A fusionist from the get-go, with an outsize, mixed-race-and-gender band, Sly Stone was less interested in genre blurring than in the hot glory of multiple styles played simultaneously. Check his 1964 solo jam "Scat Swim," a surf-pop instrumental with raw blues licks and jazzbo vocalese. It's a highlight of this four-CD box, the richest overview yet of maybe the most visionary funk operation in pop history. Though Sly could write and play almost anything, Higher! shows how crucial his band was: the firecracker soul-shouting of sister Rose Stewart, the radical percussive technique of bassist Larry Graham (developed playing sans drummer with his mom), the sweet tenor of brother Freddie. When these voices fused – "Everyday People," the wild soul-rock outtake "Pressure" – it was as good as music gets. And though drugs and other problems would sideline Sly, his influence remained: in Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis, P-Funk and Prince, generations of rappers and dance-rock bands. Even today, the Family tradition thrives.
From The Archives Issue 1190: August 29, 2013