Copyright The Washington Post
Friday, January 27, 2006; C01
Sly Stone, the reclusive, long-vanished funk-rock pioneer whose potent recordings in the late 1960s and early ’70s defined the era and altered the course of popular music, may be about to strut back into the public eye.
According to several friends and associates, discussions are well underway about a Sly and the Family Stone reunion performance at the Grammy Awards on Feb. 8 in Los Angeles.
It would be Stone’s first live performance since 1987, and his first major public appearance since Jan. 12, 1993, when Sly and the Family Stone were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It would also mark the first time since 1971 that the band has played in its original configuration. (Drummer Greg Errico quit the group that year and was soon followed by bass player Larry Graham.)
As songwriter, producer, bandleader and singer, Stone dazzled the world of pop music more than 35 years ago with a string of superlative anthems — timeless songs, including “Dance to the Music,” “I Want to Take You Higher,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Family Affair” and “Everyday People” (whose lyric “Different strokes for different folks” became a slogan for the Woodstock generation). By the early ’70s, though, he had developed an all-consuming cocaine addiction, and he soon faded from the spotlight. Speculation on the whereabouts and condition of Sly Stone has been a pop pastime for decades.
Ron Roecker, a spokesman for the Recording Academy, wouldn’t confirm that the reunion is on the Grammy-night schedule, which already includes an all-star tribute to Sly and the Family Stone. The tribute — featuring John Legend, Maroon 5, will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, among others, performing a medley of Sly classics — was announced yesterday by the academy. (All the artists appear on a Sly and the Family Stone tribute album that will be released the day before the Grammys.)
“The facts are what we put in the press release,” Roecker said. “As far as anything else, it’s all just rumor. But we do believe that he is attending the Grammy Awards.”
He added: “It seems like the right time for him. We’re thrilled that we’ll be able to do this.”
Stone’s manager, Jerry Goldstein, could not be reached for comment.
Nor could Stone himself — no surprise, given that he stopped speaking to the media in about 1987.
But sources close to the band said rehearsals are scheduled to begin next week in Santa Monica, Calif. They cautioned, however, that the reunion could implode at any point, given Stone’s long history of erratic behavior.
Still, that there’s talk at all about a Sly Stone coming-out party is a surprise.
“He’s been in seclusion for so long, he’s like J.D. Salinger,” said Greg Zola, who is producing and directing “On the Sly: In Search of the Family Stone,” a documentary about the elusive musician and his band mates. “He was so famous for a period of time, but he’s just not around anymore. A lot of people who you’d think are in the know actually think Sly Stone is dead.”
Stone’s younger sister, Vaetta, acknowledges as much on her Web site, where she’s selling T-shirts that say, simply: “Sly Lives.”
“I don’t think Sly has been hurting from his underground status — I think he likes the mystique,” said Rickey Vincent, author of “Funk: The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of the One” and host of a funk radio show in the San Francisco Bay area. “But it would be nice to see him make a triumphant return — to be treated the way Carlos Santana was at the Grammys a few years ago, and the way George Clinton was treated at the Grammys.”
Clinton thinks so, too.
A funk legend himself, Clinton was forced to rethink his approach to music after hearing Sly and the Family Stone’s landmark 1969 album, “Stand!”
“He’s my idol; forget all that peer stuff,” Clinton said. “I heard ‘Stand!,’ and it was like: Man , forget it! That band was perfect. And Sly was like all the Beatles and all of Motown in one. He was the baddest thing around. What he don’t realize is that him making music now would still be the baddest. Just get that band back together and do whatever it is that he do.”
In its heyday, from roughly 1968 through 1971, Sly and the Family Stone created revolutionary music, an intoxicating mix of psychedelic pop, pulsating funk and social commentary. Among the first fully integrated groups on the American music scene, with blacks and whites and men and women together onstage, the seven-piece San Francisco band played the world’s biggest venues while cranking out hit after cutting-edge hit.
Stone was an innovator whose work inspired Motown to find its social conscience, helped persuade Miles Davis to go electric, and ultimately laid out a blueprint for generations of black pop stars, from Prince and Michael Jackson to OutKast, D’Angelo and Lenny Kravitz.
“There’s black music before Sly Stone, and there’s black music after Sly Stone,” said Joel Selvin, author of “Sly and the Family Stone: An Oral History” and a San Francisco Chronicle music critic for the past 30 years. “He completely changed what black music was. I mean, he changed Motown! Before Sly, the Temptations were ‘I’m Losing You.’ After Sly, they were ‘Ball of Confusion.’ It’s a black and white moment.
“The album ‘Stand!’ summed up the times, with the humanitarian sentiments, in a perfect sloganeering way. ‘Dance to the Music,’ ‘There’s a Riot Goin’ On’ — these were revolutionary documents. And Sly’s statements last. They sound as good today as they did when they were recorded. There’s really nobody like Sly Stone in the history of black music.”