Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

Welcome to B&S

BRINGING YOU THE STORIES BEHIND MUSIC + ESSENTIAL NEWS, REVIEWS AND INTERVIEWS...

Feature

The Family Stone: Not Your Everyday People

The Family Stone @bluesandsoul.com
The Family Stone @bluesandsoul.com The Family Stone @bluesandsoul.com

Continuing the legacy of late-Sixties/early-Seventies seminal funk/rock outfit Sly & The Family Stone, three of the bandâs original founding-members - saxophonist Jerry Martini; trumpeter Cynthia Robinson; and drummer Greg Errico - return to the UK this summer to perform at Londonâs legendary Ronnie Scottâs as part of the groupâs current incarnation The Family Stone, whose line-up for the British shows also includes bassist/musical director Blaise Sison and guitarist Nate Wingfield.

Originally formed in San Francisco, California in December 1966, Sly & The Family Stoneâs initial line-up (in addition to the aforementioned Martini, Robinson and Errico) also comprised then-local radio disc-jockey Sly Stone; his brother Freddie Stone (guitar); and Larry Graham (bass).

Indeed, headed by Afro-sporting singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist Sly (real name Sylvester Stewart), said collective - after signing with Epic Records in 1967 - would go on to attain their first international breakthrough in the summer of 1968 with the uptempo transatlantic Top Ten single âDance To The Musicâ. Following which their then-groundbreaking blend of funk and soul with psychedelic rock and pop would prove hugely influential across the entire music industry over the ensuing two years via such classic US hits as the chart-topping âEveryday Peopleâ, âStand!â, âHot Fun In The Summertimeâ and the anthemic âI Want To Take You Higherâ. The success of which - alongside the groupâs seminal albums âDance To The Musicâ (1968); âLifeâ (1968); and the three-million-selling âStand!â (1969) - also prestigiously ensured the band (whose line-up by now also boasted the vocal/keyboard talents of Slyâs sister Rose Stone) a landmark performance slot at August 1969âs now-legendary Woodstock Music And Arts Festival.

Meanwhile, in addition to Sly & The Family Stoneâs musical influence proving hugely significant on prominent black musicians of the day like Motown in-house producer Norman Whitfield (and his main act The Temptations), The Isley Brothers and George Clintonâs Parliament/Funkadelic, as the first major American rock band to incorporate a racially-integrated and multi-gender line-up the group also played a significant role in breaking down the racial, cultural and social barriers of the day. An aspect of their success which was unquestionably enhanced by their song lyrics often representing pleas for peace, love and understanding while simultaneously denouncing racism, discrimination and self-hate.

Nevertheless, while February 1970 saw Sly & The Family Stone score one of their biggest American hits with the chart-topping, enduring funk anthem âThank You (Fallentinme Be Mice Elf Agin)â, the early-Seventies sadly also saw the band beginning to prematurely fall apart due to much-publicised problems with drug abuse and internal ego clashes. Which in turn - despite the group in November 1971 delivering their monumental US Number One album âThereâs A Riot Goinâ Onâ and its equally-successful offshoot single âFamily Affairâ - would eventually lead to an inevitable decline in the bandâs fortunes, ultimately resulting in its dissolution in 1975. After which Sly himself continued to record albums and tour with a new, rotating line-up under the âSly & The Family Stoneâ banner until 1983, before finally going into effective retirement after being arrested and sentenced in 1987 for cocaine use.

Nevertheless, the unprecedented impact the group made across-the-board - both musically and socially - during their relatively short period of chart-topping success has without question endured to this day, with their raw funk grooves having proven particularly influential on todayâs hip hop generation. Meanwhile, prestigious awards over the years have included being inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993 and receiving The R&B Foundation Pioneer Award in 2001 - while two of their best-known songs (âDance To The Musicâ and âThank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)â) are impressively listed in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fameâs â500 Songs That Shaped Rock And Rollâ.

