Bay Area Legend Sly Stone Steals The Show In New Hulu Documentary “Summer of Soul”



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During the 1960s, a psychedelic awakening spread to all aspects of Bay Area culture. Musically, this is most often associated with the hippie rock and folk of Haight-Ashbury, but the openness and creativity of the movement has extended to the realms of funk and soul as well, embodied by a musician named Sly.

Hulu’s new documentary “Summer of Soul” features incredible musical performances from the long-forgotten Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969, including a wacky drum solo by Stevie Wonder, an emotional rendition of “Oh Happy Day” by the Bay Area gospel legend Edwin Hawkins and a chilling performance of “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” by Nina Simone, but no band has summed up the energy of the festival like Sly and the Family Stone.

Called “The Black Woodstock”, the event was one of soul music’s biggest celebrations of the time, but it had been largely forgotten until previously unseen footage was discovered last year and compiled in a film by Roots drummer Ahmir. “Questlove” Thompson. His directorial debut won the Jury Grand Prix at Sundance months before his theatrical and streaming release on Hulu on July 2.

Singer Sly Stone of psychedelic soul group Sly and the Family Stone awaits transport with his current family, including his parents, on August 3, 1973.

Michael Ochs Archives

Stone’s musical history begins in Vallejo. Born Sylvester Stewart, he moved with his family to Denton, Texas, Northern California, where the young musician recorded a gospel record at the age of 8. At 11, he could play keyboards, guitar, bass and drums, then learned trumpet and composition at Vallejo Junior College and became a popular radio DJ. He has produced tracks for other local R&B singers as well as rock bands like the Warlocks, an early incarnation of the Grateful Dead. Then, in 1966, Stone founded the group Sly and the Family Stone, which were discovered during one of their nightly concerts in Redwood City and signed to Epic Records.

By the summer of 1969, Sly was a star thanks to songs like “Dance to the Music”, “Everyday People” and “Hot Fun in the Summertime”, which applied the musical ethos of the Bay Area and the adoption of the multiculturalism on foot. – Stomping funk rhythms.

“Sly came to church, so he’s got all that vernacular. He was a DJ in the midst of the Haight-Ashbury revolution, so he comes from the epicenter of cool transformative, hip and politically savvy America, ”music critic George Tate explains in the documentary. “He’s a conservatory student and a multi-instrumentalist, so there’s a proto-Prince factor going on.”

The music was unlike anything else back then, and the musicians were unlike anyone else either. They dressed in a distinctly San Francisco style, a stark contrast to the button-up appearance of many black musicians of the time. They also broke new ground in soul music for their racial and gender integration.

“Seeing a black woman play the trumpet made me feel good,” Barbara Bland-Acosta recounts in the film, admitting to having lied to her mother to attend the concert and to have found herself in the front row. “The energy was indescribable. More than excitement.

Harlem Cultural Festival is documented in new film "The summer of the soul."

The Harlem Cultural Festival is documented in the new movie “Summer of Soul”.

Courtesy of Searchlight Picture

Darryl Lewis, who also attended the festival, talked about how different the group was. “When you saw a black group, you generally expected to see all the men, all dressed in matching costumes. … You ask yourself: “What are they doing with the girls in the group? What are the whites doing up there? ‘ “

Stone’s contempt for convention was a gift but also a curse. The group was notoriously unreliable, often late for performances or slow to set up. At the Harlem Cultural Festival, the band roamed the stage with detuned instruments and loosely jamming like a warm-up, a departure from the polite entries of most of the other bands.

The drummer leaned over his kit in a leopard print dress, Sly wore a gold chain link choker and the rest of the band’s wardrobe would not have looked out of place on Hippie Hill, which confused Hippie Hill. some of the New Yorkers featured in the film.

