Sly and the Family Stone: Everybody Is a Star
Up the back stairs from the garage, and the troupe — Sly, manager/partner David Kapralik, secretary Stephanie, a couple of girl friends — slides into the back office — Sly’s quarters. Upright tape recorder in an ornate wooden cabinet; electric piano set up nearby; guitar against part of the refrigerator. And the desk — the desk covered by a full-length stretch of violet fur. But that’s Sly, the Mr. Flash of rock and roll. For the Music Scene shot, he had on a gold velvet shirt cut off at midriff, with long black fringes brushing against leopard-skin pants. Tall black fur boots. And masked against that head bursting with hair, those huge violet-tinted goggle/shades he wears in the Woodstock film.
And Sly’s Family — all six of them every bit as done up as Sly himself, sister Rose in yellow satin pantsuit, gold chain cap and silver hair; brother Freddy in a light violet shirt and black coveralls; bass man Larry Graham regal in a black musketeer outfit — cavalier hat, flowing cape, brushed velvet pants. Sly, the host, puts a long wooden pipe in motion around the warm, darkened office, and now he lets out a low, bassy laugh about that television show. Accustomed to working for concert crowds of anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 (and 400,000 in the Woodstock mud), Sly & the Family Stone found themselves facing a tired gathering of maybe 100 diehard kids in the studio by the time they got the call, at half past midnight. Even Leslie Uggams and Merv Griffin gave him bigger crowds to work with.
The tapings had been going on, on and off, since around 8, and 250 people, maybe a quarter of them blacks, had been there at the beginning. But after four hours of harsh Kleig lights, repeated takes of lame comedy sketches, and some music from Buffy Sainte-Marie and Bo Diddley, but mostly technical stops and starts, people began to trickle out. So there are maybe 100 left, and Ken Fritz is worried that Sly won’t be able to come across, and Sly comes onto the mike and right out tells the kids that the instrumental track they’re going to use has already been recorded, done the night before over at Columbia, so that the TV show doesn’t have to worry about mixing, and the kids let out a groan, not hearing what Sly had just said, anticipating a lip-sync trip, so they turn their attention to the clothes. “Well, they gonna lip-sync, but would you check out Sly’s outasite threads?”
And Sly, a vision in black and pink and fringes, sits at his organ, looks around, groggy/alert, a boxer in his corner ready for the bell. And lined up behind him, the Family, fussing over a piano, sax, trumpet, bass, guitar, and drums that won’t be recorded. All of a sudden, four stomps on the black fur boots and Sly & the Family Stone are into “Higher” — Cynthia, pale, with her high, rouged Indian cheekbones, holding her horn high, away from her, screeching her clarion call; her cousin Larry Graham crooning his melodic bass reply, as he always does, then Freddy, the middleman between Larry’s bottom and Sly’s elephant roar, carrying it down the line to his brother Sly. Sister Rosie is counterpointing him, a serious musician at work on the piano. By now they’re all stomping, saxophonist Jerry Martini pumping his hips along with his instrument; his cousin Greg Errico flailing away at drums above and behind him. Sly is itching to leave his chair, and he jumps out, laughing, clapping hands, roaring coarsely, stamping the stage floor like a tribal chief, thoroughly digging the music he’d spent four hours putting together, in at least two dozen takes, the night before.
And that’s just the first minute of the medley. Short count even as the first tune ends, and Sly is wah-wahing: “Don’t call me Nigger, Whitey; don’t call me Whitey, Nigger!” This is the tune Kapralik has been nervous and excited about all day; he’d heard that execs at ABC had heard about plans to include the song in the medley and were ready to come down on it, and Kapralik, the elfish little dropout from Columbia Records’ executive ranks, was rubbing his hands together, spoiling for a fight.
To give ABC no chance to get at the group before taping time, Kapralik stalled from giving Music Scene the lyrics for the tunes Sly’d do until the day of the show; then Sly showed up as late as he could, missing the 3:30 rehearsal call with the explanation that he had to see an ear doctor. Now he’s singing the words out, and black kids in the audience are doing the lip-syncing, singing along with a tune that had made the soul charts last summer. The Family Stone shifts gears and coasts into “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” a lazy essay about how they spent their vacation, repetitive horn riffs and chorus, Freddy, Larry and Sly again taking a line apiece.
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