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|Also Known As:||Sylvester Stewart||Died:|
|Born:||March 15, 1943||Cause of Death:|
|Birth Place:||Dallas, Texas, USA||Profession:|
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A key figure in the development of soul, funk and R&B, Sly Stone was a brilliant if erratic singer and songwriter who galvanized 1960s-era audiences with his integrated band, the Family Stone, and such uplifting and politically charged songs as "I Want to Take You Higher," "Everyday People," "Stand" and "Thank You Fallettinme Be Mice Elf Agin." Stone's music brought together rock, gospel, soul and the psychedelic sounds of the period in material that made listeners dance and think; in doing so, he helped to elevate the conscience of popular music, both black and white, and laid the groundwork for such legendary rock-funk groups as Parliament-Funkadelic, the "psychedelic soul" of 1970s-era Motown, and the socially conscious hip-hop of the early 1990s, which drew heavily from his catalog for sonic sampling. Unfortunately, Stone's personal demons were stronger than his creative urges, and years of drug addiction and missed performances destroyed the Family Stone, sending his career into a tailspin from which he never recovered. But for a half-decade in the late '60s, Stone was one of the most important figures in music, and his incredible legacy of songs continued to inspire musicians for decades.Born...
A key figure in the development of soul, funk and R&B, Sly Stone was a brilliant if erratic singer and songwriter who galvanized 1960s-era audiences with his integrated band, the Family Stone, and such uplifting and politically charged songs as "I Want to Take You Higher," "Everyday People," "Stand" and "Thank You Fallettinme Be Mice Elf Agin." Stone's music brought together rock, gospel, soul and the psychedelic sounds of the period in material that made listeners dance and think; in doing so, he helped to elevate the conscience of popular music, both black and white, and laid the groundwork for such legendary rock-funk groups as Parliament-Funkadelic, the "psychedelic soul" of 1970s-era Motown, and the socially conscious hip-hop of the early 1990s, which drew heavily from his catalog for sonic sampling. Unfortunately, Stone's personal demons were stronger than his creative urges, and years of drug addiction and missed performances destroyed the Family Stone, sending his career into a tailspin from which he never recovered. But for a half-decade in the late '60s, Stone was one of the most important figures in music, and his incredible legacy of songs continued to inspire musicians for decades.
Born Sylvester Stewart on March 15, 1943 in Denton, TX, Sly Stone was the second of five children born to K.C. and Alpha Stewart, who moved the family to Vallejo in Northern California shortly after his birth. The Stewarts were a deeply religious family who raised their children under the tenets of the Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal denomination. As a child, Stone showed a prodigy-like aptitude for musical instruments, and recorded his first single, a 1952 gospel single titled "On the Battlefield of the Lord/Walking in Jesus' Name," as part of the Stewart Four, which also featured his brother Freddie and sisters Rose and Vaetta. In high school, Stewart played with a number of teenaged bands, most notably a doo-wop group called the Viscaynes, whose integrated lineup would later inform the groundbreaking multiculturalism of Sly and the Family Stone. Stewart would release several singles, both with the Viscaynes and as a solo act, under the name of Danny Stewart.
In 1964, he adopted the "Sly Stone" moniker for the first time as a DJ at KSOL-AM, a Bay area soul music station. There, he again showed a penchant for integrating black and white music by spinning songs by the Rolling Stones and the Beatles alongside established R&B acts. His status as a musical tastemaker led to a stint as an in-house producer for Autumn Records, where he oversaw the No. 5 pop hit "C'mon and Swim" for Bobby Freeman, as well as early releases by rock acts like the Beau Brummels and Mojo Men. In 1966, both Stone and his brother Freddie formed bands. Sly's group, the Stoners, included trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, while Freddie counted Greg Errico on drums and saxophonist Ronnie Crawford in his band, Freddie and the Stone Souls. The brothers eventually combined their groups into Sly and the Family Stone, which soon added Larry Graham on bass and Jerry Martini on trumpet. Stone also recruited his younger sister, Vaetta, and her gospel group, the Heavenly Tones, to serve as the band's background vocalists, known as Little Sister. She was later joined by another sister, Rose, who also provided keyboards along with Stone.
