Sly and the Family Stone
With an assembly of seven he did what most world leaders are not able to do. Bring people together and commit to a democracy.
CAN’T STOP LISTENING TO SLY & the FAMILY STONE!!
I have no idea why out of thousands or more of the musicians that I have listened to, danced to, tried to emulate, spent tons of money buying their singles or albums, been inspired by, and loving every single musician, that I center on just one musician or band as my “go to” choice. The one that remains at the top for me and even when I tried to take a break from them, I couldn’t. That no matter how forward we go in time and how much new music comes out I still revert to an artist who did it 54 yrs ago.
A group that was so ahead of their time that they can never get old. A group that generates curiosity into their theory and songwriting and proper use of words. This is what Sly & the Family Stone mean to me. And I know a lot of you who know me are thinking, “Really? You? No kidding”🙄. But it’s not just what they mean to me but what they mean to music. Mr. Stewart didn’t really ask for the job of bandleader. It was suggested to him. But when he decided to move forward with it it was immediate. For what Sly & the Family Stone accomplished over time, someone else would’ve had to have a plan probably a couple years before an assembly like theirs. But not Sly. What Sly brought was his personal beliefs and his upbringing. That’s not a plan. That’s innate. Some would say, “that’s God.”
By the time 1966 had rolled around, the year they got together, the U.S was a modern version of its old self but with very old practices. One major sector of society openly showed their disdain for a minor percentage of that society. A President had been assassinated, four young girls were killed in a deliberate bombing, Medgar Evers was killed, lynchings were still happening, riots were happening, women were getting less pay and being harassed but couldn’t complain, interracial couples were frowned upon, long hair could get you beaten up by the police, and on & on. It was enough to make any peaceful person lose their “fecal matter.” But one musician seemed to be unaffected by all of this, enough to keep his core beliefs at the forefront. That’s not to say that he didn’t care or was ignorant to what was going on. Eventually we would discover that everything that he flashed on everyday would be reflected in what he would say. He would be an evolved songwriter. Even though the Civil Rights Bill had been passed in 1965, thanks to the “long hard road” painful efforts of Dr. King, it didn’t mean that the U.S had changed overnight. But things were changing.
A lot of White kids, enough to generalize, were speaking out more and dropping out of and away from the lies that they were fed during the early sixties, fifties, all the way back. They were questioning the authorities who told them and their mothers to shut up and accept everything that was happening to them. “We’ll take care of everything!” Across the racial divide tons of Black kids, again, enough to generalize were speaking out about the all round injustices that had been happening to them, forever. They were tired of the U.S and wanted to live in America that by definition and ideal was about truth. As far as they were concerned the U.S was a big lie and the biggest crime scene in the world with unsolved cases that were prematurely closed. Brothers & sisters were done with it. It is quite coincidental that as Blacks & Whites started merging for better or worse and that the Hippie vibe along with its rainbow of colors and music that reflected those colors, that television changed officially from black & white TV to color TV. It was either reflecting or predicting the times.
Television would slowly indoctrinate the mindless with the subliminal suggestion of accepting colors. The color in television took away the drama and limited look of black & white televised broadcasting that may have been easy on the eyes but revealed a tremendous amount of detail so that when people witnessed the footages of the Vietnam war happening at the time, you really saw the reality and detail of trauma. Still, color anywhere is beautiful. So, in 1966 Sly calls people together to form a band. He did in that year what would have been hard for so many others. He just picked people.
If Sly had a discriminatory bone in his body he would have had a group, but not a legendary one, or a first. Due to his beliefs and his upbringing, and his relationship with the church early in his life, he chose his brother, his sister, two white guys, a FEMALE horn player, and a guy who played unusual bass. Someone who does that is not concerned with what is fashionable or what the popular opinion may be. He marched to his own beat. He had to believe that as one man with an unpopular vision he was going to go against the grain. I submit that this was not a thought or plan but a belief. Now, what is even more fascinating is that there were six other people who believed as he did and stayed together playing music for the next five or six years. That’s what we call a glimmer of hope. Sly also took his natural sense of freedom and passed it around to the other members. He gave them a blueprint that was cohesive and told them to make it their own. Even then, it was still cohesive and produced untapped talent, allowing the songs to grow even more. This is what happens when you have faith in people. You give them a chance to excel towards excellence. He let them be themselves. The U.S could learn a lot from Sly. In a time when the music business was experiencing for the first time a new kind of commercialism, Sly didn’t take the road mostly traveled and trampled. Sly wanted to capture what his eyes saw.
