There was a brilliant piece in Mojo a few months back where a Dutch writer tracked down Sly Stone and managed to get him to ruminate on his life and music. Currently living between low-rent hotels and a minibus, Sly is crippled financially by the double whammy of huge medical bills and the ongoing saga of not receiving royalties from any of his Family Stone material. It seems that the Michael Jackson Estate holds all his copyright and since Jackson’s unexpected death Sly has been trying somewhat unsuccessfully to have his songs (and royalties) returned to him. All this won’t matter though, if the new album he has ready to go puts him back in the big time. Hmmmm.
Sly Stone 2009. Do not adjust your set.
Sly took a lot of drugs in the 70s. But you knew that already. He famously invited girls back to his studio, offering them the chance to sing on his records if they in return took care of his more immediate needs. Deed duly done, he would simply wipe their vocals from the session, ready to be replaced by the next naive hopeful the following day. Listen to There’s A Riot Goin’ On. Fantastically dark, druggy album, yeah? But a bit muddy sounding? That’s due to all the tape wiping that went on. By the time the record was finished the mastertape was almost unusable. I don’t know if he could get away with that today in the era of ProTools, but I’m sure if there’s a will there’s a way. He ain’t called Sly for nuthin’.
Classic Sly. Waiting for a backing singer.
You will all be familiar with Sly’s greatest hits ‘n bits of music. The focus for now is on those little-heard gems from his extraordinary back catalogue. One of his least-praised albums is 1974’s Small Talk. The last Sly album to feature the original Family Stone, it was released just after Sly married Kathleen Silva on the stage at Madison Square Garden. A mellower and downbeat affair (surprisingly given he’d just been wed), Small Talk relied heavily on pitter-pattering drum machines for the back beat. You won’t find anything approaching Dance To The Music-style hysterics on here, but you will find Time For Livin’. Have a listen to Time For Livin’ early version. Now go and compare it with The Charlatans‘ excellent wah wah and beat-heavy cover, taken from 1995’s charity ‘Help‘ compilation. I like the way Tim Burgess sings ‘fook‘. I had been unaware Sly swore on his version until hearing the cover and backtracking, ears ablaze and eyes a-popppin’. You probably know that the Beastie Boys do a thrash skate punk version on Check Your Head, but you’ll also know how far removed it is from Sly’s original that it’s almost impossible to count it as a cover version.
Although one or two band members appeared on it, Sly dropped the Family Stone moniker for his next outing, ’75’s High On You. None of its singles managed to crack the US Top 40, something Sly wasn’t used to at all. One of the better tracks is Crossword Puzzle. You might recognise the trumpet break from it. De La Soul sampled it to good effect on Say No Go. Here’s the harder-to-find Say No Go (Dope Mix). I’ve posted some stuff about De La Soul before, the records they sampled to make The Magic Number and suchlike. I don’t think the mp3 links will still work, but you can read about it if you’d like. Listen too to this, a trumpet-free take of Crossword Puzzle (early version). Demoed, sampled, looped and covered. That should be enough to keep you going for a few days.
Sly at Woodstock. That frantic, scratching sound you can hear in the background is the sound of Prince and Lenny Kravitz and (insert your own) scribbling down notes as they try to keep up with the master.