Posts Tagged ‘Billy Preston’

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George Harrison released the 3 LP set “All Things Must Pass” on November. 27th, 1970. “All Things Must Pass” was a triple album recorded and released in 1970. The album was Harrison’s first solo work since the break-up of the Beatles in April of that year, and his third solo album overall. It included the hit singles “My Sweet Lord” and “What Is Life.” The record introduced Harrison’s signature sound, the slide guitar, and the spiritual themes that would be present throughout his subsequent solo work.
Among the large cast of backing musicians were Eric Clapton and Delaney & Bonnie’s Friends band – three of whom formed Derek and the Dominos with Clapton during the recording – as well as Ringo Starr, Gary Wright, Billy Preston, Klaus Voormann, John Barham, Badfinger and Pete Drake. The sessions produced a double album’s worth of extra material, most of which remains unissued.
The record was critically and commercially successful on release, with long stays at number 1 on charts around the world. “All Things Must Pass” is “generally rated” as the best of all the former Beatles’ solo albums. George Harrison may have been “the quiet Beatle” but he was still one fourth of what was probably the most important band on the planet, whose contribution to the group, and popular music in general, cannot be underestimated. His use of the 12 string electric on the “A Hard Day’s Night” album, and subsequent movie had such a profound impact on Roger McGuinn, that he soon went out and bought himself a Rickenbacker. Harrison also changed the direction of pop music when he introduced the sitar on 1966’s Rubber Soul, thus creating a sound that would within a few months forever become synonymous with the psychedelic movement.

But it wasn’t until 1970, after the Beatles announced their breakup that Eric Clapton introduced him to Delaney Bramlett, where within a matter of weeks George developed the unique slide technique he is remembered for today, a style which owes itself less to the blues or rock and roll, and more to Harrison’s soul.

No doubt Lennon and McCartney’s domination in the song writing department must have proved to be a great frustration for Harrison, who was often forced to take a back seat. Thus Harrison found himself in the enviable position of having a rich cache of material to draw from, and so he set to work on his first solo album proper (with the exception of Wonderwall Music, which was really a soundtrack anyway), assembling a cast that included Clapton, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, Dave Mason, Badfinger, and probably whoever else was hanging around the studio at the time.

“Beware of Darkness.” If you’re looking for a little spiritual uplift about now, look no further than this George Harrison heartfelt meditation on the perils of living in the material world. “Beware of Darkness,” irom Harrison’s triple album “All Things Must Pass.” Clearly, George had been filing away songs that never made it to Beatles‘ albums, so “All Things Must Pass,” opened the floodgates for him to explore his more inner-directed concerns with glorious results. The song features Eric Clapton and Dave Mason on guitars, Carl Radle on bass, Bobby Whitlock on piano, Gary Wright on organ, and old trusty, fellow Beatle, Ringo Starr on drums. It represented an extension of Harrison’s spiritual awakening in India in 1968 when he and the Beatles traveled to Rishikesh to meet up again with Mararishi Mahesh Yogi, whom they had met in 1967 in Wales. Harrison had included “Within You, Without You,” on Sgt. Pepper in 1967, and had incorporated the sitar even earlier on “Rubber Soul” in 1965, and “Revolver” in 1966, indicating a slowly shifting focus.

“Beware of Darkness,” possesses a sweetness, beauty and depth of feeling that only could have come from Harrison at that time. “All Things Must Pass,” including this song, are his answer to his fellow Beatles, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who for years limited Harrison to one song on most albums. Though a single album brimming with greatness might have been preferable, George felt the need to demonstrate his own writing prowess over three albums, with stellar results.

The resulting triple LP, “All Things Must Pass”, was and remains the finest musical statement made by a solo Beatle. It was also a global hit, thanks mainly to the single “My Sweet Lord”, a spiritual pop-rock paean to Harrison’s recent conversion to the teachings of Hare Krishna. That people went out and bought it in droves is a testament not only to the quality of the tunes contained within its grooves, but also the talent behind it.

“I’d Have You Anytime” gets things off to a low key and leisurely start, where he hear Clapton’s sweet and endearing guitar tones complement Harrison’s pleading and plaintive vocals. A lovely piece overall. Next is the big one, “My Sweet Lord”, perhaps the song Harrison is most identified with post Beatles, which is fair enough. Now whether he ‘subconsciously’ borrowed from the Chiffons 1963 hit “She’s So Fine” is a matter of conjecture. Because at the end of the day, who really gives a shit. It’s a great song, and that’s all that’s matters.

