1974. They were wed onstage during a Sly & The Family Stone concert at Madison Square Garden, and both appear on the cover of Small Talk with their son, Sylvester Bubba Ali Stewart. He also has a daughter with Family Stone member Cynthia Robinson named Sylevette Phunne Robinson.

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