He believed that everybody should be happy and have a good time. So, he wrote jubilant music that made you move. Sly just seemed to know what made society move. But he was not a politician with power, he was a musician who empowered. He was a healer of people even if they were in good health. Sly’s lyrics at the time prove that he was a constant thinker, that behind his smile and laughter he was continuously concerned about the world around him. He didn’t just write songs to make money off of us. He wrote songs that contributed to our personal growth. That contribution was selfless. His vision of unity was for the world.
With that sincere endeavor it is no mistake why I can never turn his music off. When I listen to Sly and the Family Stone I hear and envision or imagine a stage play where everyone has a voice and a character. With the music of the original seven,
- I can & would look forward to hearing Freddie’s voice.
- Then I would look forward to Larry’s voice,
- Then I would look forward to Rose’s voice.
- Then I would look forward to Cynthia & Jerry’s horns.
- Then I would look forward to Greg’s drumming or drum solo.
- And ,.. I would look forward to Sly’s voice and the voices he created.
All of this captured sometimes in a song lasting only two minutes and thirty-nine seconds. That is a really generous thing to do throughout five full albums. If there’s a central ego in the music somewhere, I certainly cannot detect it. Obviously, I was not in the room at any time with the Family Stone so I am making a whole bunch of personal assessments. But the answer and the history of their inner relationship lies within the music. That’s where the clues are.
Sly took random notes out of the air and had the genius to sculpt it in a way that touched the souls of the people. And only people with similar souls can help build a journey such as theirs. Each soul has to form a full circle without any breaks. The minute that soul circle became undone it was the end of that special experience. Those souls are unique and though they could be replaced, they could not be duplicated. Remember, your soul is very much like the path you’ve walked. No one in the world has walked the exact same path you’ve walked since your birth till your death. If you’re wondering why there has never been a Sly Stone before or after, it’s because of the path.
When I listen to Sly & the Family Stone I learn something new all the time. Often, I don’t know what I’ve learned but it somehow shows up in my actions and my treatment of people. I always want to do the right thing when I listen to the Family Stone. The feeling of togetherness is right there in the title: Family. If you pay attention to the ills that got a hold of Sly you are going to fail to see his light. To me, he is the Dr. King of music.
I admire Sly’s honesty that was at his core. The honesty that still lives within him to this day. He knew that recording another “Stand” like album would be successful but that it would just be another album of the same ilk. His honesty kept him from the money and threw him deeper into the art. It was a sacrifice that made him risk everything to snitch on the decline of ’69 through to ’71 in an album that reflected what he had internalized from the outside and produced an “Ulcer Funk” that we all still feel to this day. Maybe he was hoping that the Riot album would fail and he could get away from all the disenchantment & disillusionment. Perhaps return to radio and cure and heal relationships with family and friends. But instead his truthful ways produced a masterpiece and kept him in the game. How lucky for us but probably not for him. We should be thankful that his euphoric to depressive span had a chance to come out when it did because now we’re all stuck with it. All of it. No matter how you or I feel, the soared sum of Sly Stone outweighs his slump. With all of the ridiculous riotous happenings going on, Sly and the Family’s Stone’s music truly gives me peace. But you have to focus on the man, the child of God, the innocent soul who practiced what he was born to preach. With an assembly of seven he did what most world leaders are not able to do. Bring people together and commit to a democracy. So, in a round about way, that’s probably why I can’t get that music out of my head or get away from it. For all the reasons above, I don’t ever want to. I’m trapped.