We then get the bigger than Hollywood, Phil Spector produced “Wah-Wah”, dominated by Clapton’s own wah-wah, and Harrison’s gorgeous slide guitar. It’s a monumental track and one where everyone seems to be flying by the seat of their pants. “Isn’t It a Pity” is a philosophical number, and finds Harrison reflecting on all that’s wrong with the world, in that epic “Hey Jude” kind of way, only with a bit more spirituality thrown in. “What Is Life” lifts the listener up then puts him (or her) down again in one glorious swoop. Imagine Bob Dylan meets The Ronettes. And speaking of Dylan, “If Not for You” first appeared on his 1970 album New Morning. But this is my favourite rendition. Hands down.

Now I’m not much of a fan of country, however “Behind that Locked Door” aches with a yearning which speaks to me every time I hear it. “Let It Down” starts off all big and bombast before falling into a relaxing groove. Billy Preston provides some soothing organ, while Harrison laments about his state of mind. “Run of the Mill” is another intellectually searching opus, albeit in less than three minutes. But putting aside the ‘what do our lives mean’ aspect, it’s a great song nonetheless. And one I never seem to tire of.

The second LP, and yes I do own the vinyl version, the best in my opinion, begins in depressing fashion with “Beware of Darkness”, hardly the sort of song you want to play to someone on a first date. Suffice to say I’m quite a fan of it nonetheless. The same goes with “Apple Scruffs”, which is not only a summation of everything Harrison had learned from the Beatles (just listen to the harmonies), but also a great play on words, at least in relation to the Apple label which his previous band had founded, and which wound up costing them huge sums of money in the process.

“Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” is one of the most haunting tunes of the record, but I can’t tell you why. Call it the mystery of music. “Awaiting On You All” is a short uplifting gospel number, although the listener finds himself on the psychiatrist’s couch again with the title track, a song that probably sums up Harrison’s career at that point, and one that forces the him to gaze out on the horizon, and reflect on his own life.

Harrison gets playful on “I Dig Love”, before we get all serious and musical with “The Art of Dying”, a tune which has some superb playing by Clapton and everyone else involved. We hear a reprise of “Isn’t It a Pity”, just in case you didn’t get the message the first time, before ending with a plea to the Almighty on “Hear Me Lord”, which is really a nice song, and I guess an expression of a man who has been though a lot and was at a point where he was truly grappling with some important issues.

The third LP is a bit of hit and miss, depending on your state of mind. “It’s Johnny Birthday” is basically a self indulgent write off, though “Plug Me In” is more like it, an effervescent guitar jam, where the amps must have been running red hot. We get all late night and jammy on “I Remember Jeep”, before some High Octane Chuck Berry kicks in on “Thanks for the Pepperoni”. The only issue I have at this point of the album, is that one either has to be pissed or on some kind of drug to enjoy it.

No matter which way you look at it, All Things Must Pass was a landmark release. Harrison had made it clear that from now on he would be doing things his way and that there could not be any turning back. The man poured his heart into this record, a quality which shines through some forty years later. Harrison might not have been the most perfect human being, but his quest for some kind of universal purity in the world was a noble one at best. And while an individual who was not always at peace with himself, he wanted nothing but peace for the world.

Happy 50th Birthday to “All Things Must Pass”

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The Rolling Stones – Goat’s Head Soup & It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll Outtakes ft. Mick Taylor Rare Solo Tracks Full Album (2019) In November 1972 The Rolling Stones relocated to Kingston, Jamaica’s Dynamic Sound Studios. Keith Richards said in year 2002: “Jamaica was one of the few places that would let us all in! By that time about the only country that I was allowed to exist in was Switzerland, which was damn boring for me, at least for the first year, because I didn’t like to ski… Nine countries kicked me out, thank you very much, so it was a matter of how to keep this thing together..

Of the recording process, Marshall Chess, the president of Rolling Stones Records at the time, said in 2002, “We used to book studios for a month, 24 hours a day, so that the band could keep the same set-up and develop their songs in their free-form way, starting with a few lyrics and rhythms, jamming and rehearsing while we fixed the sound. It amazed me, as an old-time record guy, that the Stones might not have played together for six or eight months, but within an hour of jamming, the synergy that is their strength would come into play and they would lock it together as one…”
Jagger said of their approach to recording at the time, “Song-writing and playing is a mood. Like the last album we did (Exile on Main St.) was basically recorded in short concentrated periods. Two weeks here, two weeks there – then another two weeks. And, similarly, all the writing was concentrated so that you get the feel of one particular period of time. Three months later it’s all very different and we won’t be writing the same kind of material as Goats Head Soup.”