⦠Cue aforementioned Sly & The Family Stone founding-member and original drummer Greg Errico on the line to âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a brief, yet revealing and insightful interview.

How Greg feels the groupâs breaking-down of racial barriers became a significant factor in their success and their impact as a recording act

âBasically our message was that it CAN WORK - that we all WANT to be together, and that we all HAVE to be together, on this PLANET. You know, we were a group of people from different racial backgrounds who were showing that we can do things together, and that we can make a valuable statement and change the world WITH it. Which was something that - by bringing more attention to the issues of the day and making people address them - in turn had an impact on the SUCCESS we were having. You know, the whole relevance of Sly & The Family Stone started gaining momentum because people were now starting to look more closely at the group and saying âWell, what is it that that youâre DOING? What do you REPRESENT?â⦠And then from that, as time went on Slyâs writing became more powerful, more relevant - to where the records we made and the songs he wrote back then still have meaning TODAY. Because not only did he feel the need to tackle important subjects of the day, but with the group he had the perfect vehicle to make the connection between ADDRESSING these subjects and making them become RELEVANT through music that was positive and uplifting and that was basically saying âThis can be done, this can be dealt with, we should be conscious of this and make those CHANGESâ.â

The gradual, if much-publicised, demise of Sly & The Family Stone in the early-Seventies

âWell, I guess a combination of the pressures of having quick success, the demands of travelling, and of course the CHEMICALS all played a big part in the group not being able to deal with what was at hand and to continue on successfully. You how, though at the beginning it had been all about the music, somewhere along the way things changed to where it became more about the DRUGS. Which was really sad, and I guess is a scenario that still plays itself out to this DAY.â

Gregâs reasons for becoming, in early 1971, the first of the original group-members to leave

âWell, the fact is things had become pretty BAD. You know, there was a lot of not showing-up at concerts, which in turn created a lot of bad situations where a few people actually ended up getting physically HURT. Because people would be spending their hard-earned dollars to buy a ticket and be all up for this magical experience of enjoying the music and having a good time - and then theyâd end up sitting there for two or three hours where the band would either come on late or not show up at ALL. Which was the antithesis of what the group had originally been ABOUT! You know, at first it had been all about gathering and celebrating lives and seeing all these elements come together in a positive WAY. And so to go from that to where there were all these bad feelings, with people feeling shattered and walking away with nothing⦠You know, it doesnât take too much explanation to see why Iâd leave that situation.â

Gregâs relationship with Sly Stone today

âThe last time I got involved with Sly professionally was a few years ago, when he was hired to do a comeback show with us at The Coachella Music Festival - a big three-day festival in Southern California - which we hoped was going to precede a worldwide Sly & The Family Stone comeback TOUR. You know, Iâd got a few calls from agents telling me Sly was READY to do it and that he WANTED to do it⦠And, after I was convinced that was the case, I of course got EXCITED about it. So Larry (Graham) got involved, Cynthia (Robinson) got involved - and we all went down to LA to REHEARSE for a week. But then it ended up that Sly himself only showed up once or twice for rehearsals. Which in itself wasnât THAT big a deal - we could still pull it off. But then at the end of the day, when the concert came round, he was just not THERE for it! They had to pry him out of a hotel, he was three hours late - and then, when he finally DID get onstage, he literally had a BREAKDOWN!... So yeah, it was all pretty disappointing and sad. And though I of course wish things would have gone the other WAY, unfortunately it is what it WAS. So aside of the fact that I do still see Sly and talk to him maybe a couple of times a year, thereâs not really anything good to SAY. I mean, it hurts me to see it happen like this and I wish I could say more positive things. But as I say, it is what it IS - and so these days Iâm basically just trying to focus on us as The Family STONE. Because the planets do seem to be lining UP for us right now. We are getting a lot of attention, and I do genuinely feel that there is a lot of potential for us to be celebrating this music once more and performing it live again all over the WORLD.â

The Family Stone perform at Ronnie Scottâs, London on July 17 and 18
Words: PETE LEWIS