– Deacon DIGG
Profile: Vet Stone – Little Sister – A Compelling Person (A Compelling Book, A Compelling Song)
“It’s NOT Your Neighborhood…YOU’RE THE ONE”
Vet Stone is Sly Stone’s “Little Sister.”
She appeared at Woodstock as a member of Sly & the Family Stone. She had a monster hit record back in 1970, called “You’re the One,” that I was a huge fan of, and would also prove to be quite inspirational for many others as well.
She has been engaged in a journey over the past 10 years to “bend the curve of music history.” But more importantly to restore a sense of sanity to her own family.
I have known Vet Stone for about 20 years, and no doubt she has been one of my inspirations, as I have gone about building this thing called “Soul-Patrol.com.”
However she’s been an inspiration to me for much longer than that.
Of course Vet has a new book out that I would encourage everyone here to read, that has even the slightest bit of interest in the subjects of music/history/culture. You can find out more about the book at the following link is you are interested: www.vetstone.com
Her book is of course about her history as a member of Sly & the Family Stone. But more importantly it is a story about her journey over the past 10 years or so to “bend the curve of music history,” and to restore a sense of sanity to her family.
Back in 1970, I was 13 years old…
Of course like most teenagers I was into music and of course I was most interested in Sly & the Family Stone. They were without a doubt my favorite artist at the time. Just a few years earlier, I had made my very first purchase of a 45 record and it was “Everyday People,” by Sly & the Family Stone. Of course I had liked the song and it’s message of humanity, just like everyone else did. But honestly the reason why I was quite willing to plunk down my $0.59 cents for the piece of vinyl inside of the paper sleeve wasn’t because of “Everyday People.” It was for the slammin FUNK track on the other side called “Sing a Simple Song,” on the so called “b side.”
“Sing a Simple Song” was absolutely COMPELLING to my then 11 year old mind. And of course when I got it home, I took it out of the bag, removed the sleeve, removed the cherished 45 rpm record from the sleeve and placed it on the turntable of my father’s stereo system, using the 45 spindle and plugged in the headphones. That’s because I knew that the ONLY proper way to listen to “Sing a Simple Song” was at the highest volume level possible.
And of course I was totally and completely satisfied.
Lyrically the high point of the song is Rose Stone chanting the immortal
line: “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Then Sly saying: “all I have to hold on to is s simple song at last..”
And then the group responding with: “ya, ya, ya, ya, ya”
Lyrically, that was about as deep as things got 🙂
But to my then 11 year old mind, that didn’t matter. I had no idea what the song was supposed to be about then and even today I’m still not sure.
But what I am absolutely certain of is that the instruments absolutely blew my mind. The lyrics don’t really even matter. The voices of the members of Sly & the Family Stone so perfectly blended with the STANK FUNK of the instruments I didn’t care what they might be trying to say. I did however listen to that 45 rpm recording over and over again, as often as I could. In fact I just listened to “Sing a Simple Song” again a few moments ago. It’s probably the 10,000th time in my life that I have listened to “Sing a Simple Song.”
(& IT IS JUST AS COMPELLING TODAY)
“Sing a Simple Song” also appears on the 1969 album from Sly & the Family Stone called “STAND.” Needless to say, I brought that album as soon as I could and wore it out as well.
Fast forward to 1970 and I just like the rest of the world were wondering when Sly & the Family Stone was ever going to release another album.
One Saturday afternoon I find myself listening to my transistor radio, tuned of course to my very favorite radio station WWRL 1600 on the AM dial in New York City…
I heard a sexy female voice, half talking/half whispering…. “i’m the one, you’re the one, i’m the one, you’re the one, i’m the one, you’re the one, i’m the one, you’re the one…”
Then there are a bunch of cool lyrics, sounds like a female gospel group almost that I can’t quite make out, but they sound cool…
“Im the one who wants to be ahead
I stand in line and I’m behind instead
What is happenin, let me look around
Not a thing tryin to hold me down
Now I know I got to look at me
Some things a little hard to see”
AND THEN COMES THA BOMB…
“Some ultra phunky bass, guitar & horn riffs” (a la “Sing a Simple Song”)
And my 13 year old azz is like…..”dat’s Sly & the Family Stone.”
