March 15: Sly Stone - Sly and the Family Stone - is 68 today.

Born Sylvester Stewart in Denton, Texas sly is best known as frontman for Sly & the Family Stone, a band which played a critical role in the development of soul, funk and psychedelia in the 1960s and 1970s.

Sly Stewart's parents were deeply-religious and encouraged musical expression in their five children. Sylvester was the second of 5 children. After the family moved from Denton, Texas to Vallejo, Sylvester and his brother Freddie and their sisters Rose and Vaetta formed "The Stewart Four" as children, performing gospel music in the Church of God in Christ and even recording a single local release 78 rpm single, "On the Battlefield" b/w "Walking in Jesus' Name," in 1952.

All but the eldest sister, Loretta, would later adopt the surname "Stone" and become members of Sly & the Family Stone.

Sylvester was identified as a musical prodigy from a young age. By the time he was seven Sylvester had already become proficient on the keyboards. By the age of eleven Sylvester had mastered the guitar, bass, and drums as well.

While still in high school, Sylvester learned to play a number of instruments, settling primarily on the guitar, and joined a number of high school bands. One of these was The Viscaynes, a doo-wop group in which Sylvester and his friend, Frank Arelano, were the only non-white members. The fact that the group was integrated later inspired Sylvester's idea of the multicultural "Family Stone."

The name Sly was a common nickname for Sylvester throughout his years in grade school. A classmate misspelled his name Slyvester and ever since the nickname followed him.

The Viscaynes released a few local singles, including "Yellow Moon" and "Stop What You Are"; during the same period, Sylvester also recorded a few solo singles under the name Danny Stewart. With his brother, Fred, he formed several short-lived groups, like the Stewart Bros.

In the mid-1960s, Stone worked as a disc jockey for San Francisco, California soul radio station KSOL, where he included white performers such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones into his playlists. During the same period, he worked as a record producer for Autumn Records, producing for San Francisco-area bands such as The Beau Brummels, The Mojo Men, Bobby Freeman, and Grace Slick's first band, the Great Society. Stone was influential in guiding KSOL-AM into soul music and started calling the station K-SOUL.

Adopting the stage name "Sly Stone," he then formed "The Stoners" in 1966 which included Cynthia Robinson on trumpet. With her he started his next band, Sly and the Family Stone. Stone, Robinson, and Fred Stewart were joined by Larry Graham, Greg Errico, and Jerry Martini, all of whom had studied music and worked in numerous amateur groups. Rosie Stone joined the group soon after.

Working around the Bay Area in 1967, the band made a strong impression. On the first recordings Little Sister: Vet Stone, Mary McCreary, and Elva Mouton did backup vocals. In 1968 sister Rosie Stone (piano and vocals) joined the band.

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Essential Sly & Family Stone

Along with James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly & the Family Stone were pioneers of late 1960s and early '70s funk. Their fusion of R&B rhythms, infectious melodies, and psychedelia created a new pop/soul/rock hybrid the impact of which has proven lasting and widespread. Stone's racial, sexual, and stylistic mix, had a major influence in the 1980s on artists such as Prince and Rick James- and many artists from the 1990s forward — including Public Enemy, Fatboy Slim, Beck and others.

After a mildly received debut album, A Whole New Thing in 1967, Sly & The Family Stone had their first hit single with "Dance to the Music," which was later included on an album of the same name. Although their third album, Life in 1968 also suffered from low sales, their fourth album, Stand! released the next year became a big success, selling over three million copies and spawning a number one hit single, "Everyday People."

By the summer of 1969, Sly & The Family Stone were one of the biggest names in music, releasing three more top five singles, "Hot Fun in the Summertime" and "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" / "Everybody is a Star," before the end of the year.

With the band's new found fame and success came numerous problems. Relationships within the band were deteriorating and here were outside pressure about the racial mix of the band.

After moving to the Los Angeles area in fall 1969, Stone and his bandmates became heavy users of illegal drugs. As the members became increasingly focused on drug use and partying (Stone reportedly carried a violin case filled with illegal drugs wherever he went), recording slowed significantly.

Between summer 1969 and fall 1971, the band released only one single, "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" / "Everybody Is a Star," released in December 1969. The former song was one of the first recordings to employ the heavy, funky beats that would be featured in the funk music of the following decade. It showcased bass player Larry Graham's innovative percussive playing technique of bass "slapping." Graham later said that he developed this technique in an earlier band in order to compensate for that band's lack of a drummer.

"Thank You" reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1970. The single also peaked at #5 on the R&B chart and remained there for five weeks, while also remaining at #1 on the Pop chart for two weeks in the spring of 1970, before selling over a million copies.

In the fall of 1969, Stone moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles with his then girlfriend Deborah King, (who later married Carlos Santana.) The band's fifth album, There's a Riot Goin' On was recorded with overdubbing as opposed to The Family Stone all playing at the same time; Stone played most of the parts himself and performed more of the lead vocals than usual.

The band's cohesion slowly began to erode, and its sales and popularity began to decline as well. Errico withdrew from the group in 1971 and was eventually replaced with Andy Newmark. Larry Graham and Stone were no longer on friendly terms, and Graham was fired in early 1972 and replaced with Rustee Allen. The band's later releases, Fresh and Small Talk, featured even less of the band and more of Stone.

Live bookings for Sly & the Family Stone had steadily dropped since 1970, because promoters were afraid that Stone or one of the band members might miss the gig, refuse to play, or pass out from drug use.

Stone went on to record four more albums as a solo artist (only High on You in  1975 was released under just his name; the other three were released under the "Sly & The Family Stone" name). He also collaborated with Funkadelic on The Electric Spanking of War Babies in 1981, but was unable to reinvigorate his career.

In 1987, Stone released a single, "Eek-a-Boo Static Automatic," from the Soul Man soundtrack. He also co-wrote and co-produced "Just Like A Teeter-Totter," which appeared on a Bar-Kays album from 1989. From 1988 to 1989 Sly Stone wrote and produced a collection of unreleased recordings in his home studio in New Jersey, "Coming Back for More" and "Just Like A Teeter-Totter"are a part of that collection of about 20 songs.

In 1990, he gave an energetic vocal performance on the Earth, Wind and Fire song, "Good Time." He also shared lead vocals with Bobby Womack on "When the Weekend Comes" from Womack's 1993 album I Still Love You.

His last major public appearance until 2006 was during the 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony where Stone showed up onstage to be entered into the Hall of Fame along with the Family Stone.

In 2003, the other six members of the original Family Stone entered the studio to record a new album. Stone was invited to participate, but declined.

On December 6, 2009, Sly signed a new recording contract with the LA based Cleopatra Records.



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