Artist and Musician Biographies


Here is Sly and the Family Stone singing "Dance to the Music."

Formed in 1967, Sly and the Family Stone became a very influential band in the development of rock and funk music. The band is also one of the first mainstream, well-publicized groups to include blacks, whites, men, and women in the group. Sylvester Stewart, otherwise known as Sly Stone, was the driving force behind Sly and the Family Stone.

Sylvester was born in 1943 in Denton, Texas but would soon relocate to the less-than-desirable industrial community in Vallejo, California. As a child, Sylvester sang gospel with his siblings and even recorded a piece called "On the Battlefield for My Lord" at the age of eight. His education consisted of a diploma from a Vallejo high school and then some courses at Vallejo Junior College.

During this time, Sylvester joined a doowop group, The Viscaynes, singing lead vocal. With the Viscaynes, Sylvester cut a version of the song "Yellow Moon" and then went on to produce "Long Time Away" and "Help Me With My Broken Heart" in 1960 under the G&P label.

Like an earlier rock musician, Bill Haley, Sylvester turned his career in music to being a disc-jockey for a radio station, KSOL, and later, KDIA. It was in the course of disc-jockeying that Sylvester adopted the radio name Sly Stone. Sly's radio profession would result in a few more early recordings with the newly formed Autumn Records in 1964. The releases, "I Just Learned To Swim," "Buttermilk" and "Scat Swim" were very popular at local dance clubs.

The first band that Sly would form was titled Sly and the Stoners. At the same time, Freddie, Sly's younger brother, would also form a band, Freddie and the Stone Souls. Neither band was very successful and Sly and Freddie decided to take the best talent from each band and create a new one. Sly brought with him Cynthia Robinson, a trumpeter, and a sax player, Jerry Martini. Freddie brought Greg Errico, a drummer. Sly also introduced the talent of Larry Graham, a vocalist and bass player to the band. Graham would later become known for his innovative style of bass playing called "thumping" or "plucking."

This was the group that would be known as Sly and the Family Stone, the year was 1967. The first record they produced was "A Whole New Thing" on the Epic label. It was after the release of this album that Sly's sister, Rose, joined the band.

In 1968, Sly and the Family Stone accomplished their first hit across the country with "Dance to the Music." 1969 brought the album, "Stand!," which drew upon the politically charged times the nation was facing. Songs such as "Everyday People" and "Thank You (Falettinme be Mice Elf Agin)" reached number one on the charts.

It is crucial to note the gender and racial-rich composition of the band embodied the ideals of the times by promoting peace and harmony as well as displaying that harmony lives on stage. As a multicultural hippie band, their music was a blending early funk with psychedelic rock. It was also in 1969 that the band would perform at the legendary Woodstock music festival. Many consider the Woodstock performance to be the high point in Sly's career before his life began to slide downhill.

While 1970 did in fact bring the band their second gold album when their "Greatest Hits" was released, it also marked the downward spiral of Sly as he became addicted to drugs. Sly was often either late or did not show up at all to concerts. Still, the band managed to produce the single "Family Affair," another number one hit. During the production of "There's a Riot Goin' On" in 1971, the band faced another blow when Greg Errico decided to leave during the album's production. Shortly after the latter album was released, Larry Graham also departed the band in 1972. With new bassist Rusty Allen, one more gold album was accomplished with "Fresh" in 1973. The band officially dissolved in 1981.

Little of anything remarkable was heard from the band after this point as Sly's lifestyle became more and more problematic. In 1974, Sly married Kathy Silva during a concert in what was said to be an attempt at some much-needed publicity. The marriage ended in divorce a mere six months later. During the 1980's, a few comeback attempts were made with little success.

For a short time, Sly worked with George Clinton and Funkadelic. Clinton has often acknowledged the influence of Sly on funk music and attributes the breaking down of the barrier between black and white rock to Sly and his band. During these years Sly also spent some time in jail and in drug rehabilitation centers. He disappeared from public view after a series of drug busts and then reappeared when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. For a long time there has been a rumor of a comeback album for Sly, but it has never appeared.

Other members of the band have achieved more promising post-band lives. Larry Graham formed his own band, Graham Central Station after leaving Sly and the Family Stone and is now working on an album with Prince. Greg Errico is now performing as a drummer with the Gary Duncan's Quicksilver Messenger Service. Rose has turned to singing with a local choir and appeared occasionally on TV programs. At a church in Vallejo, Freddie serves as a pastor.

Despite Sly's personal issues, the band Sly and the Family Stone's influence can still be heard in the backbeats of hip-hop and pops songs today. His music has been used for a number of television advertisements, including the very successful Toyota ads in 1998 and 1999 based on the song "Everyday People."

Page author: N.G.