Sly and The Family Stone (1966-1983)

Sly and the Family Stone
Sly and the Family Stone

Sly and The Family Stone is band from San Francisco, California that was active from 1966 to 1983. The band consisted of brothers Sylvester and Freddie and sister Rose Stewart along with Greg Errico, Cynthia Robinson, Jerry Martini, and Larry Graham and was the first major band to have a racially integrated male and female lineup. They were also pioneers in the emerging “psychedelic soul” sound that incorporated funk, soul, rock and psychedelic music.

Sylvester Stewart, who was born to parents K.C. and Alpha Stewart, was the leader of the group. Although his birth name was Sylvester, he was called Sly after a friend misspelled his name. Stone was born in Dallas, Texas but the family moved to Vallejo, California when he was a child.

Stewart played several musical instruments including keyboards, guitar, bass, and drums all by the age of eleven. In high school he performed with Viscaynes which released some tracks but by 1964 he worked as a DJ for the San Mateo radio station, KSOL and became popular for infusing The Beatles and Rolling Stones into the station’s R&B rotation. Later he was a DJ at San Francisco’s KDIA. While there he formed Sly and The Family Stone which signed with Epic records in 1966.

The 1968 song “Everyday People” became the group’s first hit, reaching Number 1 on the R&B and Pop charts. The song was part of the group’s first album, Stand, which also included “Sing A Simple” and “I Want Take You Higher.” Stand topped at number 3 on the R&B charts and 13 on the Pop charts but it stayed on the charts for two years. The success of Stand allowed them to perform at the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Festival which gave them international exposure.

In 1971 the group recorded “Family Affair” for the album of the same name, which reached the top of the charts just a month after its release. It ranked number 1 on the pop charts for three weeks and number 1 on the R&B charts for six weeks. In 1973 the group produced Fresh Sly, and its major single, “If You Want Me To Stay” but it did not have the success of earlier albums and prompted two member of the band to leave the group, the first of a series of departures.

In 1974 Sly and the Family Stone released the album Small Talk which was certified gold (sold 250,000 units). The album produced two singles, “Loose Booty” and “Time for Livin’” which was the group’s last song to chart in the Top 40. After this more member left the group. Sly in 1975 went solo and recorded the albums High on You and Heard You Missed Me, Well I’m Back a year later. In 1979 he released Back on the Right Track. The album, Ain’t But The One had to be completed and released in 1982 by record producer Stewart Levine because Sly, now addicted to drugs, disappeared.

Sly Stone Album Cover, 1970
Sly Stone Album Cover, 1970

After that point Sly Stone rarely appeared in public. In 1993 he performed when the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Then he disappeared again only to reappear in 2006 when the band was honored at that year’s Grammy awards with a tribute by Fantasia, John Legend, Ciara and others. Stone performed along with the stars and then disappeared again.