If it seems like the 60s superstars were doomed to Icarus-like fates, few soared as high or plummeted as sharply as Sylvester Stewart. As Sly, he led The Family Stone through a dizzying run of smash singles and acclaimed albums, their upbeat riot of soul, funk and rock evoking the optimism of the era as surely as their integrated line-up – men and women, blacks and whites – terrified the more bigoted corners of the establishment.
While their classics – ‘Dance To The Music’, ‘I Want To Take You Higher’, ‘Everyday People’ – remain dancefloor dynamite, darkness always stalked even The Family Stone’s brightest hits; 1969’s ‘Hot Fun In The Summertime’ was a sly comment on the riots that had razed poor neighbourhoods that year. Their next album, 1971’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On, offered a turbulent, enervated funk reflecting the mania of Stone’s increasingly drug-damaged lifestyle, as well as an America at war with Vietnam and itself.
Stone seemed to have surrendered to the chaos of his life; a regular on the TV chat show circuit, he was visibly addled but still ineffably cool, but often failed to arrive at his own concerts, prompting riots and lawsuits. The Family Stone dissolved, while Sly’s subsequent solo albums failed to stop the rot; seemingly relinquishing his throne to Prince as the 1980s dawned, Sly retreated to obscurity, any comeback seemingly a crack-pipe dream.
Then, early in 2006, Sly improbably resurfaced at the Grammy Awards, performing briefly during an all-star celebration of his music. With his shocking white Mohawk, hunched posture and neck brace, he more resembled a Gremlin than the Sly of yore, but that he even turned up at all was, by Stone’s standards, miraculous.
A year on, with the Family Stone catalogue re-mastered and re-released, Sly is back on the road. Early reviews of the tour suggest Sly only appears for a few songs of the reconstituted Family Stone set, but Youtube footage of Stone singing ‘If You Want Me To Stay’ a month ago suggests that remarkable, sublime croak is still intact. A Lazarus-like resurrection is probably too much to hope for, but this Icarus still has enough feathers to take you higher.
(c) 2007 Stevie Chick