THE FAMILY STONE BY PETE LEWIS

Pete Lewis interviews Sly & The Family Stone founding-member and original drummer Greg Errico, as he prepares to visit the UK as part of the bandâs current incarnation The Family Stone

Continuing the legacy of late-Sixties/early-Seventies seminal funk/rock outfit Sly & The Family Stone, three of the bandâs original founding-members - saxophonist Jerry Martini; trumpeter Cynthia Robinson; and drummer Greg Errico - return to the UK this summer to perform at Londonâs legendary Ronnie Scottâs as part of the groupâs current incarnation The Family Stone, whose line-up for the British shows also includes bassist/musical director Blaise Sison and guitarist Nate Wingfield.

Originally formed in San Francisco, California in December 1966, Sly & The Family Stoneâs initial line-up (in addition to the aforementioned Martini, Robinson and Errico) also comprised then-local radio disc-jockey Sly Stone; his brother Freddie Stone (guitar); and Larry Graham (bass).

Indeed, headed by Afro-sporting singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist Sly (real name Sylvester Stewart), said collective - after signing with Epic Records in 1967 - would go on to attain their first international breakthrough in the summer of 1968 with the uptempo transatlantic Top Ten single âDance To The Musicâ. Following which their then-groundbreaking blend of funk and soul with psychedelic rock and pop would prove hugely influential across the entire music industry over the ensuing two years via such classic US hits as the chart-topping âEveryday Peopleâ, âStand!â, âHot Fun In The Summertimeâ and the anthemic âI Want To Take You Higherâ. The success of which - alongside the groupâs seminal albums âDance To The Musicâ (1968); âLifeâ (1968); and the three-million-selling âStand!â (1969) - also prestigiously ensured the band (whose line-up by now also boasted the vocal/keyboard talents of Slyâs sister Rose Stone) a landmark performance slot at August 1969âs now-legendary Woodstock Music And Arts Festival.

Meanwhile, in addition to Sly & The Family Stoneâs musical influence proving hugely significant on prominent black musicians of the day like Motown in-house producer Norman Whitfield (and his main act The Temptations), The Isley Brothers and George Clintonâs Parliament/Funkadelic, as the first major American rock band to incorporate a racially-integrated and multi-gender line-up the group also played a significant role in breaking down the racial, cultural and social barriers of the day. An aspect of their success which was unquestionably enhanced by their song lyrics often representing pleas for peace, love and understanding while simultaneously denouncing racism, discrimination and self-hate.

Nevertheless, while February 1970 saw Sly & The Family Stone score one of their biggest American hits with the chart-topping, enduring funk anthem âThank You (Fallentinme Be Mice Elf Agin)â, the early-Seventies sadly also saw the band beginning to prematurely fall apart due to much-publicised problems with drug abuse and internal ego clashes. Which in turn - despite the group in November 1971 delivering their monumental US Number One album âThereâs A Riot Goinâ Onâ and its equally-successful offshoot single âFamily Affairâ - would eventually lead to an inevitable decline in the bandâs fortunes, ultimately resulting in its dissolution in 1975. After which Sly himself continued to record albums and tour with a new, rotating line-up under the âSly & The Family Stoneâ banner until 1983, before finally going into effective retirement after being arrested and sentenced in 1987 for cocaine use.

Nevertheless, the unprecedented impact the group made across-the-board - both musically and socially - during their relatively short period of chart-topping success has without question endured to this day, with their raw funk grooves having proven particularly influential on todayâs hip hop generation. Meanwhile, prestigious awards over the years have included being inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993 and receiving The R&B Foundation Pioneer Award in 2001 - while two of their best-known songs (âDance To The Musicâ and âThank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)â) are impressively listed in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fameâs â500 Songs That Shaped Rock And Rollâ.

⦠Cue aforementioned Sly & The Family Stone founding-member and original drummer Greg Errico on the line to âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a brief, yet revealing and insightful interview.