On the sessions and influence of the island, Richards said, “The album itself didn’t take that long, but we recorded an awful lot of tracks. There were not only Jamaicans involved, but also percussion players who came from places like Guyana, a travelling pool of guys who worked in the studios. It was interesting to be playing in this totally different atmosphere. Mikey Chung, the engineer at Dynamic, for example, was a Chinese man — you realise how much Jamaica is a multi-ethnic environment.”

The first track for Goat’s Head Soup that was recorded at Dynamic called “Winter”, which Mick Taylor said started with “just Mick (Jagger) strumming on a guitar in the studio, and everything falling together from there.” The album’s lead single, called “Angie”, was an unpopular choice as lead single with Atlantic Records which, according to Chess, “wanted another ‘Brown Sugar’ rather than a ballad.” Although the song was rumoured to be about David Bowie’s first wife Angela, both Jagger and Richards have consistently denied this.

In 1993, Richards, in the liner notes to the compilation album Jump Back: The Best of The Rolling Stones, said that the title was inspired by his baby daughter, Dandelion Angela.  However, in his 2010 memoir Life, Richards denied this, saying that he had chosen the name for the song before he knew the sex of his expected baby: “I just went, ‘Angie, Angie.’ It was not about any particular person; it was a name, like ‘ohhh, Diana.’ I didn’t know Angela was going to be called Angela when I wrote ‘Angie’. In those days you didn’t know what sex the thing was going to be until it popped out. In fact, Anita named her Dandelion. She was only given the added name Angela because she was born in a Catholic hospital where they insisted that a ‘proper’ name be added.” According to NME, the lyrics written by Jagger were inspired by Jagger’s breakup with Marianne Faithfull. This was the last Rolling Stones album produced by Jimmy Miller, who’d worked with the band since 1968’s Beggars Banquet sessions. Unfortunately, Miller had developed a debilitating drug habit during the course of his years spent with the Stones.

Aside from the official band members, other musicians appearing on Goats Head Soup include keyboard players Billy Preston, Nicky Hopkins, and Ian Stewart. Recording was completed in January 1973 in Los Angeles and May 1973 at London’s Island Recording Studios. The song “Silver Train” was a leftover from 1970s recordings at Olympic Sound. Goats Head Soup was also the band’s first album without any cover songs since Their Satanic Majesties Request in 1967.

The album It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll was at first developed as a half-live, half-studio production with one side of the album featuring live performances from the Stones‘ European tour while the other side was to be composed of newly recorded cover versions of the band’s favourite R&B songs. Covers recorded included a take of Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away”, Jimmy Reed’s “Shame Shame Shame,” and The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Soon the band began working off riffs by Richards and new ideas by Mick Jagger and the original concept was scrapped in favour of an album with all-new material. The cover of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” was the only recording to make the cut, while the “Drift Away” cover is a popular bootleg. It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll marked the Stones‘ first effort in the producer’s chair since Their Satanic Majesties Request, and the first for Jagger and Richards under their pseudonym “The Glimmer Twins.”

On the choice to produce, Richards said at the time: “I think we’d come to a point with Jimmy (Miller) where the contribution level had dropped because it’d got to be a habit, a way of life, for Jimmy to do one Stones album a year. He’d got over the initial sort of excitement which you can feel on Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed. Also, Mick and I felt that we wanted to try and do it ourselves because we really felt we knew much more about techniques and recording and had our own ideas of how we wanted things to go. Goats Head Soup hadn’t turned out as we wanted to – not blaming Jimmy or anything like that… But it was obvious that it was time for a change in that particular part of the process of making records.”

Starting with this release, all future Rolling Stones albums would either be produced by themselves or in collaboration with an outside producer. Most of the album’s backing tracks were recorded first at Musicland; solo vocals were recorded later by Jagger, about whom Richards would say, “he often comes up with his best stuff alone in the studio with just an engineer.” The song “Luxury” showed the band’s growing interest in reggae music, while “Till the Next Goodbye” and “If You Really Want to Be My Friend” continued their immersion in ballads.

Seven of the album’s 10 songs crack the four-minute mark, a feature that would come to be disparaged during the rising punk rock scene of the late 1970s. Ronnie Wood, a long-time acquaintance of the band, began to get closer to the Rolling Stones during these sessions after he invited Mick Taylor to play on his debut album, I’ve Got My Own Album to Do. Taylor spent some time recording and hanging out at Wood’s house The Wick. By chance, Richards was asked one night by Wood’s wife at the time, Krissy, to join them at the guitarist’s home. While there, Richards recorded some tracks with Wood and quickly developed a close friendship, with Richards going as far as moving into Wood’s guest room. Jagger soon entered the mix and it was here that the album’s lead single and title track, “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)”, was first recorded. Wood worked closely on the track with Jagger, who subsequently took the song and title for their album.