The group's multiracial players and blend of soul, gospel, psychedelia and R&B made an impact at Bay Area clubs, and they were soon signed to Epic Records. However, their debut, 1967's A Whole New Thing, failed to generate sales, despite considerable praise from the likes of Mose Allison and Tony Bennett. At the insistence of label chief Clive Davis, Stone penned a pop-friendly song, "Dance to the Music." Though Stone and the band disliked its simplistic soul rhythm, the single raced to No. 8 on the pop charts thanks to its relentless groove and unique arrangement, which featured four lead singers and elements of a cappella and rock-n-roll. The band's integrated lineup also found favor with the growing counterculture movement, which boosted sales of the song's eponymous album as well. Its follow-up, 1969's Life, saw only modest commercial gains, but by the following year, Sly and the Family Stone was among the most popular and influential bands in the world.
Key to their ascent was their 1969 single, "Everyday People/Sing a Simple Song," which topped both the pop and R&B charts. Its combination of infectious rhythms and lyrical message of universal harmony established Stone as a musician with both artistic and political integrity. The band continued to mine social and racial issues in subsequent singles from their album, Stand! including "You Can Make It If You Try," "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" and the ebullient "I Want To Take You Higher." The band achieved pop culture immortality with their powerhouse performance of the latter song at the Woodstock Music Festival, which was capture on film in the 1969 documentary, "Woodstock." By the end of the decade, R&B and soul music had turned away from James Brown and was following the Family Stone's lead, with established acts like the Temptations and the Isley Brothers adopting the band's fuzztone guitar and slapped bass lines.
Stone launched the 1970s with one of his most extraordinary singles, "Thank You Fallettinme Be Mice Elf Again," a streetwise epic that saw the future of funk, disco and hip-hop in its stuttering guitar lines and Graham's prowling bass. It reached the top of the Billboard 100, but sadly, marked the beginning of the band's decline. Drug use was rampant among the band members, igniting personal conflicts that resulted in the departure of key members like Graham and Greg Errico. Stone himself was exhibiting irrational mood swings due to round the clock substance abuse, causing him to frequently miss recording sessions and live performances. On more than on occasion, he would walk out of a concert before even completing a set. In the midst of the swirling turmoil, Stone was able to quell the label's growing anxiety by releasing a new album, 1971's There's a Riot Goin' On. The album shot to the top of the Pop and Soul charts, but there was no denying that a sea change had occurred with Stone. The playful, positive songs of the past were gone; replaced with darker, more downbeat material like "Family Affair" and "Runnin' Away." Stone had recorded most of the album alone in a studio that included a bed where he could lay down and perform his vocal parts in a semi-lucid state. Other band members recorded their material alone, and Errico was replaced entirely by a drum machine. It would be Stone's final great album; its follow-ups, Fresh (1973) and Small Talk (1974) received mixed reviews, and a cover of "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" on Fresh seemed to indicate the band's mental state and future plans.
By 1975, Sly and the Family Stone was a shadow of its former self. What once had been one of the most formidable live acts in the business was now a liability due to missed performances or shows in which Stone or another band member would depart mid-set or pass out due to exhaustion or drug issues. A disastrous 1975 gig at Radio City Music Hall proved to be their swan song; ticket sales were so poor that Stone had to borrow money to return home. The remaining members went their separate ways, finding success on their own or in an entirely different field, as in the case of Freddie Stone, who became an evangelical pastor. As for Stone, he embarked on a solo career that found few listeners. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Stone would occasionally surface to record a track or give a live performance that would show a spark of his old genius and, in turn, give rise to rumors of a comeback. There were collaborations with George Clinton and Funkadelic, as well as one-off singles and songs for soundtracks, but time and again, Stone would undo any good will towards these projects by failing to show up for performances or behaving irrationally on stage or in the studio.
Stone would continue to dodge his own legacy well into the 21st century; he appeared with his old bandmates at the Family Stone's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, but skipped out on a recording session featuring all six original members. In 2006, he was barely present at a live tribute to Sly and the Family Stone at the Grammy Awards, and departed the stage in mid-set, leaving an all-star lineup that included Steven Tyler and John Legend to complete the set. Reunion and comeback shows in 2007 and 2008 followed suit. In 2011, Dutch filmmaker Willem Alkema, who was working on a documentary about Stone, announced in a New York Post feature that the music legend was penniless and reduced to living in a camper in Los Angeles. The article further alleged that former manager Jerry Goldstein had cut off Stone's royalty payments, which had prompted a 2010 lawsuit for $50 million. However, subsequent investigations into the claim showed that Stone was living in the camper by choice. That same year, Stone released I'm Back! Family and Friends, which featured re-recorded versions of classic tracks with guests like Jeff Beck and Bootsy Collins.
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