Happy Birthday to Sly Stone

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Today is Sly Stone’s birthday, which is as good an excuse as any to post a couple of Sly-produced semi-rarities. These are all taken from the Listen To The Voices: Sly Stone In The Studio 1965-1970 compilation.

The songs below were originally released on the short lived Stone Flower label. I found an excellent thorough write up on this label and its output on Head Heritage, so I’m gonna cheat a little here and use their words verbatim for info and descriptions. The full article is well worth your time if you like the music.

“…Stone Flower, a subsidiary label of Atlantic Records set up by Sly’s manager David Kapralik to allow for projects outside of the Family Stone under Sly’s guiding hand and direction. Although only yielding four singles before the label folded in 1971, they illustrate a significant point in Sly’s career that otherwise would have passed entirely undocumented…”

”…The third Stone Flower single took a step further down into even more restrictive funk territory with the sole release by 6IX, “Dynamite”/“I’m Just Like You.” 6IX were a four piece vocal group comprised of Charles Higgins (lead vocals), Marvin Braxton (backing vocals, harmonica), Gil Bottliglere (backing vocals) and Paul Stallwell (backing vocals) while Sly handled the musical backing on organ, guitar, bass and drum machine. Super slowed to the paces of a hollowed-out, electronic skank on half a tank and steeped in molasses, “Dynamite” barges in immediately with a blaring, wah-wah’d rhythm guitar from Sly over the opening vocal chorus of his young 6IX cohorts. Two years on from operating as the starter for Sly & The Family Stone’s “Life” album, “Dynamite” is here reduced to narcotised bare bones in a near-reggae velocity with the most minimal of instrumentation. If the Maestro Rhythm King had a setting called ‘Broken Windscreen Wiper Bossa Nova’ then it was used here. The flipside “I’m Just like You” is nothing like the A-side as it’s been cleared of all clutter except for Charles Higgins’ vocals laid out over an anesthetising drum machine rhythm that simmers like a pan of ‘Ricky Retardo Samba’ kept on the edge perpetual boil.”

DOWNLOAD: 6IX – Dynamite

DOWNLOAD: 6IX – I’m Not Like You

Read about/download another single below.

“…The final Stone Flower 45 would be Joe Hicks’ “Life And Death In G&A.” Spread out as a seven minute, two-part funk dirge over both sides, it is the furthest cry imaginable from its previous Family Stone-styled arrangement (under the alias of Abaco Dream) of charged brass constructions, harmony vocals and tight drumming. Here, Sly and Hicks have burrowed so deeply in groove that there is nothing left but a tiny and oppressive pulsation of the densest kind. It’s inconceivable that in 1970, Epic Records would’ve even accepted this as a demo. Punctuated only by lightning forks of echoed, searing wah-wah’d Farfisa organ and lyrics that drift horizontally by, “Life And Death In G&A” trudges on like death reanimated only by those stabs of abrupt e-organ wah-wah’d to constant burbling while the drum machine chugs at a top speed of a fractured handful beats per second matched in tardiness only. Over Hicks’ desperately straining vocals, Sly drops in overamped bass clusters everywhere as slight guitar accents and electric organ wah-wah notes dart in and out without warning. A perfect illustration of Sly’s use of contrasting opposites in his lyrics as counterpoint to the unchanging rhythmic backing track he constructed by himself, “Life And Death In G&A” sees Sly’s ping-ponging rumination on opposites at its highest degree. For outside the contrasting laundry list of opposites that begin with “Good and the bad/Big and the small/In and out/None and all” and ends with “river’s deep/mountain’s high” hangs the larger counterbalance of regimented, machine-generated rhythms Sly created to bounce off of with undercurrents of nuanced bass lines, near-haphazard guitar riffs and staggered keyboard accenting that coexist within the strictest confines of pre-determined clockwork grooves. In a 1978 interview, Brian Eno put forth the interesting suggestion that someone get Kraftwerk and Parliament and “put those two together and say, ‘Make a record.’” But Sly had already come as close to fulfilling that partnering as anyone AND a full eight years earlier. Although Ralf and Florian did claim a Maestro Rhythm King drum machine as part of their Kling Klang arsenal by 1971, Sly had already achieved with his Stone Flower output possibly the smallest and earliest sub-genre of electro-funk, ever. ‘Why’ is the question, and perhaps the beseechingly sung chorus by Joe Hicks is the answer: “If it feels good, it’s alright…”

Note: The version of Life and Death in G&A featured on Listen To The Voices is a little shorter that described above, clocking in at 5:50. Otherwise it is just as amazing as the write up makes it sound.

DOWNLOAD: Life And Death In G&A

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