EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Can Funk/Soul Legend Sly Stone Still Take You Higher?

Sly Speaks! (or Types, at Least)
Can funk/soul legend Sly Stone still take you higher?

The last time the world heard from Sly Stone, the famed funk/R&B/soul singer-songwriter was doing what he does incredibly well—creating confusion and chaos.

Sporting a large blond Mohawk, Stone made a two-minute appearance at the 2006 Grammys during a tribute to him featuring Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Joss Stone, Robert Randolph, Maroon 5 and John Legend. Stone walked to the front of the stage for “I Want to Take You Higher,” sang a few lines, and split. Although the event painted the reclusive artist as less than stable, Stone’s publicist says the plan was to have the guest musicians leave to allow the Family Stone to perform alone. When this didn’t happen, the publicist says, Stone decided to let the all-star cast continue without him.

This incident isn’t the only time in recent history Stone has made frustratingly brief live appearances. For the past few years, the 65-year-old has sung a few songs during sets by the Family Stone Band, a satellite group led by his sister Vet. The difference, Stone says in an e-mail interview, is that his role with his sibling’s band has always been that of a featured performer and not the star of the show.

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“Those were appearances to help my sister’s band,” Stone says. “It wasn’t my show to do a full hour. The agreement was to do 10 to 15 minutes, and I still did 20 to 25 minutes. The misunderstanding is when you’re asked to do 15 minutes and you accept that, and the audience expects you to do an hour. They don’t understand. I’ve never missed a gig where I was supposed to be there; people . . . would have me scheduled to be in two places at once.”

Diehard Sly fans have learned to appreciate anything musical that comes from Stone, regardless of how infrequent his stroke of genius touches the public. We often expect great artists to be mysterious, and Stone’s résumé has definitely earned him that right. By combining, in his uniquely flamboyant way, funk, soul, rhythm & blues, pop and rock, Sly solidified his place among musical greats with the most infectious dance songs this side of James Brown. Tracks such as “Dance to the Music,” “Everyday People,” “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” and “Stand!” sound as fresh, exciting and relevant today as they did some 40 years ago. Similar to that of the Godfather of Soul, Stone’s music remains a catalyst for hip-hop, a circumstance from which the artist derives satisfaction.

“I respect hip-hop,” Stone says. “As a matter of fact, I love hip-hop. Any hip-hop artist should know they don’t have to sample my music; I will participate with any artist, just call me and I’m coming to help. My new nickname is Hip Pop, because somebody has to make people understand that pop music can’t go away; it’s the melodies. At the same time, it’s hip-hop that gives us the beat. We need that beat and we need the melody. So from now on, I’m Hip Pop!”

Stone’s been out of the public eye for most of the past three decades, but he’s booked a handful of gigs across the country with members of the Family Stone as a way to reacquaint himself with the public. Although the artist says he’s not quite sure what the future holds, new material could reach listeners’ ears sooner rather than later.

“What I’ve been doing is writing songs,” Stone says, “a lot of songs. Until recently, I had two black binders filled with songs and they were stolen from me. Even though I have copies of all these songs, the idea that someone around me who is supposed to be helping me might take these hurts. If anyone should happen to find these binders of songs, do as they see fit. There is a reward for anyone who returns those binders. The binders explain two years of my life and two years is too long to wait, and two words can’t get it straight! Help me find my binders. These people are not allowed to steal our music. It’s your music, my music, and it came from God.”

Sly & the Family Stone perform with Jupiter Rising at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583; www.hob.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $50-$55. All ages.

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