Sly and the Family Stone’s first four albums were the work of a man in total control of his talents and craft. By the time of his band’s fourth album, the monumental Stand!, Sly Stone was applying remarkable discipline to his work: writing, performing on, producing and arranging all songs.
But with the massive success of Stand! and the band’s subsequent appearance at Woodstock came a big change in Stone and, as a result, his band. He became addicted to cocaine among other substances, and supposedly kept a violin case filled with drugs with him constantly. Stone’s Bel Air mansion took on a cult-like atmosphere, with Stone dispensing drugs to his fellow band members and assorted hangers-on.
Some of the band’s next album, There’s A Riot Goin’ On, was recorded in a home studio here, with Stone recording much of his vocals lying down. He’d also allow groupies to sing over the album’s tapes as “auditions,” then once he’d had his way with these women, send them on their way and wipe the tape. This eventually diluted the fidelity of the actual recordings themselves, contributing to the album’s murky sound. Given all this chaos, it’s a testament to Stone’s talents that the resulting album is still one of the greatest ever made.
Stone made a half-dozen further albums of varying quality after this; by the end of the ’70s he’d started giving them sad titles like “Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I’m Back and Back On The Right Track” and the songs contained within were largely lame retreads of his earlier material. In the 1980s, Sly basically disappeared. He’d pop up for an occasional live performance, cameo on someone else’s album or arrest for cocaine possession, but beyond that was rarely seen.
In the mid-2000s there were hints of a comeback; he appeared with his old band and other musicians for a tribute to Sly and the Family Stone at the 2006 Grammy awards, but Stone left the stage before the performance was over. In 2011, reports surfaced that Stone was homeless and living in a van in L.A. He was quoted as saying, “I like my small camper. I just do not want to return to a fixed home. I cannot stand being in one place. I must keep moving.”
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