I can't move; I'm so sore, and it's all the Family Stone's fault.
I saw The Original Family Stone over the weekend at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk— or, I should say, I joined the Family Stone, because if you get within 100 feet of their company, you are a participant.
I was on "background vocals," and "background dancing fool," along with a couple hundred other Everyday People, who screamed and pounded the beach into a cake of funkified salt.
There are three 60-year-old-plus original members of Sly's Family leading this reunion tour: Cynthia Robinson, trumpet/vocals; Jerry Martini, sax/vocals; and Rose Stone, keyboard and lead vocals— along with a bunch of youngsters filling out the other positions that the original Family revolutionized.
I danced directly under Cynthia's trumpet because I wanted her horn-spit to to hit me if I should be so blessed.
Cynthia is my favorite. I remember sneaking into my first screening of Woodstock when I was fifteen, and realizing that this commanding woman was the first female performer I'd ever seen in a band horn section.
Woodstock made the Stone Family mega-stars. Sly brought the first multi-racial, gender-blind band to the rock stage. The Family featured women who were ferocious, not fluffy. And when was the last time you saw a white drummer backing a black front musician?
Sly's Family snipped
racial and sexual cut-outs to ribbons: Don't call me Nigger, Whitey— Don't call me Whitey— Nigger. Songs like that are outrageous today. It's dumbfounding to consider how courageous this
group was— and more's the pity, how radical they still seem today.
It's hard to remember a time when every funk/soul/rock group didn't trade lead vocals like the Family did. The original bass player, Larry Graham, was onto SLAPPING something— and no bass player ever touched his strings the same way again. This band's funk came out from between their legs, and knocked you upside the head. Even James Brown had to take a deep breath.
After Friday's show, I went home and looked up all the archival material I could find on the Stone Family— it's rich. I recommend viewing their prize-winning gig at the Ohio State Fairin 1968, their early 70s rehearsal footage, and an encore performance from Woodstock called "Love City," which surely could've been included in the main feature except it would've made everyone else look puny.
If you haven't been in the history vaults, your first question might be, "Where is Sly?"
Sylvester Stewart is alive; he supports this reunion group, and this really is his family— Rose is his sister, and Cynthia's the mother of one of his musical daughters, Phunne Stone. Jerry is all the uncle you're ever going to need. Freddie Stone,
Sly's brother, was the original lead guitarist, and now leads a church congregation in Vallejo who I'm determined to go see in their monthly jubilee.
Vet, another sister who used to perform background vocals, has a daughter, Lisa, who's played with the family too. They all came down to the Boardwalk, just to be in the audience. I'm sure I'm missing half the family tree, because the Stewarts rival the Osmonds and Jacksons for sheer genetic musical talent.
People say that Sly fell apart over drugs, notably cocaine. That's true, in a small-fact way, but it's deeper than that. Every superstar of the 60's rock scene fell apart on coke, heroin, and booze. The Stone Family band had its horrible ego/drug feuds, like every other band.
Some died, some survived, and some couldn't survive if they stayed in the business end of what gets called "music." Some have been self-medicating for another angle altogether.
I'd say Sly falls in the tortured genius camp— he's never stopped making music, but he stopped trying to deal with the public. He did time on cocaine possession, and I don't mean Paris Hilton time. His family is protective of him.
When you see the senior Family members step up on stage today, with their chops and charisma, you realize this really is "A Family Affair." We should all be so lucky to kick out jams like this when we're pushing 70. *I* can't lift my tired arms over my head after one measly night, and they're back on the road with a full summer tour schedule: Link.
People in Santa Cruz typically arrive early at the Boardwalk to set their blanket up on the sand for the Friday night music shows. They are maniacal about saving their space, and when the music starts, they get cranky if anyone stands up, or blocks their view.
But Friday night, they were all on their feet:
"Everybody... STAND!...You've been sitting much too long; there's a permanent crease in your right and wrong...Stand!... There's a midget standing tall, and a giant beside him, about to fall— Stand! Stand! Stand!"
It was Panda-Funkin-Monium.
My daughter was running the roller coaster behind the bleachers— she's a ride operator there this summer— and they turned off the ride so that everyone could have as much hot fun in the summertime as they could take.
The teenage boy she was running the ride with, he confounded her: "I don't know how to dance to music like this," he said.
"He's a little hung-up," I said, when she described it to me later. She listened to that word, "Hung-Up," like she'd never visualized the full metaphor before, and nodded her head.
Yeah, there's always someone like that around; you want to Take Them Higher (Higher!) — but they hold on so tight before they let go!