Sly & the Family Stone – Stand * Gladys Knight & the Pips – Everybody Is a Star * The Meters – Simple Song * The Family – Family Affair * Woody Herman – Sex Machine * Keef Hartley – Dance To the Music * Brian Auger & the Trinity – I Want To Take You Higher * Sly & the Family Stone – Luv & Haight
Here’s hoping that the dawn of the new week finds you all well. Rested and ready for something new.
I’ve been wanting to get something up in this space to celebrate the fact that Sony got their thing together and reissued the entire Sly & the Family Stone catalog, with superb remastering and much bonus tracks. I had originally planned on posting one song (‘Luv & Haight’ from ‘There’s a Riot Goin’ On’) and had the MP3 all ripped and ready, when inspirado struck like bolt from the heavens.
I spent the early part of Saturday morning out in the field on a little digging expedition with my man DJ Prestige. We (of course) hit a couple of local flea markets, and were lucky enough to come across some very nice vinyl (almost all LPs), before the heat became unbearable and I had to retreat to my car and haul ass to the nearest iced coffee dispensary.
One of the records I grabbed was the Gladys Knight & the Pips LP ‘If I Were Your Woman’. While scanning the jacket, I was surprised to see that the LP included a cover of Sly & the Family Stone’s ‘Everybody Is a Star’. When I finally got home and whipped the disc onto the turntable I was pleased to discover that the cover was outstanding. This, and the fact that I had included another Sly cover in my collabo-mix with DJ Prestige got me flipping through my crates, until a single song expanded into the latest impromptu volume of the Funky16Corners Radio podcast.
The mix literally grew as I went along, going from shelf to crate and back again as I jogged my memory and thought of yet another cover that I could include. I have to say that I ended up excluding a few covers of ‘Sing a Simple Song’, of which I had a surplus, and accidentally omitted a version of ‘Thank You Fallentinme Be Mice Elf Agin’ which I didn’t remember until I had the mix finished.
When I made a reference earlier to “something new” I wasn’t kidding. Thanks to DJ Prestige hepping me to a certain piece of software, I have finally been able to work up the kind of podcast I’ve been wanting to do for a long, long time. This edition of Funky16Corners Radio, in it’s mixed form, is a much more fluid, continuous thang than I’ve posted here before, and I’m really pleased with the way it came out (I hope you are as well). Thanks also for the Funky16 scratch/drop that Pres worked up for me, which appears throughout the mix.
As I said before, this was all originally sparked by the reissues of the Sly albums, which are most definitely cause for celebration.
If you are at all familiar with Sly, you’ve probably become accustomed to the idea of him as a symbol of the once great creative artist brought asunder by prodigious self abuse. While Sly’s story is hardly unique in that respect, the fact of the matter is that I – and I’m sure many others who love his work – see his fall from greatness, and absence from the music scene in any meaningful way as a tragedy of epic proportions.
Despite a body of work that is still well known four decades since the beginning of his career, Stone is hugely under appreciated as well as misunderstood. Though much of this can be attributed to his artistic triumphs having long ago been eclipsed by the tragic second half of his life, I tend to think that it also has a lot to do with his being that cliché of clichés, ahead of his time.
Sly & the Family Stone came out of an era where genre crossing was commonplace (nay, expected), yet unlike so many of their contemporaries, who may have spiced up their rock with a bit of soul, or vice versa, Sly & company created, to borrow the title of their first album, a Whole New Thing*.
This has everything to do with Sly’s roots, as both a pop radio jock, as a writer, producer and arranger for both rock (Beau Brummels, Vejtables) and soul (Bobby Freeman, Billy Preston) artists. He understood the differences and the similarities in black and white music better than anyone else, and when he gathered the Family Stone together (based physically as well as spiritually in a black/white dichotomy) he and the band managed to create several of the finest albums of their era, as comfortable with the Top 40 as they were with the progressive FM heads.