The released version of this song features Wood on 12-string acoustic guitar. It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll was Mick Taylor’s last album with the Rolling Stones, and he played on just seven of the 10 tracks (he did not play on tracks 2, 3 or 6). Due to Taylor’s absence, Richards is responsible for the brief lead guitar break on “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” the distorted electric guitar on the title track (which includes the solo), and played both rhythm and lead guitar tracks on “Luxury.” However, on the occasional live performances of “Luxury” during the Tour of the Americas 1975, lead guitar was provided by Ron Wood. Even though Taylor is present on “Short and Curlies,” his slide guitar playing panned onto the right channel/speaker is mostly buried underneath Richards’ own lead guitar throughout most of the track, which is panned to the left channel/speaker. Similar to receiving no writing credits on the Stones‘ previous album, Goats Head Soup, Taylor reportedly had made song writing contributions to “Till the Next Goodbye” and “Time Waits for No One,” but on the album jacket, all original songs were credited to Jagger/Richards. Taylor said in 1997: “I did have a falling out with Mick Jagger over some songs I felt I should have been credited with co-writing on It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll. We were quite close friends and co-operated quite closely on getting that album made. By that time Mick and Keith weren’t really working together as a team so I’d spend a lot of time in the studio.” Taylor’s statement contradicts Jagger’s earlier comment concerning the album. Jagger stated in a 1995 Rolling Stone interview about “Time Waits for No One” that Taylor “maybe threw in a couple of chords.” Alongside the usual outside contributors, namely Billy Preston, Nicky Hopkins and unofficial member Ian Stewart, Elton John sideman Ray Cooper acted as percussionist for the album. Several songs were finished songs and overdubs and mixing were performed at Jagger’s home, Stargroves, in the early summer of 1974.

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Even though lots of people sell as many or more records as he does, Sly Stone is probably the most influential musician over the years. He changed the face of soul, and co-authored, with Jimi Hendrix, black psychedelic music, It is not only Sly’s string of hit singles, and the remarkable achievement of ‘Riot’, which confirms his musical genius.

Born in Texas, raised in the Bay Area, Sylvester Stewart was the second child of a religious family whose church encouraged music as a way to proclaim the Lord’s glory. No big surprise, then, that like so many other soul stars Sly started singing in church.

When he was eight, he cut his first record, with three of his siblings—all of whom would later start bands and then be members of the Family Stone. All of them were talented. But Sly was a prodigy, mastering keyboards, guitar, drums, and bass by the time he turned eleven.

It is sometimes difficult to see the extent of Sly’s genius. In June 1967, San Francisco’s counterculture dreams were peaking when a local music scenemaker named Sylvester ‘Sly’ Stewart led a motley-looking interracial, mixed-gender crew, half of whom were from his own family, into a recording session for Epic Records.

Over a few scattered hours, the group that became known as Sly and the Family Stone cut their debut in 1967, ‘A Whole New Thing” live in the four-track studio.  Led by singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Sly Stone, and included Stone’s brother and singer/guitarist Freddie Stone, sister and singer/keyboardist Rose Stone, trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, drummer Greg Errico, saxophonist Jerry Martini, and bassist Larry Graham. It was the first major American rock group to have a racially integrated, male and female lineup

In high school, though, he kept mostly to the guitar as he joined local groups. A doo-wop outfit called the Viscaynes featured him and a Filipino pal in a then-unusual interracial lineup. They even cut a few singles for the local market, like “Yellow Moon”.  Studying at Vallejo Junior College, Sly honed his skills, picked up the trumpet, and mastered composition and theory. The opening and closing of “Underdog”  on ‘A Whole New Thing’ archly reflects that: recasting the “Frère Jacques” melody as a horn riff in a minor key, Sly tips his hat to Gustav Mahler, whose First Symphony did the same thing repurposing the kids’ tune as…wait for it…a funeral march.

Around him, the San Francisco scene was already percolating to multicultural visions inherited from the largely white Beats and mostly black jazzers who’d made the City by the Bay their west coast capital. The eager young wannabe soon found a way in. A local radio station called KSOL was rapidly growing its predominantly black audience by playing rhythm and blues. When Sly started as a DJ there in the early 1960s, he commuted each day from his parents’ home all the way across town to Merchandise Mart on Market Street, where KSOL’s offices and studios and 250-watt transmitter were.

Young Sly had the patter and the fire to succeed as one of the DJs who redubbed their station K-SOUL. He stirred popular white bands into the mix he thought would fit because of their obvious R&B influences, like the Animals, the Stones, and the early Beatles. It’s almost like he was on a mission to enact the musical equivalent of racial integration, mutual acceptance and interplay. And it apparently worked: He upped white audience numbers without losing black listeners, Later, Sly would aim to emulate their feat with his own music and succeed brilliantly… for a while.