How Greg feels the groupâs breaking-down of racial barriers became a significant factor in their success and their impact as a recording act

âBasically our message was that it CAN WORK - that we all WANT to be together, and that we all HAVE to be together, on this PLANET. You know, we were a group of people from different racial backgrounds who were showing that we can do things together, and that we can make a valuable statement and change the world WITH it. Which was something that - by bringing more attention to the issues of the day and making people address them - in turn had an impact on the SUCCESS we were having. You know, the whole relevance of Sly & The Family Stone started gaining momentum because people were now starting to look more closely at the group and saying âWell, what is it that that youâre DOING? What do you REPRESENT?â⦠And then from that, as time went on Slyâs writing became more powerful, more relevant - to where the records we made and the songs he wrote back then still have meaning TODAY. Because not only did he feel the need to tackle important subjects of the day, but with the group he had the perfect vehicle to make the connection between ADDRESSING these subjects and making them become RELEVANT through music that was positive and uplifting and that was basically saying âThis can be done, this can be dealt with, we should be conscious of this and make those CHANGESâ.â

The gradual, if much-publicised, demise of Sly & The Family Stone in the early-Seventies

âWell, I guess a combination of the pressures of having quick success, the demands of travelling, and of course the CHEMICALS all played a big part in the group not being able to deal with what was at hand and to continue on successfully. You how, though at the beginning it had been all about the music, somewhere along the way things changed to where it became more about the DRUGS. Which was really sad, and I guess is a scenario that still plays itself out to this DAY.â

Gregâs reasons for becoming, in early 1971, the first of the original group-members to leave

âWell, the fact is things had become pretty BAD. You know, there was a lot of not showing-up at concerts, which in turn created a lot of bad situations where a few people actually ended up getting physically HURT. Because people would be spending their hard-earned dollars to buy a ticket and be all up for this magical experience of enjoying the music and having a good time - and then theyâd end up sitting there for two or three hours where the band would either come on late or not show up at ALL. Which was the antithesis of what the group had originally been ABOUT! You know, at first it had been all about gathering and celebrating lives and seeing all these elements come together in a positive WAY. And so to go from that to where there were all these bad feelings, with people feeling shattered and walking away with nothing⦠You know, it doesnât take too much explanation to see why Iâd leave that situation.â

Gregâs relationship with Sly Stone today

âThe last time I got involved with Sly professionally was a few years ago, when he was hired to do a comeback show with us at The Coachella Music Festival - a big three-day festival in Southern California - which we hoped was going to precede a worldwide Sly & The Family Stone comeback TOUR. You know, Iâd got a few calls from agents telling me Sly was READY to do it and that he WANTED to do it⦠And, after I was convinced that was the case, I of course got EXCITED about it. So Larry (Graham) got involved, Cynthia (Robinson) got involved - and we all went down to LA to REHEARSE for a week. But then it ended up that Sly himself only showed up once or twice for rehearsals. Which in itself wasnât THAT big a deal - we could still pull it off. But then at the end of the day, when the concert came round, he was just not THERE for it! They had to pry him out of a hotel, he was three hours late - and then, when he finally DID get onstage, he literally had a BREAKDOWN!... So yeah, it was all pretty disappointing and sad. And though I of course wish things would have gone the other WAY, unfortunately it is what it WAS. So aside of the fact that I do still see Sly and talk to him maybe a couple of times a year, thereâs not really anything good to SAY. I mean, it hurts me to see it happen like this and I wish I could say more positive things. But as I say, it is what it IS - and so these days Iâm basically just trying to focus on us as The Family STONE. Because the planets do seem to be lining UP for us right now. We are getting a lot of attention, and I do genuinely feel that there is a lot of potential for us to be celebrating this music once more and performing it live again all over the WORLD.â

The Family Stone perform at Ronnie Scottâs, London on July 17 and 18
Words PETE LEWIS

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

Join the B&S Mailing List

Blues and Soul on Twitter