(Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)"
Sly & The Family Stone
ylvester Stewart was born March 15, 1944, in Dallas, Texas, but was raised in the San Francisco Bay area from the age of nine. While a teenager, he received some modest regional recognition with a slew of bands that played in a variety of styles. Soon after, he found himself working as a disc jockey for a San Francisco radio station. Since the station owner also owned a recording studio, Stewart's disc jockey connections led to production work, which occasionally included writing songs for his clients. In this capacity, he contributed to hits by the Mojo Men, Bobby Freeman, the Beau Brummels, and the Great Society, featuring Grace Slick. Frustrated with supplying hits for others, he formed his own band and called it the Stoners. Stewart invented an alter ego to suit the group and changed his name to Sly Stone. After a few changes, he eventually settled on his brother Freddie Stewart (guitar); his sister, Rosemary Stewart (keyboards); Cynthia Robinson (trumpet); Jerry Martini (saxophone); Greg Errico (drums); and Larry Graham (bass) as bandmembers. This lineup combined black, white, male, and female members and functioned like a close-knit family. It hung together for virtually all of the band's monster hits.
Sly Stone was not interested in being marketed solely as a black act, so the band developed a style that reflected its diverse membership. Sly & The Family Stone combined equal parts of rock, soul, and psychedelia, added some doo-wop and gospel for spice, and then stirred it up in a giant cauldron for a blend that was thoroughly unlike anything else at the time. Over time, their music would have a profound impact on such later artists as War; George Clinton and the Parliament/Funkadelic family of groups; Earth, Wind, and Fire; Prince; and Arrested Development. In their own time, they were unique and trendsetting.
Always optimistic and infectious, Sly & The Family Stone could be relied on for releasing either a scorching dance track or a sweet celebration of life -- that is, until "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)." For a number of reasons, the cultural climate had changed drastically during the waning days of 1969: Vietnam became an overwhelming obsession, and protests were now openly violent and antagonistic, aimed at a government that turned a deaf ear; despite endless promises, the advancement of minorities was going nowhere fast; the Beatles broke up; and we lost our leaders -- Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. Would it never end? We had been euphorically high, but now we were coming down. It was going to be one hell of a hangover, too.
Collectively, it was as though we no longer wanted to fraternize but preferred to stay at home and sleep it off. Our unity splintered, and we all started to go our own ways. Stone not only sensed it, but irradiated it. Cocaine addiction (one of the first symptoms of the "me" movement), extensive pressure from black power organizers to politicize, pressure from his record company to produce-produce-produce, and interpersonal conflicts within the band all caused him to crawl into his own cocoon and hope that he would wake up the next day feeling better. Since that didn't happen, his creativity turned dark and brutally honest.
"Thank You" is probably the harshest riff Stone ever devised. To guarantee that nobody would miss the fierceness of his alienation, he didn't sweeten the groove with extraneous harmony or melody. The lyrics are delivered with deadpan flatness, but most of us missed the point anyway. Stripped down to basics, the audience contented itself with the hypnotic rhythm driven by Graham's "slap and pop" bass. It eluded us that, because he was suddenly free from the shackles of pretense, Stone was telling everybody to go to hell and then sincerely thanking us for letting him be himself again. There was no more need to fake it. Stone wasn't being remarkably selfish; he was only ahead of his time. Within a few years, this attitude would dominate the mind-set of the entire nation.
- Thomas Ryan, American Hit Radio, Prima Entertainment, 1996.
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