Meanwhile, the local rock scene was probing exciting new shapes and sounds, the first waves of psychedelia. It was largely white kids, but that didn’t bother Sly, who was voraciously absorbing everything he heard and encountered.

In retrospect, it looks like Sylvester Stewart was training himself in nearly every aspect of the music business. Besides DJing, he produced records, wrote songs, and backed up touring stars. A tiny San Francisco label called Autumn Records, run by another local DJ and concert promoter named Tom “Big Daddy” Donahue (he’d coin the term “underground radio”), hired the young man with big ears as its principal producer.

Donahue, an ambitious giant of a man, first heard the teen at a Vallejo sock hop, then hired him to ramrod the house band at his big concerts, like the 1962 Chubby Checker “Twist Party” that landed at the humongous Cow Palace, usually the venue for (what else) livestock shows. That night it held 17,000 fans, making it the first big-time rock concert in Bay Area history.

Sly was quickly slotted in as Donahue’s go-to guy on stage and in the studio. He was getting a musical education that filled his toolbox with versatile skills he’d soon use for himself. Since the music biz’s earliest days, songs pushing new dances had been a reliable way for black artists to get to mainstream white audiences. No doubt young Mr. Stewart filed that knowledge to tap into for “Dance to the Music”

But he also produced an eclectic batch of Bay Area faves. like The Great Society which features Grace Slick unspooling an obbligato line of raga-ish vocalese; he also apparently ran the sessions for “Someone to Love” Both cuts make clear why Slick would jump ship and join Jefferson Airplane; as she once put it, “They had a real rhythm section.” Sly watched drummer/singer Jan Errico with real interest: there were very few females playing instruments in rock bands, never mind drums, and singing too. As it happened, she had a brother-drummer named Gregg, who would join the Family Stone.

In keyboard player Billy Preston, Sly found a soul brother. Another Texas-born child prodigy, Preston started backing gospel and soul stars from Mahalia Jackson to Sam Cooke when he was ten. The keyboard wizard was barely 20 when he and Sly co-wrote three tunes. that appear on 1966’s Billy’s album ‘Wildest Organ in Town!. Sly arranged. The album also boasted songs by the Beatles, Stones, James Brown, and Wilson Pickett—an integrated music love fest very like Sly’s playlists had been at KSOL.

Preston’s year-long gig on the TV show Shindig!, which introduced him to a huge audience, had just ended when the record was released on a major label. It didn’t exactly burn up the charts, but the pair continued to collaborate, For years they’d grace each other’s records with guest shots, refusing to be hemmed in by musical styles and expectations,

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Once Sly merged his band (Sly and the Stoners) with his brother Freddie’s (Freddie and the Stone Souls), the Family Stone was born.

They found a home base to hone their music in Redwood City, a club called (nudge-nudge-wink-wink) Winchester Cathedral. A few months of that, and they’d forged a unique sound and a phenomenal stage show. Not surprisingly, Sly used down time at Autumn’s studios to record the band. And so the 24 cuts compiled on ‘Sly and the Family Stone offer tantalizing insights into how the band evolved.

A rousing early iteration of “Dance to the Music” pumped by Graham’s already-distinctive bass and a blistering guitar solo. But the hard-driving soul of “I Ain’t Got Nobody” their first official single, got them the ear of an Epic employee, who tipped Dave Kapralik, head of A&R. They were so engulfing and powerful onstage that he signed them immediately, then became their manager. And into Epic’s studio they went. The album flopped. But their manager and label head pressed Sly to write hit singles—the ingredient they were sure was lacking on their first album. So he did: ‘Dance to the Music” and ever since, ‘A Whole New Thing’ has been dissed or ignored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A Whole New Thing’ (1967)

It’s ear-opening to check out how far they’d developed their winning combo of musical sophistication, wry humor, and gutsy immediacy on ‘A Whole New Thing’. It may have been a four-track recording done live, but the stereo image bursts at the seams with richly layered sonics, showcasing Sly’s adept production skills as well.

It kicks things off with a protest song that doesn’t just nod toward Mahler but pumps its anti-racism message up with Larry Graham’s burbling bass and Greg Errico’s funky drumming, sharp-creased horns, and vocals worthy of Motown—which duly took lessons from it. The album heralds the sound of the Family Stone’s future funk with Graham’s near-solo spot and the ba-boom-boom scatting following the tongue-in-cheek TV Indian theme from the horns. “Run, Run, Run” opening with surprising melodica and xylophone, finds Sly refracting the hippie vs square world through his black eyes and inventive twists: the middle vocal section riffs off the Turtles, and listen for the Mothers of Invention touches.