But once the band exploded into a rendition of “Sing a Simple Song,” all skeptics were silenced. Sly hammers his organ and screams over saxophone riffs, his purple undertones soaking up the afternoon sun. Backing vocalist and trumpeter Cynthia Robinson sings the song’s famous “Try a little do re mi fa so la ti do” at a piercing volume. Sly turns in his seat to watch Greg Errico burst into a drum break, which will then be sampled by everyone from 2Pac to KRS-One.

Sly and the family stone.

Sly and the family stone.

GAB / Redferns Archives

“And a white is the drummer?” Lewis says. “We couldn’t get this thing the white guy is the drummer. He’s not supposed to be able to do that!

The full version of Sly and the Family Stone’s performance was uploaded to YouTube recently, but “Summer of Soul” focuses on “Sing a Simple Song”, “I Want to Take You Higher” and “Everyday People” , a song that sums up the musical ethics of the group.

“Sly wanted to address everyone and everything,” Errico says in the film. “Music was the common denominator. Music made you want to challenge the social aspects that needed to be challenged. “. And that’s what we’ve done.

In the months following the concert, the band moved to Los Angeles, where Stone’s lifelong struggle with drug use began to interfere with their production. Several musicians left the group, shows were canceled and a premature album “Greatest Hits” was compiled to pacify the label.

“There’s been a cloud hovering over Sly since the moment he moved to Los Angeles,” saxophonist Jerry Martini said in “Sly and the Family Stone: An Oral History”. “Things really changed when he moved there. … It was chaos. It was very gangster, dangerous. The vibrations were very dark at the time.

The audience joined Sly and the Family Stone on stage on television on October 15, 1969. Sly Stone is in the center with glasses.

The audience joined Sly and the Family Stone on stage on television on October 15, 1969. Sly Stone is in the center with glasses.

CBS / CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images

Then in 1971, Stone released his opus. Originally titled “Africa Talks to You”, the title was changed to “There’s a Riot Goin ‘On” in response to “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. No more singing choirs and summer melodies, replaced by dark harmonies and darker political nuances. The album went platinum thanks to the single “Family Affair” and has since been hailed by critics as one of the 100 best albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

Sly continued to release solo albums which culminated with “Ain’t but the One Way” in 1982, but soon after, his drug addiction became a priority. He was arrested for cocaine possession in 1983 and continued to occur sporadically throughout the 1980s, but has largely withdrawn from public life. In 1993, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and made a brief reappearance for a few shows in the mid-years, as well as a rare interview with Vanity Fair. In 2010, he reunited his group for a crazy performance at Coachella that you’d better forget.

The most important news about Stone over the past decade has been about his financial struggles. In 2011, it was reported that Stone was living in an RV in Los Angeles pending the verdict of a lawsuit against his former manager for unsavory business practices. It received $ 5 million in damages in 2015, but the decision was overturned due to a previous arrangement with another production company regarding its royalties. Then, in 2019, he sold the majority of the American rights in his group’s catalog to the succession of Michael Jackson.

Sly Stone of Sly and the Family Stone performed on stage in July 1974 in Los Angeles.

Sly Stone of Sly and the Family Stone performed on stage in July 1974 in Los Angeles.

Gijsbert Hanekroot / Redferns

Despite his personal difficulties, Stone’s music endures. Few artists have catalogs that cover such an impressive range of emotions, from his funny early hits like “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” to the drugged soul and black eyes of “Just Like a Baby” . While many other funk bands of the era now sound old-fashioned or downright wacky, Stone’s music wouldn’t seem out of place on a contemporary album of critical darlings like D’Angelo or SAULT.

Stone hasn’t spoken publicly in years, but the public may soon hear from him. Questlove recently announced that their upcoming documentary film will focus on the history and legacy of Sly Stone, introducing music to a whole new generation and continuing the musical evangelism that critic George Tate summed up in one of the quotes. most memorable in the film.

“It’s clearly a band with an evangelical sense of their psychedelic soul church. It’s a ministry of fun, ”says Tate.

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