Apparently a lot of people aren’t aware of of the fact that Sly Stone is a native Texan. That’s right, the immensely talented and controversial performer born Sylvester Stewart on May 15, 1943, was born in Denton, Texas, but his family moved away around the time he was three months old.
Born into a very religious family with five children, Sly was a musical prodigy at a very early age, becoming proficient on the keyboards by age 7 and by the age of 11 had mastered guitar, bass and drums.
As a DJ for KSOL in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 60s, he began mixing in material from white bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones with the station’s predominantly black artist lineup. At the same time he was a staff producer for Autumn Records, working with bands including the Beau Brummels, Bobby Freeman and Grace Slick’s first band, The Great Society.
Adopting the stage name Sly Stone, he was instrumental in forming The Stoners and eventually Sly and the Family Stone, which produced a remarkable combination of Funk and Rock material. Sly being a multi-instrumentalist, was know to single-track entire songs. This is the fine art of playing each instrument himself, one track at a time, layering up the song with himself as the only musician.
I met Sly in 1975 when I was an engineer at Motown Records and he was collaborating with Jeffrey Bowen on a Diana Ross album. Sly subsequently hired me away from Motown in August of 1975 and a library of images from this era is online at one of my other websites. This gallery of images was taken at CBS Studios in San Francisco in 1975. My friend Bobby Vega played bass on this session. I spent a lot of time at Sly’s home in Novato during this time as well. During the Bill Wyman sessions at The Plant in Sausalito, Sly played bass, Van Morrison played keyboards and Tower of Power was the horn section. The enigmatic Gary Kellgren was engineering these sessions in “The Pit” – a studio originally built for Sly adjacent to The Plant’s other two studios. It is now known as Studio C.
I could tell a lot of stories about Sly, but I will leave that for a book that is in production also featuring my photography and interview about this iconic and controversial figure.