The track has an astounding horn opening, with a sour horn flourish cuing you that something’s gonna go wrong in this deep Stax-style soul ballad about honesty between lovers. But even here there’s playfulness: write me a letter to tell me if you’re cheating, the singer pleads. Really?! The odd-meter tumbling horn riff that opens and punctuates  boldfaces the experimental mindset underlying so much of this underappreciated disc’s twists and turns. The quavery group YAAHHH will become a Family Stone hallmark, and that deep tremolo keyboard solo still sounds unique. The foregrounds the unexpected twists of psychedelicized soul, as does the angular spaciness and wit of “I Hate to Love Her” Its is rife with swampy guitars and Staples-inflected vocals.

The killer track , though, is “Only One Way Out of This Mess” with its off-kilter, almost snarky horns, rumbling bass, and driving beat. It was the band’s tour-de-force onstage; between its inventive sound and anthemic lyrics, it’s clearly of a piece with their future hits. But it was cut a few weeks after the other tracks, and for some reason—probably the usual rush during that frenetic time to put the album out—Epic didn’t release it until 1995.

It’s worth wondering how music history might’ve changed if they’d tried it as a single. After all, “Like a Rolling Stone’ had busted AM radio open two-plus years earlier. Then came smart, successful, but uneven albums like ‘Life and ‘Stand! ‘ that finessed their modern funk, influencing giants like James Brown, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, George Clinton, and Prince. Of course, by then hard drugs, changing racial politics, and his own boundless drive to do and have it all had turned Sly into a withdrawn, toxic version of his former self. In fact, ‘A Whole New Thing’ has successfully refracted the wildly disparate elements of Sylvester Stewart’s musical experience into a psychedelic blend of soul, rock, jazz, and funk that’s seriously adventurous fun full of vibrant playfulness and open-eared inventions. And at least it could be Sylvester Stewart’s best and most underrated album. Here’s the incredible story of how that undersung album came to be.

Looking back now, after all these years, it seems to me that ‘A Whole New Thing’, an entire album stuffed with brazenly cutting-edge music, was arguably Sly and the Family Stone’s most seminal, soulful, and sustained achievement.

“Dance to the Music’ (1968)

“Dance to the Music’ made Sly and the Family Stone stars. And it created the rush toward psychedelic soul by Motown acts from the Temptations to the Jackson 5. But it’s worth remembering that, compared to ‘A Whole New Thing’, the band saw the hit and most of the second album as a necessary compromise, using formulas that Sly worked out to showcase individual band members and make them more audience-friendly.

What makes Sly different is the consistency of his growth, and his ability to consolidate that growth into a sort of power which few rock stars have ever approached. Hendrix, however great his genius, was erratic in a way that Sly’s self-consciousness would never allow, a primitive savage to Sly’s urban sophisticate. Nor was Jimi ever quite so arrogant as Sly. At least, he didn’t flaunt the fact of his arrogance so broadly,

Sly was able to get away not only with the arrogance of the no-show performer but also with the knife-twisting viciousness of parts of ‘Riot’ . Hendrix couldn’t have gotten away with it, because he was playing music which, in form, was white rock. Sly and the Family Stone are a soul band. When Hendrix put together an all black band, and put together an album the live Band of Gypsys set he was attacked not much for putting out a bad record — he made worse — as for the audacity of the conception.

An introduction to Sly and the Family Stone in 10 records - The ...

“Life”  (1968)

Unlike its predecessor, Dance to the Music, Life was not a commercial success, although it has received mostly positive reviews from music critics over the years. Many of its songs, including “M’Lady”, “Fun”, “Love City”, as well as the title track, became popular staples in The Family Stone’s live show. A middle ground between the fiery A Whole New Thing and the more commercial Dance to the Music, “Life” features very little use of studio effects, and is instead more driven by frontman Sly Stone’s compositions. Topics for the album’s songs include the dating scene “Dynamite!”, “Chicken”, “M’Lady”, groupies “Jane is a Groupee”, and “plastic” or “fake” people on the Beatlesque “Plastic Jim”. Of particular note is that the Family Stone’s main themes of unity and integration are explored here in several songs “Fun”, “Harmony”, “Life”, and “Love City”. The next Family Stone LP, Stand!, would focus almost exclusively on these topics.

Much of Life has been heavily sampled for hip hop and electronica recordings, particularly Gregg Errico’s drum solo on “Love City”. The opening riff on “Into My Own Thing” was sampled for Fatboy Slim’s 2001 hit “Weapon of Choice”.

