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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Freddie Stone: Superstar of Sly & The Family Stone

By Environment Man

Freddie Stone simply does not get the historical credit he deserves. But then again, neither does Jimi Hendrix. Then again, according to Eddie Santiago's biography, "Sly: The Lives of Sylvester Stewart and Sly Stone," Hendrix used to be an opening act for Freddie & the Family Stone. Although Hendrix gained more fame, Freddie was no less gifted. In fact, Freddie could sing and play rings around Hendrix. Hendrix never really liked his own voice. According to Santiago, Hendrix tried to recruit Larry Graham and Gregg Errico for The Band of Gypsies. Yet no way could Hendrix have integrated his brand of playing into the super funk rock that Freddie anchored with the Family Stone. If Sly was the head and Larry was the heart, Freddie was clearly the lungs of one of the world's true megagroups. He put the air in the head and the heart of the Family Stone.

I caught Freddie twice in 1971 and one thing was clear from that experience: Freddie would carry Sly when Sly was too distracted by, well, you know. It is amazing how much Freddie and his brother looked and sounded alike in their youth. That is how Freddie could carry Sly's vocal parts. But Freddie's guitar work is some of the best musicianship and 'art' ever created. Sometimes when I listen to Stone cuts, I just check out Freddie's riffs. He had that strange playing style but it was perfect for the groups' formula of super funk/rock. Freddie was the first to 'fuzz-it-up' too. Nobody, let me repeat, nobody put the guitar licks in the soup the way Freddie did. He still does it in his latest disc. And with all the talent that was in the Family Stone, Freddie was efficient in delivering the chops. I could list the songs and licks but I recommend you go back and listen for yourself.

Now I doubt the group will ever get back together before one of the principals dies. A whole lot of stuff went down between Freddie and Larry, Freddie and Sly, Larry and Sly and surely among the other members of the band. Probably humanly impossible for them to bury all those hatchets to make wonderful music for their fans again. But we can long for the day. Sly already stumbled around and gave us some joy over the last year or so. I would be willing to bet, that with the right corporate and management backing, this supergroup could raise the roof and burn the joint down just the way they did it forty years ago. We are hearing that Freddie is playing better than ever too. [Fred's MySpace]

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