THE GENIUS OF SLY STONE
Updated: Feb 16
It has been alleged that multi-instrumentalist, composer and vocalist Sly Stone is a distant cousin of mine. His birth name is Sylvester Stewart. He is the founder of the powerhouse band "Sly and the Family Stone."
He was raised in the San Francisco-Bay Area and worked as a disc jockey at KSOL radio station in the mid-1960s. Around this time, he formed the "Family Stone" band with his brother Freddie and his sister Rose.
Sly and his band attained their first hit song entitled "Dance To The Music" in 1968. A string of hit songs followed: "Everyday People" (1968), "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" (1969), "I Want to Take You Higher" (1969), "Family Affair" (1971), "If You Want Me to Stay" (1973) and others. Their popular albums were: Stand! (1969), There's a Riot Goin' On (1971) and Fresh (1973).
Sly Stone is one of my top 5 soul-vocalists of all time: Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Teddy Pendergrass and Michael Jackson are the remaining four.
One fact that makes him a genius (in my view) was his uncanny and incredible vocal acrobatics. His intonation (note pitch neither flat or sharp) was perfect in every range of the spectrum. He could sing in baritone and jump to falsetto (octave above one's normal vocal range) instantaneously. Even when he incorporates primal screams (which he did often) these screams maintained perfect intonation. He was incredibly unpredictable which intrigued and excited me. He would sing in a cartoonish voice, then scream or scat-sing (improvised notes without words) in-between the cracks of the rhythm. His voice is irrefutably original which (in those years) was celebrated by the Whites who run the entertainment industry. From his first singing notes, I know that it's Sly Stone. He is one of the rare lightworkers of music (as was saxophonist John Coltrane) who could travel deep within your soul and force you to feel their God-Force. Not many in any genre of music can accomplish this, a genius indeed.
Sly Stone's compositions and arrangements are equally innovative and awe-inspiring. His lyrics are filled with unmitigated passion for common folks and their daily struggles. I'm inclined to refer to him as The Musical Malcolm X of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s. His poetic prowess is second to none. Listen to his masterpieces: "Stand, Satisfaction, Thankful and Thoughtful, Everyday People, If You Want Me To Stay, Babies Makin' Babies, In Time, Don't call me Nig--r Whitey," and a host of others. These are some of the boldest lyrics ever recorded and solidifies his legacy as a militant-song pioneer.
Sly is also the inventor or pioneer of what I have dubbed "Free-Form Funk." His early bassist Larry Graham popularized "Thumping and Plucking" the bass. This is the thumb slapping the strings while the other fingers pluck or pull the string, then let it fall back upon the fret-board or bass neck. This was a new and remarkable sound indeed.
However, it was the genius of the extremely underrated and underexposed bassist Rustee Allen (who replaced Larry Graham) that provided Sly with the Free-Form Funk that propelled Sly to the zenith of originality. Listen to Sly's masterpiece entitled "In Time." Rustee Allen is playing around the down-beat of one. He's not maintaining one baseline that simply remains stagnant (repeats) until the end of the song as James Brown (The Father of Funk) would often do. Rustee is playing Avant-Garde Funk, baseline is unpredictable. He leaves spaces or gaps in time, then thumps the bass almost anywhere but always arriving back to the down-beat of one when he decides to do so. The drummer also plays the hi-hat cymbals on the up-beat of two. This is unheard of in the Funk music genre. Sly concocted this strange fusion masterpiece in his genius head, remarkable! Other songs in which bass genius Rustee Allen free-styles are: "If You Want Me To Stay, Let Me Have It All and Keep On Dancing." I'm so honored to have worked with the great Rustee Allen on a couple of occasions during my stint as a saxophonist. Praise the Lord.
Sly Stone was too much of a genius and too much of a powerful spirit for those in power to allow him to soar to even greater heights. Hence, they brought this youngster drugs to help him to cope with the grueling tour schedule that they had created for him. It's the same old game just a different young player. Sly began using cocaine (an "upper" drug) to perform when one is so tired that one can't see straight. The powers that be know exactly how to destroy a genius and have been doing so for centuries indeed. They tried the same formula with me. However, I told them that I'd never bow to their whims or use any of their drugs, ever. So, they executed the second option, blacklist or exile me from performing in American festivals & nightclubs. They try to destroy all lightworkers once they've sucked that individuals creativity bone-dry. However, this is what they are supposed to do and performers should expect this from the start as I did.
Paradigm shifting artists often don't receive Grammys, Oscars, and the rest of the awards reserved for those who beg and plead (behind the scenes or off-camera) with the snobs who govern these entities. These awards aren't given for the merits of the artists but for their personal likeability with the award governing bodies.
Once Sly dies, they may give him a "Lifetime Achievement" award as they did for guitarists Jimi Hendrix, vocalists Bob Marley, Bill Withers, Gil Scott Heron, Diana Ross, and saxophonist John Coltrane. But, some may never receive a mantle trinket for an actual album of theirs:
RAPPERS - Public Enemy, Run-DMC, DMX, TuPac, Busta Rhymes & Snoop Dogg.
SAXOPHONISTS - Eddie Harris, Stanley Turrentine, Gene Ammons & Robert Stewart.
TRUMPETERS: Woody Shaw, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd & Clark Terry.
VOCALISTS: Nina Simone, Jeffrey Osborne & Freddie Jackson.
A "Lifetime Achievement" award from the Grammys is actually a "slap in the face" form of disrespect for the recorded albums of the artists. Not a single album of theirs was good enough to win on its merit, so 50 to 60 years later, the Grammy snobs give a consolation prize, a travesty.
Lastly, Sly Stone has been homeless for years and living in a van parked on a street in Los Angeles. He sued his former managers for royalties that he never received. He won 5 million dollars in a settlement. However, another court overturned his victory and he never received his earned money. Aye, the same old entertainment horror story-playbook: Sign them, suck every creative ounce from them and spit them out for the next young, hot new thing.
Well, if anyone knows how to reach Sly Stone, tell him that his distant cousin will gladly assist him in whatever he needs. It's the least that I can do as a fellow lightworker. I must repay this man who gave so much to so many. He is truly one of my childhood inspirations and still my musical hero!
Thanks For Reading,
(C) Prof. Robert Stewart - 2023
Sly & Stevie Wonder
Two of the greatest musical minds to ever walk the earth. 👇
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