Family Affair - Sly and the Family Stone
Sometimes my kids run up to me in the garden and and ask me questions like:
"Daddy, Daddy, who were Sly and the Family Stone and why were they so important?"
And I'd reply "well my little chillikins, I'm glad you asked me that...." and I'd ramble on for half an hour or more, long after they'd cleared off back to their garden ball games. But why waste it?
In mid sixties America, San Francisco and L.A., epicentres of the love culture explosion, were where all the new great bands were emerging, from the Byrds, to Jefferson Airplane, from Captain Beefheart's Magic Band to the Grateful Dead, from Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin) to the Doors, Santana to Love and so on.
It was all rock of one kind or another. Until Sly came along. He was concerned that this new revolution would be truly multi- racial and would encompass all the music styles of the new generation. So he consciously put together a band that was mixed race and mixed gender, and emphasised the point by having all the group members sing in the style of their instruments, his cousin Larry and playing and singing bass, the trumpeter Cynthia Robinson singing within the same range and brassy style as her trumpet, his sister Rose Stone and brother Freddie Stone the full range of their keyboards and guitar respectively. And the sound they created was unique, a fusion of rock, soul, psychedelia and James Brown's newly refined funk which all added up to a new kind of funk rock as exemplified best on their hits "Dance to the Music" and "Everyday People". And not what is normally thought of as West Coast music.
The extraordinary thing about Sly and the Family Stone is the infectious energy that they bring to every track, and they way they do, indeed sound like a family, a great big noisy enthusiastic family, having a good time; okay, okay, I know his brother, sister and cousin were in the group, and the two white guys drummer Greg Errico and saxophonist Gerry Martini were cousins also. But from 1966 to 1971 they tore it up, having 13 US Hot 100 entries, three number ones, and four top ten hit albums. Until, like most families, there was too much bitching, excess, self indulgence, and they all grew up and went their separate ways and were replaced in the band by a different set of multicultural hippies. But by this time they had changed the course of soul and rock music, elements of their "psychedelic soul" style being adopted by the likes of the Temptations' singles, the Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield as well as countless rap artists.
This is taken from the last album from the original line-up "There's a Riot Going On", and presages their break-up, and, reflecting the state of the band at that moment, has Sly singing like a man with a bad hangover, washed out due to his heavily drug-fuelled lifestyle, and less exuberant than usual. Ironically, he recorded this at his home and not the studio, and the recording only includes him laying down the guitar tracks and the drums via a drum machine, sister Rose on vocals and the legendary Billy Preston guesting on keyboards. Looking back it is what it sounds like, a brother and sister holed up in his bedroom picking over the pieces of their lives, and resigning themselves to the fact that it's all over, and can never be the same.The sadness is palpable in the last lines and Sly's anguished scream (or is it a whimper?) at the end of the song.
"One child grows up to be Somebody that just loves to learn
And another child grows up to be Somebody you'd just love to burn Mom loves the both of them You see it's in the blood
Both kids are good to Mom "Blood's thicker than mud".....
....Newlywed a year ago
But you're still checking each other out Nobody wants to blow Nobody wants to be left out You can't leave, 'cause your heart is there
But you can't stay, 'cause you been somewhere else! You can't cry, 'cause you'll look broke down But you're cryin' anyway 'cause you're all broke down!
It's a family affair
It's a family affair"
Oh damn, where's all my kids gone? They've all cleared off to bed.