Monday, 14 April 2014

We should all have a bit of Sly on a Saturday

I am not certain how I became aware of Sly and the Family Stone. Growing up in the seventies and eighties (and let's face it - I'm still trying to grow up now) their songs must have been around - all AM dials on old radios - as the family (my one) listened to Sly's one as they beamed through the airwaves as we danced to the music. Danced to his music.

Or there may have been a showing of the great Woodstock festival  - now this could have been on Two or Four. My memory is shot through with cider and getting to grip of the now - not the then. But somehow there's an image of Sly taking me higher on celluloid  - all sequins and groove that kind of blew my mind as I watched him create the ultimate funk stew - on a stage full of glamour to a crowd full of hippies.

And you know I could never trust a hippy (just saying)

And then there was a conversation with Andrew Innes - over drinks and mayhem in a Sheffield club backroom - all Ivy Ivy Ivy and Raw Power - and Andrew was telling us (that's me, Paul and Ian - of The Williams fame - okay - not fame - but you can dream can't ya?) that you should get some Sly in the collection - but not to go too deep too fast - you know lay off There's Riot Goin' On - until you've experienced the deep funk.

So as any young impressionable youth would do - you purchase the worn out tapes of heavy heavy funk that is that wonderful fug of a funk album. That muddied mix of euphoria and paranoia as screeches and slides collide in a foggy haze and daze of everything that is ultimately funky in Sly's universe. And it's great it made to tape - because There's A Riot Goin' On - is possibly one of the rawest funk excursions you'll ever hear - it's flawed - yet it floors (do you get me?) You couldn't really re-master it - but I think Sly has - that ever-reclusive mutha - so hip that Prince looks up to him (and not just literally) I bought a tape version as well - so when that got heated and mistreated it only added to those takes from inside the studio Sly had created in his Bel Air mansion or The Plant studios in Sausalito, CA. Infact it turns out that Sly had had a bed installed in the studio and simply recorded his takes whilst lying down. It does have to be said - that by this time Sly was managed by gangsters and heavily addicted to the chokey and PCP.  So to even get to the stage where you've got a beautiful dark and muddied album was a miracle - Sly played most of the instruments himself - taping and retaping over and over again. 

There's even the heavy use of a drum machine - used instead of - or because of Gregg Errico's hasty departure from the paranoia fuelled existence of life with Sly and his entourage. This was band playing apart to create a unity -and it wasn't their usual way of working. For 'Family Affair' - the hit from the album - and some of the other tracks on the album, Stone had his industry peers and musicians, including contemporary soul acts Billy Preston, Ike Turner, and Bobby Womack lay down the sounds on Riot, instead of his bandmates. The album's muddy, gritty sound was due in part to this excessive use of overdubbing and erasing parts of the reel-to-reel tapes. In my mind - and I hope Sly's this made the whole thing better.

I don't play enough Family Stone in this family house - there was always something of the late night listen about Sylvester Stewart - but recently I put 'Trip to your Heart' on a CD in the car - all compilation for the kids. And as you can see I'm working backwards  -I'm in and out of that collection - ducking and a weaving - pilthering and pillaging - 'cause Sly started that riot with A Riot (do you get me?)

Which brings me to the inherent psychedelic substance of that song.  It begins like the past incarnation of Gravediggaz - all screams and yelps  - like the beginning of Diary of a Madman - but committed to tape some twenty-five years before.

And here comes the opening - all ayes and yeahs - which LL Cool J would lift as he got his Mama to knock us out. Add Sly to mix and all hell breaks loose and falls apart in this trip to your heart. As it shuffles towards that minor key and Sly's trip to our heart - you can already picture the capes, the jump cuts and mirror images of a video designed to represent the (sign of the) times.
There's always been this madcap - playful think about the Family Stone - up for a bit and ready to take you there. I remember reading somewhere back before the world of Britpop exploded and the Verve were just - you know The Verve - and Richard Ashcroft claiming that 'I want to take Higher' was his song of choice before a night on the town at the weekend.

We should all have a bit of Sly on a Saturday.

So here's some Sly for you too.