I saw Sly Stone perform the other night with the Family Stone. Sly hasn't really performed in quite a long time besides his crazy appearance at the Grammys where his mohawk seemed to upstage everything. His interview in Vanity Fair
sure seemed positive. Sly sounded like he was ready for a comeback. His sister had booked dates in Europe in addition to the one in San Jose. He mentioned that he had plenty of material. The author even said Sly looked healthy and strong.
So, after a few hours of music by three of the original members of El Chicano, Jorge Santana, the Salas brothers, and the Average White Band I was ready for some Sly Stone. I was ready for the dude pictured standing on top of a motorcycle in the Vanity Fair magazine. My partner, Sandy, wasn't even convinced he would show up. I, on the other hand, had faith. "He's got all sorts of dates in Europe booked already," I told her. "He's got to show or he'll get dropped from those dates," I reasoned.
The band came on. No Sly. They launched into a sort of jazz jam. The ex-hippie in front of me explained to her daughter, "This is Jazz. This isn't what Sly and the Family Stone sounded like!" The band launched into "Hot Fun in the Summertime" and the hippies were happy, but I wanted to see Sly. Apparently, I wasn't the only one thinking this because one of the main singers, Sly's sister, said, "Don't worry, he's coming!" They went on to three more songs. Then, in the middle of "Sing a Simple Song" this hunched over beast stumbled on to the stage. Was this person in a gigantic white hoody with his face covered, Sly? It could have been E.T. The crowd seemed to be in shock and seemed to go silent for a few seconds. He sat down at the keyboard center stage and seemed to mumble in the mic. No words were recognizable. He seemed to pound the keyboard a little bit. No recognizable harmony. The band seemed to quiet down and let the man do his work, but worried glances seemed to cross between band members. He seemed to be moving, but I couldn't hear what he was doing. The song was over. Sly stood up, clutched a microphone with both of his hands and started to walk around the stage like Frankenstein. I noticed he had a rhinestone neck brace on. He began to sing "If You Want Me To Stay". That was his voice! Then, feedback. He couldn't get through the song without his mic feeding back. Then, "I Wanna Take You Higher". More of the same. Strained voice, feedback, and confusion. He actually raised his hands for a bit and then walked off the stage. That was it for Sly. Maybe 15 minutes. People started walking away as the band continued to perform.
Sly does not seem to be in shape for a comeback. The man has been through a lot and I'm afraid he's done some damage to himself. I used to think that he didn't want to perform anymore. Now I'm worried he can't perform any more. Check out For the Record: A Oral History of Sly and the Family Stone
for some serious stories about Sly during his heyday. Lots of drugs, guns and even dogs. Maybe I'm expecting too much from the man,but how can you not be surprised when someone who has written so many outstanding songs all of sudden not be able to perform a 15 minute show? One thing is for sure, no matter what Sly's condition is, he has made some bad ass music. Today, I've tried to include a few lesser known tracks by Sly including some later work which I believe is still top notch. First is "Rock Dirge" from the album "Sly Stone Recorded in San Francisco: 1964-67" on the Sculpture label. I'm not exactly sure what the story is with this album, but I believe it's a collection of his early singles. What I love about "Rock Dirge" is that it's just organ and drums. Nothing else. Second is a track from one of Sly's last albums called "Back on the Right Track" recorded in 1979. You may recognize the track "Remember Who You Are" from a Tribe Called Quest sample. And finally our last track is a collaboration between Sly Stone and George Clinton from the album "The Electric Spanking of War Babies" from 1980. The track "Funk Gets Stronger (Killer Millimeter Longer Version)" credits Sly with production, rhythm guitar, keyboards, synthesizer, and drums. Cynthia Robinson and Pat Rizzo who both performed in San Jose and are members of the original Family Stone are also credited. So there you go. Listen to some Sly Stone.Rock Dirge by Sylvester Stewart from Sly Stone Recorded in San Francisco: 1964-67Remember Who You Are by Sly and the Family Stone from Back on the Right TrackFunk Gets Stronger (Killer Millimeter Longer Version) by Funkadelic from The Electric Spanking of War Babies