Here's where rock and soul and funk and psychedelia all fused together in one cataclysmic explosion, inexorably altering the future of R&B in the process.
Sly Stone—or Sylvester Stewart, as he was born March 15, 1944 in Dallas—had distinguished himself on the Bay Area music scene while still in his teens. He recorded 45s with The Stewart Brothers, The Viscaynes, and as both Danny and Sylvester Stewart before delving heavily into studio work for KYA deejays/concert promoters Bob Mitchell and Tom Donahue's fledgling Autumn Records. There Sly produced Bobby Freeman's brassy 1964 dance smash C'mon And Swim and The Beau Brummels' '65 hits Laugh, Laugh and Just A Little, finding time to making a few singles of his own (I Just Learned How To Swim and the two-parters Buttermilk and Temptation Walk).
Sly & The Family Stone came together in late 1966, not long after Autumn ceased operations. It was a merger of two previous groups, The Stoners and Freddie & The Stone Souls, neither of whom ever made it into a studio. The new lineup
consisted of Sly on keyboards and guitar, his brother Freddie on guitar and their sister Rose on keys, string-popping bassist Larry Graham, drummer Gregg Errico, trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, and saxist Jerry Martini.
Sly did the lion's share of the lead singing, but the liberating vocal interplay between everyone but Cynthia and Gregg meant that the rest shared essential mic time. Epic Records exec David Kapralik caught their freewheeling act and was so knocked out that he not only brought them aboard Epic, he signed on as their manager. The group didn't fit into any conceivable niche, and their aptly titled '67 debut LP 'A Whole New Thing' slipped right through the cracks, major label association or not.
Sly and his Family would have to create their own niche, and that's precisely what they did with the throbbing rocker Dance To The Music. A brisk, bright horn riff and an acappella singalong at the top offer an irresistible invitation to head straight for the dance floor, and several members of the group introduce themselves with a hot lick and a line or two (organist Sly harks back to Mustang Sally for his "Ride, Sally, ride" mention).
Dubbed 'psychedelic soul,' the extremely innovative hybrid that Sly & The Family Stone brewed up had no direct precedent. But this interracial group would soon have a whole lot of followers.
- Bill Dahl -
Various - Sweet Soul Music
Various - Sweet Soul Music 29 Scorching Classics From 1968