The sad news that Sylvester Stewart — former funk overlord and head of the Family Stone — has been found
living in a camper van in Crenshaw, California, prompts us to revisit a vintage
Melody Maker interview conducted at the height of his pimpadelic pomp——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director,
He extended a hand but looked elsewhere.
Who could tell where his eyes focused beneath those silver shades? He gripped
and I felt pain through the middle finger on my right hand. He grinned and
About half an hour later I found out what
had caused the pain. On his two little fingers were a couple of matching rings.
Spelled out in diamonds were the words "SLY" (right hand) and "STONE"
Meeting Sly is like coming face to face
with an ugly cop. He isn't social. He isn't friendly. He resents intrusions on
his privacy. He doesn't like to talk. He's a star and he acts like a star
ought. Moody, mean and magnificent.
How many interviews begin with a little
prose about how the interviewee is just like an ordinary guy in the street? Too
many. That's not for Sly Stone. He isn't like an ordinary guy in the street.
He's Super-Black, riding on a wave of hero
worship among his people, rather like Miles Davis.
Sly Stone rarely gives interviews and when
he does the answers are monosyllabic apologies for replies.
They pierce and challenge the writer to
fumble with his next attempt until Sly is in complete control of the situation
(and able to bring the exercise to a speedy conclusion).
Last Wednesday was Sly Stone day. Our
appointment was scheduled for 3:30 in the afternoon but when I arrived at his
manager's office at the southern end of Central Park West, it turned out that
Sly had disappeared to see a doctor for a blood test required because of his
It was re-scheduled for five o'clock and in
the meantime his new album, tentatively titled Small Talk, was played.
It was only a rough mix, but again, it's a
departure from previous Sly material. All but the two opening songs on the
first side are recorded with a violin and many of them are slow, almost
waltz-time, pieces. But despite this there's still that pounding bass guitar
that has distinguished the Stone catalogue from the early days.
It was six o'clock when the man arrived,
preceded by a white personal assistant. He breezed through the office and
disappeared almost immediately, allowing just a glimpse of a white leather suit
with red trimmings and a bare, black chest.
Another 10 minutes and he re-appeared,
taking us through to an apartment adjoining his management offices. This was
where he lived, and it was tiny by rock-star standards.
I offered him a copy of Melody Maker, pointing put that it
contained an article on him (the recent "Rock Giants" story by
colleague Steve Lake) and he retired to his toilet to read the story. He was
gone for another 10 minutes.
While waiting, I caught sight of Sly's
beautiful fiancée, Kathy Silva. She's the mother of Sly Stone Jr. and she will
marry her beau on stage at Madison Square Garden during a Sly concert next
month. That's the way REAL stars ought to get married.
Sly re-emerged to the sound of plumbing and
sat on a couch, still reading the Melody Maker.
An opening inquiry about the heavy use of
violins on his new album: "It's different. It's unusual. That's probably
why I did it. The strings were around so I used them."
Have you been wanting to do this for a long
time? "Probably. I don't need
to think about it at all to get it together."
You seem to be forever changing ... "Time
changes me, man."
Will you be introducing the strings on
stage ... "I gotta violin player in the group now. His name's Sidney. He's
from Sausalito and I've known him just long enough for him to get into the
Did you arrange the strings yourself ... "Part
There's a lot of slower material on the
album. Are you cutting down on the frantic Sly Stone material... "There's
a lot of songs so I introduced slow songs also. There're 11 songs. I didn't
count which were slow."
How big is your group at present ... "Nine
Tell me something about the bass player... "That's
me. I play bass on all my records. I play most everything on all my records. I
just overdub everything."
Wouldn't the group ever like to be on the
record with you ... "Sometimes they're on the record also, but they feel
good about it. They like it this way and they're pretty honest about what they
"I've recorded like this ever since
the Stand! album, ever since Dance To The Music, I guess."
Have you ever felt like playing bass on
stage... "Sometimes I do."
Kathy, Sly's fiancée, chipped in here. "It's
in his heart. He plays it so good that he's like to play everything on stage if
he only could. He's only one man but he has a million thoughts."
Do you get bored with always playing the
very familiar material like Dance and Higher... "No. They like it and they
keep on liking it and you gotta keep telling people you like it, too. I love
every period of my career."
Where do you write ... "My songs come
from environments. I just go about my day and as things come to me, I write
them down. I write on the toilet 'cos no one bothers me there."
Are you trying to change your image by
getting married and releasing slower material. Is the image mellowing these
days... "I'm not trying to. Vibes just leave me. I'm still as crazy as I
always was, if crazy is the right word."
Will you actually turn up for shows... "I
won't ever be predictable."
Your performance in the Woodstock film
helped you enormously in England ... "Sure. I enjoyed playing there. All
my gigs are good."
And other highlights you remember ... "Yeah,
but you wouldn't know about them."
I'd be in the wrong country, huh ... "It's
not the country you're in, it's the skin you're in. And it's not the color at
that. I enjoy myself best on the toilet and I wouldn't invite you there."
The last remark brought the interview to an
inevitable conclusion. Sly's assistant showed me to the door while the man himself
curled up on the sofa with his fiancée.
"You know something," said the
girl from his management office who'd sat in during the conversation. "He
really opened up this afternoon. Usually he just grunts at writers. He's done a
few interviews this week and he said more this afternoon than he's said all
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