The ultra phunky bass, guitar & horn riffs continue, but are then assisted by the “female gospel singers,” and then I hear…
“It ain’t your neighborhood
YOU’RE THE ONE
Your mamma can’t make you good
YOU’RE THE ONE
Can’t blame no argument
YOU’RE THE ONE
Don’t you know how to take a hint
YOU’RE THE ONE
But your pity can make you numb
YOU’RE THE ONE”
These lyrics are delivered by the “female gospel singers,” in rapid fire, kinda like what we might call female rappers today, but back then it sounded more like the kind of stuff that Black girls used to say while they were jumping rope. It was their version of the dozens. It also kinds sounded the way that Black women sometimes sound when they are angry with Black men, usually delivered with their hands firmly planted on their hips.
Despite the rapid fire delivery, there was absolutely no question or confusion what this song was all about.
It was an angry song. But although it was angry, it also contained a solution to the problem. And it was a simple solution…
YOU’RE THE ONE
What a compelling challenge to have thrust in one’s face!!! It’s all about taking personal accountability for whatever your situation might be!!! (I am down with that)
One of the things that we love to do is to blame someone else for our problems. We love to point the finger; In fact we love to point the finger so much that it becomes a convenient excuse to do absolutely nothing. And of course doing nothing simply leads to a victory for the “status quo.”
I say all of this to say that back in 1970, the song “You’re the One” – Little Sister was quite inspirational to a certain 13 year old young man in NY.
I mean…..it was as if they finally found some meaningful words for “Sing a Simple Song.”
YOU’RE THE ONE
It contained much the same message as the James Brown song “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nuthin, Open Up The Door and I’ll Get It Myself.”
I went over to my local record store and picked up on “You’re the One” – Little Sister, brought it back home and blasted it thru the headphones of my father’s stereo system, because just like “Sing a Simple Song,” “You’re the One” deserved to be heard as loud as possible and as often as possible.
In fact I just listened to “You’re the One” – Little Sister again a few moments ago. It is just compelling and fresh today, as it was back in 1970.
In some ways I think that given the current climate in the United States and around the world, it might just do a whole lot of us a heck of a lot of good to go back and listen to the song. Its message is just as relevant today as it was on the very first day that the song was released over 40 years ago.
Today we can clearly see the philosophy embodied in “You’re the One” worldwide movements such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and more, where people are taking personal accountability quite seriously and making change into a reality.
Fast forward to the early 2000’s…
I get to finally meet Vet Stone.
First via email.
Then via telephone.
Finally in person.
I even got to do a 1 hour long interview with Vet Stone a few years ago.
She is a compelling artist.
And she is a compelling individual.
She’s your best friend.
And she’s also your enemy’s worst nightmare.
I wanted to meet her simply because she was trying to “bend the curve of music history.”
But I grew to like her as a person because she wanted to restore a sense of sanity to her own family. Her attempt to do both of those two things at the same time is an incredible story. It is proof positive once again, that a single person can make a difference. And her story contains a lesson for us all.
I can tell you for a fact that Vet Stone is a person who “talks the talk and walks the walk.” And as such she has been an inspiration to me personally. SHE’S THE ONE
As you learn more about her, you may find yourself also to be inspired by her story about something that we thought we know all about, but in the final analysis we will learn just how little we do know.
Of course I have been privileged to be an observer to that story, in an up close and personal way that I could have never imagined possible back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when I was saving my pennies to by 45 rpm records of Sly & the Family Stone. I have even written about some of those observations here on the internet for the past 10 years.
One of the most frequent questions that I have gotten in my years on the internet has been: “Whatever happened to Sly & the Family Stone?”
The person I know who is best qualified to answer that question isn’t me. It is Vet Stone. And if you want to get as close to the truth as possible. I would suggest that you pay a visit to the following website: www.vetstone.com