The late-1960s was loaded with musical groundbreakers, and one of the most enduring is Sly & the Family Stone. Formed by brothers Sly and Freddie Stone, the group grew by leaps and bounds through the combination of rock, R&B/soul, psychedelia, and pop, and by ’69 they had effectively conquered the scene. Theirs is a reign dotted with masterworks, and Sony has collected the bulk of the discography into the vinyl box set Original Album Classics. It includes five 180gm LPs remastered from the source tapes by Vic Anesini and pressed at URP; for a limited time it’s available exclusively at Popmarket.
He was born Sylvester Stewart in Denton, TX in 1943. Two decades later the man was wielding the handle Sly Stone, and when his Sly & the Stoners joined forces with his brother’s Freddie & the Stone Souls in ’67 San Francisco, he was already well-ensconced in the music biz both as a performer and producer at Autumn Records. In due time Sly excelled at his leadership role, though the Family Stone, credited as the first major American rock act to incorporate integrated multi-gender personnel, was always something more.
They initially consisted of Sly (vocals, organ, and assorted other instruments), Freddie (guitar, vocals), Larry Graham (bass, vocals), Cynthia Robinson (trumpet, vocal interjections), Jerry Martini (saxophone), and Greg Errico (drums), with assistance from Vet Stone, Mary McCreary, and Elva Mouton, collectively known as Little Sister (backing vocals). Signed to CBS Records’ subsidiary Epic, they worked fast, maybe too fast; the first long-player was in the can before June was done.
Indeed, if they’d broken up after A Whole New Thing’s cashbox failure, Sly & the Family Stone would likely be forgotten. Over the years the debut has taken its share of heat, some of it undeserved. Things begin fairly well; “Underdog” is bookended by horns riffing on the melody to “Frère Jacques,” but the meat of the matter is upbeat soul. The opener establishes one of the album’s distinctive attributes, specifically a heavier drum sound than was then the norm for the R&B genre.