Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I’m Just Like You: Sly's Stone Flower 1969-70

A daring and innovative artist, Sly Stone was never afraid to try something different and unique with his sound, and he embraced new technology in his recordings. He was one of the first big-name artists to incorporate drum-machine beats into his music. Starting in the early 1970s, he began using an early analog drum machine called the Maestro Rhythm King MRK-2 (aka the funk box) on some of his tracks. And he famously employed funk-box beats on tracks for Sly & the Family Stone’s groundbreaking album There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971), including their #1 hit “Family Affair.” So for better or worse, Sly pretty much brought the drum machine into mainstream music with Riot.

And in addition to the Family Stone tracks, Sly also used funk-box beats for songs that he produced for artists on his short-lived imprint label Stone Flower Productions (1969-71). The label was set up by Sly’s manager David Kapralik with distribution by Atlantic Records.

A new compilation titled I’m Just Like You: Sly's Stone Flower 1969-70 explores Sly’s first experiments with the funk box. On November 4, independent label Light in the Attic Records released the LP version of the 18-track collection, which features tracks that Sly wrote, arranged and produced for Stone Flower signees Joe Hicks, Little Sister and 6IX. The album also contains tracks from Sly’s solo efforts during this period. Additionally, the LP has an early version of “Just Like a Baby,” a song that would later appear on There’s a Riot Goin’ On. It’s interesting to hear this future Riot track in its early incarnation.

I’m Just Like You: Sly Stone’s Flower 1969-70 also contains ten previously unissued tracks that are newly remastered from the original tapes. This album captures Sly as he was making the transition to a more dark, minimalist sound, which would define There’s a Riot Goin’ On. This new sound was worlds apart from the largely upbeat, optimistic and anthemic tracks found on the band’s previous album releases. These Stone Flower recordings served as Sly’s testing ground for the evolution of his new sound.

The album features two versions of “You’re The One” by all-female R&B trio Little Sister, which was fronted by Sly’s youngest sister Vaetta Stewart.  The early version of the song has a much different arrangement from the recording that was eventually released to radio. And the final version (“You’re the One, Parts 1&2") was released as a single and became a hit. The percolating funk/soul track climbed to #4 on the R&B charts and #22 on the pop charts.

The album also contains Little Sister’s stripped-down funk-box driven cover version of Family Stone track “Somebody’s Watching One,” as well as the trio’s full-band version of the song. The bare-boned, funk-box version of the song was released as a single and also became a hit, charting at #8 on the R&B charts and #32 on the pop charts.

Additionally, I’m Just Like You features tracks Sly wrote and produced for soul singer Joe Hicks, including the soulful, hard-groovin’ cut “I’m Goin’ Home” and its B-side “Home Sweet Home.” Another noteworthy Hicks track on the album is “Life & Death in G&A (parts 1&2).” This track has that singular, brittle, stripped-down funk-box sound that would distinguish many of the tracks on There’s a Riot Goin’ On.

And the collection also contains tracks Sly wrote and produced for six-piece multiracial rock group 6IX; these tracks are characterized by Sly’s new sonic direction, with slowed-down grooves and a heavy funk-box presence.  One of the standouts of the 6IX songs on the album is a slowed-down, extremely funky version of the Family Stone track “Dynamite.”

I’m Just Like You: Sly's Stone Flower 1969-70 is a terrific collection of tracks and a fascinating snapshot of Sly exploring new sonic terrain and mining a brand-new sound in the process. This new innovative sound was introduced to the world through There’s a Riot Goin’ On, which has had a significant impact on contemporary music; today Riot’s influence can be heard in the genres of R&B, hip hop, funk, soul and even pop and alternative music.

Dynamite by 6IX

I'm Just Like You: Sly' s Stone Flower 1969-70 at Amazon

Related blog entry: You're The One (Part 2) by Little Sister

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