The slow fade of Sly Stone - Page 2

The slow fade of Sly Stone: whatever happened to the funk innovator?

No matter how cynical Stone became — the black superstar playing to a largely white audience, the musical genius forced to pander to the tastes of a pop audience, the master manipulator turning every scene to his own advantage — the music was charming and irresistible. As was the man who created it.

Although some of his most important work was still before him, Stone ushered in the 1970s in paranoia and retreat — a perfect fit with the moment. He flipped off superstardom with an arrogance only a superstar could muster. Once outgoing and engaging, Stone burned promoters, his band, and fans. The once-steady supply of new material slowed to a trickle, and Stone became a no-show at dozens of concerts. He slid into an increasingly opaque and eventually impenetrable world. Riot and 1973's Fresh — forget 1974's Small Talk — were as adventurous and self-involved as music could be. Most of the original Family was gone, and the losses of drummer Greg Errico and bassist Larry Graham — who reportedly slept with one eye open after falling out with Stone — were particularly felt. This music was dreamy and solipsistic. Stone's huge smile and the Family vibe were gone, replaced by a menacing undercurrent. Credits on both albums are, apparently, haphazard, which means that the contributions of Miles Davis, George Clinton, and Bobby Womack, for instance, aren't acknowledged.

That Stone could attract such talent was a testimony to his gifts, and to the legendary partying that went on at his Los Angeles mansion. Still, if James Brown invented funk, Stone got in where he fit in: the ground floor. Riot may clock a man losing his grip on reality, but it also captured a musical innovator exploring the possibilities of a crucial movement. *

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