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“Stand” (1969)

The 50th anniversary reissue of ‘Stand!’ by Sly & The Family Stone. The group’s fourth album is undeniably one of their best, with unforgettable jams.

In late 1968, Sly and the Family Stone released the single “Everyday People”, which became their first No. 1 hit.“Everyday People” was a protest against prejudice of all kinds Sly and the Family Stone and popularized the catchphrase “different strokes for different folks”. With its B-side “Sing a Simple Song”, it served as the lead single for the band’s fourth album, “Stand!”, which was released on May 3rd, 1969. “The Stand!” album eventually sold more than three million copies; its title track peaked at No. 22 in the U.S.

“Stand!” is considered one of the artistic high points of the band’s career. It contained the above three tracks as well as the songs “I Want to Take You Higher” (which was the B-side of the “Stand!” single), “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey”, “Sex Machine”, and “You Can Make It If You Try”.

The success of Stand! secured Sly and the Family Stone a performance slot at the landmark Woodstock Music and Art Festival. They performed their set during the early-morning hours of August 17th, 1969; their performance was said to be one of the highlights show of the festival.

Tattoo You – Snakes in the Grass

There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971)

In 1971, Sly and the Family Stone returned with a new single, “Family Affair”, which became a number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100. “Family Affair” was the lead single from the band’s long-awaited There’s a Riot Goin’ On.

Instead of the optimistic, rock-laced soul that had characterized the Family Stone’s 1960s output, There’s a Riot Goin’ On was pure urban blues, filled with dark instrumentation, filtered drum machine tracks, and plaintive vocals representing the hopelessness Sly and many other people were feeling in the early 1970s.  The album is characterized by a significant amount of tape hiss – the result of Sly’s extensive re-recording and overdubbing during production. Allegedly, most of the album’s instrumentation is performed by Sly alone, who enlisted the Family Stone for some of the additional instrumental parts and friends such as Billy Preston, Ike Turner, and Bobby Womack for others. “(You Caught Me) Smilin'” and “Runnin’ Away” were also released as singles, and performed well on the charts.

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After the release of Riot, additional lineup changes took place. In early 1972, reacting to Jerry Martini’s probing about his share of the band’s earnings, Sly hired saxophonist Pat Rizzo as a potential replacement though both ended up remaining in the band. Later that year, the tension between Sly Stone and Larry Graham reached its peak. A post-concert brawl broke out between the Graham and Sly entourages; Bubba Banks and Eddie Chin, having heard that Larry had hired a hit man to kill Sly, Sly assaulted Graham’s associates. Graham and his wife climbed out of a hotel window to escape, and Pat Rizzo gave them a ride to safety. Unable to continue working with Sly, Graham immediately quit The Family Stone and went on to start Graham Central Station, a successful band in the same vein as Sly and the Family Stone. Graham was replaced in the interim by Bobby Womack, and then by nineteen-year-old Rusty Allen.

I think it is fairly self-evident that ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’ was a semi-deliberate attempt to alienate Sly’s white audience. That isn’t all it was, nor did Sly really want to alienate his audience, but the idea of such a record could not help but be interpreted as a threat to the white audience. Sly must have known this but ‘Riot’ went gold, anyway, pushed along by a great single, “Family Affair” .

Pop Matters called “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” a challenging listen, at times rambling, incoherent, dissonant, and just plain uncomfortable” with “some episodic moments of pop greatness to be found” and viewed it as a radical departure from the band’s previous work:

“Fresh” (1973)

Sly doesn’t really want to lose that audience. He had to justify, to himself and perhaps to others, the ease with which he had been accepted in the white marketplace, and ‘Riot’ did that. In one sense, then, Fresh is an attempt to regain portions of the audience which have been lost, and in another, it is an explanation of the weirdness which produced ‘Riot’.

Had Sly not done ‘Riot’, he might seem to us now to be little more than a younger, hipper version of the Staple Singers. There is a certain point at which songs like Everyday People, as great as they are, begin to seem frivolous and frustratingly naive. With the Higher! craze which the Woodstock movie inspired, There have been few albums as rich as this one released in 1973, if there have been any, but that doesn’t mean that ‘Fresh’ will automatically make it. At any rate, when Sly Stone, as opposed to almost any other rock star, assures me that he will try, I want to believe him. If he’s earned our trust, and I think that he has, the weight of his stardom may begin to lessen, at least a little. Let’s hope so, for his sake, and ultimately, our own.

‘Fresh’ is Sly coming to terms with himself as a rock star. It asks the same question Sly has always asked—”who cares?”—but the tone with which the question is asked turns the problem around. Initially, this group’s answer to “who cares” was, “We care.” On ‘Riot’, the reply was “I don’t know if anyone does.”