The Family Stone became the personification of Sly’s sensibility, in which raw R&B became funk, all the while hand in hand with pop song craft and a heartfelt understanding of what Otis Redding hailed from stage of Monterey Pop as the “love crowd”.
That Sly was a believer in the transformative power of great music is without question. He didn’t just rap about wanting to take you higher, he actually got out on the floor and tried to do it. Though most people of a certain age have seen the Family Stone bring the heat at the Woodstock festival (in the middle of the night, no less), there is a clip on YouTube of the band playing in 1968 at what I believe is the Ohio State Fair. Take a moment and check it out, because it is nothing less than mind blowing.
They start off ripping into ‘M’Lady’ and the first thing you notice is how much noise those seven people were able to make (not to mention how beautiful it all is). As the performance goes on, it’s hard to decide where to direct your eyes. Sly is leading the band from behind the Hammond, but off to the right Freddy Stone and Larry Graham are grooving like a MOTHERFUCKER, and then Sly steps out from behind the organ and he’s wearing knickers (?!?), and just when your brain tells you that no one could possibly look cool in knickers, there he is making it happen and then he and Rose start dancing and then he drops to one knee in a bit of JB ‘I CAN’T GO ON’ stagecraft and then up he jumps and the band takes off and brother let me tell you that I have tears in my eyes watching it now because it is a supremely powerful experience. Freddy and Larry are STILL working it on out stage right, and Greg Errico is SLAMMING those drums, and Cynthia and Jerry are sending the brass out into the crowd and then….wait for it cause here it comes…Sly starts doing the HAMBONE out on the front of the stage and they break it on down into I WANT TO TAKE YOU HIGHER and Sly takes time to teach the audience how to spell L-O-V-E and it’s one of those moments in music that is without any doubt whatsoever transcendental and religious in all the ways that things are supposed to be religious and for five minutes we’re all in Sly’s church and sweating in the amen corner.
It doesn’t get better than this.
And here we all are, almost 40 years later, and Sly is less a symbol for magic like this than he is another “cautionary tale” and I’m here to tell you that stuff like that is JIVE, and all you need to do to see that is listen (and dance) to the music, because it is really real, and heavy, and deep and did I say heavy (there, I’m saying it again).
So…the mix starts out with my all time fave Sly song ‘Stand’ (‘Don’t you know that you are free, well at least in your mind if you want to be.’), and then jump off into Gladys & the Pips, the Meters, the Family (more here, scroll down to number 3) , Keef Hartley (former Artwoods drummer, backed here by no less than Robert Palmer and Elkie Brooks of Vinegar Joe), Woody Herman (that’s a Richard Evans joint y’all), Brian Auger & the Trinity and then close it all out with some more Sly (the aforementioned, preplanned ‘Luv & Haight’**). If anything, it’s a testament to how wide an influence Sly had, that everyone from soul, to funk, to jazz to rock and fusion were dipping into his catalog for inspiration.
Anyhoo, I hope you dig this, and if you – for some bizarre inexplicable reason – are not already up to your neck in Sly & the Family Stone music, that it might inspire you to go out and get some (more).
*By the way, I have to be honest and tell you that for years I didn’t even know that Sly had done an album before ‘Dance to the Music’. If you had any doubts that Greg Errico was a BADASS drummer, you need only listen to ‘A Whole New Thing’, where it appears that Greg overpowered whoever was mixing the album. If you are a funk 45 maven, you’ll be used to hearing drums like this…on $100 rarities. Hearing them on a major label release is something of a revelation.
** If you haven’t ever heard ‘There’s a Riot Goin’ On’, do yourself a favor and grab it. Not only is it a very different side of Sly (a very cool side) but it will come as a shock to the David Byrnes of the world who would have you believe that the Shuggie Otis of ‘Inspiration Information’ was in any way sui generis. I can assure you that he was playing the SHIT out of this album.