On this day in 1946, Fred Stewart was born in Dallas. Stewart,
who became famous as Freddie Stone, was the guitarist for the
groundbreaking Sly and the Family Stone, the funk band that crossed all
sorts of musical and cultural boundaries.
Led by Fred's brother -- songwriter, singer and instrumentalist Sly Stone -- the
Family Stone were one of the first acts to combine blacks, whites, men and
women into one musical group. The band was also one of the first acts to blend
heavy soul, pop and psychedelic rock into mainstream hits. In addition, Sly and
the Family Stone broke from tradition by including sociopolitical commentary
with soul music.
Sly and Fred played in their family's group, the Stewart Four, as
children. After the family moved from Texas to San Francisco, they
began playing in several Bay Area groups. Sly also worked as a DJ and
became a producer for Autumn Records, where he worked with pre-psychedelic
bands such as the Beau Brummels and the Great Society.
Sly formed the Stoners with trumpeter Cynthia Robinson in 1966. The next
year, Sly and
Robinson formed Sly and the Family Stone, with Fred, their sister Rosemary
Stone on vocals and piano, their cousin Larry Graham on bass guitar, drummer
Greg Errico and sax player Jerry Martini. The group's multi-racial composition
brought them immediate
attention and Sly and the Family Stone were signed by Epic Records.
Their debut album, A Whole New Thing, was released shortly after and
flopped. But 1968's Dance To The Music spawned the top-10 title track.
The 1969 double-sided single "Everyday People" and "Sing A Simple Song"
was a #1 smash and
sent the band on its way to the top. The album it was drawn from, Stand,
made the top 20 on the pop chart and also included the hit "I Want To Take You
Higher." All of these melodic, horn-based, rhythmic tunes earned the band a
legion of fans. But it was Sly and the Family Stone's appearance on the
Woodstock soundtrack album that
solidified their reputation as one of the tightest performing acts of
Two more smash singles -- the #2 "Hot Fun In The Summertime"
and the #1 "Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin" -- followed, and both
were included on Greatest Hits, which went to #2 on Billboard's
pop albums chart. At this point, Sly and the Family Stone were at the
zenith of their career and were ubiquitous on the radio. But after
1970, Sly's drug problems got out of control and he began missing gigs.
In 1971, There's A Riot Goin' On hit #1 and produced the smash
"Family Affair," but the band's music had turned from happy grooves into
militant funk. Though the album was a big influence on the rest of the
decade's funk music, the Family Stone lost some of their pop audience with
their radical images and messages.
Some of the original members
of the group departed in 1972. The next year's Fresh was Sly and the
Family Stone's last big hit album. As disco began to dominate the R&B
landscape, Sly was too hooked on cocaine to compose any worthwhile
material for the Family Stone. After a drug arrest, the band's output
slowed and Epic dropped them.
In 1979, Sly and the Family Stone released
an album of new material, Back On The Right Track, on Warner
Bros. The album was a poor-seller, but the band toured with George
Clinton and Funkadelic. After another even less successful album, Sly
retreated further into drug addiction and was rarely heard from except
for his entering various rehabilitation facilities.
Sly and the Family
Stone were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, but
shortly after, Sly was reportedly living in a homeless shelter. In
1995, Sly signed to Avenue Records, but an album has not yet been
With Sly out of commission for all practical purposes, Freddie
is performing and preaching as the pastor of a Vallejo, Calif.,
church. Sly and the Family Stone remain a major influence on today's funk
artists, most notably The Artist, who has based many of his bands --
including the Revolution and the New Power Generation -- on the Family
Other birthdays: Laurie Anderson, 51; Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden), 44; Richard
(Psychedelic Furs/Love Spit Love), 42; Kenny G, 42 ... Tom Evans