The last time the world saw Sly Stone was at his 1993 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. His appearance at the ceremony was a surprise, his speech brief: "See you soon," was all he said. More than a decade has passed since his remark.
On Monday night, however, there was a rare sighting of Sly Stone at Hollywood's Knitting Factory. Stone's little sister Vet was performing with a Sly and the Family Stone tribute band, the Phunk Phamily Affair, in a show to benefit the Los Angeles Braille Institute.
Pulling up in front of the club on a four-wheel Harley, Sly was whisked upstairs to the VIP room where, ironically, he went unnoticed by the roomful of mostly blind musicians who were guests of the club that night. Keeping his motorcycle helmet on throughout, Sly smiled widely as he watched the ten-piece perform a scorching ninety-minute set featuring Stone hits "Dance to the Music" and "Hot Fun in the Summertime."
"He looked like an astronaut coming off the second tier, just as cool as can be," says Michael Rubenstone, a documentary filmmaker who, with partner Greg Zola and indie One-Four Productions, has spent the last two years talking to the reclusive singer's extended musical family for On the Sly: In Search of the Family Stone. With interviews from original Family members guitarist Freddie Stone, singer/keyboardist Rose Stone, drummer Greg Errico and trumpet player Cynthia Robinson already in the can, Vet Stone had convinced the filmmakers that if the Phunk Phamily Affair played a gig in L.A., her big brother would show.
"It was a dream come true," says Vet, "but I was happier for him than I was for myself. I think he was overwhelmed with emotion to see so many people still moved by his words."
Though she admits being a little biased about her brother, Vet maintains that Sly's songs continue to resonate. "His music brings people together, regardless of nationality," she says. "Not to say that rap isn't relevant, but people won't be quoting [rap songs] in twenty years."
In addition to the upcoming documentary, Different Strokes by Different Folks, an album of Sly and the Family Stone covers remixed with the band's original masters -- and, more importantly, Sly's artistic approval -- is due for wide release this September through Sony Legacy. Featuring the Roots, Moby, Chuck D, Maroon 5, Buddy Guy and Will.I.Am of Black Eyed Peas, the album is exclusively at select Starbucks this summer. And there are rumors that Sly is interested in producing, or even performing with, the Phunk Phamily Affair.
"I've always considered Sly to be a chosen person," says Vet. "People sing songs like 'Everyday People' in church! He's always had a message."