‘Fresh’ stands between. Sly is confident enough to say “I do,” quite straightforwardly in If It Were Left Up to Me. But in other places, he doesn’t seem so certain. The inclusion of Que Sera Sera, which is at one level a joke, is also a trap for the unwary listener. “Que sera sera/Whatever will be will be/The future’s not ours, to see/Que sera sera,” is one way of stating the Woodstock philosophy. Because the song has such a fey history, it is hard to see how anyone could get to that, but Sly has done it.

Sly almost nods in agreement when he sings “Whatever will be, will be” but the growl in his voice, and the rumble in the music raises a larger question. If the future’s not ours, then whose is it? .

Sly doesn’t, probably because he can’t. It is not surprising that the only song on ‘Fresh’ which reflects an attitude of acceptance is called Skin I’m In. Still, even though he has accepted the terms of his blackness, Sly has not accepted his role as a star. Not completely, anyway.

“Now I know what to do,” he sings, “No more selling me to you. Buyin’—that’s a no no no.”

Sly’s dilemma is as old as rock, the problem of the artist in the marketplace. How much of yourself can you sell, even on record, and retain your sanity, your sensibility, and, finally, your ability to produce? Every rock artist has had to deal with this problem, and there are a maze of methodologies within which one can work. Elvis chose to ignore the problem altogether, though when the pinch came, in the late ’60s, he threw his hand in once more, if only for an hour on television and a couple of live shows. Dylan retired, then, when people started to forget about him, decided he was really just a session-man like everyone else. Paul Simon stretches himself thin, trying to become bland enough to satisfy all eight million purchasers of Bridge Over Troubled Water once more.

Sly’s answer could only come from Sly. My terms, he says, or forget it.  only to be dragged back down by ‘Riot’. It’s Sly’s personal Catch-22.

The transition isn’t accomplished awkwardly, however. The catch is in the voice, often as not, or perhaps the rhythm section remembers, and sometimes it is just a realization on the part of the listener that what he is hearing sung is not altogether what it sounds like.

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“Live At The Fillmore East” 

“Live At The Fillmore East”, October 4th and 5th, 1968′ is the first official live album from Sly & The Family Stone, and a reminder of how they still make us dance to the music. “These sets are the epitome of what Sly & The Family Stone was about,” says drummer Greg Errico. “When we lift off, we’re like a 747 and you ain’t pulling us down. That’s what I remember. “Live At The Fillmore East 1968’ features four never-before-released live concerts. This four-disc set captures several shows by Sly and the Family Stone at New York’s Fillmore East. It is the document we’ve been missing of the onstage Family Stone of legend: the tightly knit extended family that sang and played together, the group that magically united black and white audiences.

“St. James Infirmary,” heard on ‘Live At The Fillmore East, October 4th and 5th, 1968,’ is an English folk-based blues song, covered by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and The White Stripes. This relaxed rendition of (Louis Armstrong’s version of) “St. James Infirmary”, a show-ending flourish called “The Riffs”, a version of “M’Lady” that detours into a long, spectacular vocal breakdown. It’s fun to hear how different the band’s performances could be from show to show

When Sly and the Family Stone recorded these gigs at the Fillmore East in New York City, they were one of America’s best live bands, but they were also a one-hit wonder. They’d had a Top 10 single in 1967 with “Dance to the Music”, but their follow-up, “Life”, and the album of the same title, had both stiffed. The plan, apparently, was to release an album of the Fillmore gigs to show off what the Family Stone could do on stage—and, perhaps, get some traction with the free-form FM radio stations that were popping up all over.

A few months after the shows, “Everyday People” became the massive hit the band needed—a song that echoed their own racial and sexual integration—and the live album was set aside. Stand!, released in May, 1969, didn’t include any of the new songs played at the Fillmore East gigs.) Somehow, the Fillmore tapes were never edited down to an album until a vinyl-only double-LP, sequenced by the Roots’ “Captain” Kirk Douglas, appeared .

This wider-scale release, though, isn’t that selection: it’s a four-disc set of all four Fillmore sets in their entirety. That means we get multiple renditions of the long, jammy pieces that would have been the spine of a late-’60s Fillmore East album: “Are You Ready” and “Music Lover” (both, in their way, prototypes of “I Want to Take You Higher”), a cover of “Won’t Be Long” (from Aretha Franklin’s second album) sung by keyboardist Rose Stone, an extended version of the Dance to the Music album’s “Color Me True”, and a frenetic medley of A Whole New Thing’s “Turn Me Loose” with Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose”.

Sly and the Family Stone Albums Ranked Worst to Best