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0 Sly Stone - Thank You! Review

  • Review
  • by Kingsley H. Smith
  • 01/24/2024

I love this in-depth story about Sly Stone: Thank You (Faletttinme Be Mice Elf Agin). He tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth in his electric 2023 musician memoir, co-written by Sly with Ben Greenman. 

During my entire professional radio career I played Sly's music: the hits, the heavies, and the near misses. Mr. Stewart's word-driven, song-laden, narrative timeline is accurate and all-encompassing as he tells the Sly story.

The book is long. It's almost 300 pages before you get to the selected discography and other back of the manuscript matter.

Who is Sylvester Stewart, the architect of the hit making Sly & The Family Stone machinery?

Sly enters the world of Denton, Texas in 1943. He says "a little while after I was born, we moved out to California." He and family settled in Vallejo, a port city that was the home of the first naval shipyard on the west coast.

Soon there were seven members in the family unit. Sly recalls that music was front and center as the eighth sibling of the clan.

Sly became a jack of all instrument trades playing piano, keyboards, bass, guitar and other melody maker devices, joined by his eventual Family Stone brother Freddie (on guitar).

The whole family rejoiced together singing gospel songs at home and at church. They bonded through the chorus of praise. 

After high school, a strong music theory teacher at Vallejo Junior College was a big influence. Sly credits instructor David Froehlich for helping him "recognize chords, scales, intervals, and rhythms."

He says he "learned how to learn," crediting Froehlich for his appreciation for "music as a language."

We learn how Mr. Stewart acquired the sobriquet "Sly." Not how you might think! Before jumping into music full-time, the medium of radio knocked as a possible opportunity.

If you want a broadcasting job, you have to be aggressive. Our hero explains how he got his first radio gig at KSOL San Francisco after completing training at the Chris Borden School of Modern Radio Technique.

Listen to this aircheck of Sly Stone at KSOL inside my blog post from 2006: The Secret Life of Sly Stone.

Singing and Playing Simple Songs

Progressive forward thinking creative people at Black radio stations always open up the song airwaves to multi-cultural artists. KSOL was a Black station. Sly took some heat in 1964 for including "Beatles, Stones, Bob Dylan, and Mose Allison" in his on-air playlist.

This era was the heyday of the three minute or less hit song. Stations could jam in more ads by playing short records so artists created those records! Sly emphasizes his philosophy of writing short tunes throughout the book.

Even in the radio studio, Sly was never far from a musical instrument.

Styling the thank you words

If you've ever watched a Sly Stone talk show interview, you may have noticed his innate ability for non sequiturs. The Random House Dictionary defines them as "an inference or a conclusion that does not follow from the premises."

So when Sly says "arrest records were my new records" or "I didn't really keep score except when it came to scoring" (talking about good and bad days), you know this is authentic and this is the real Sly.

The book uses this technique to move the story along. Another of his gems: "if I wasn't straight, I didn't have much interest in being straightforward."

Producing hits

While still at KSOL, Sly shares anecdotes about early success producing hits for Bobby Freeman "C'mon and Swim," and both "Laugh Laugh" and "Just a Little" by the Beau Brummels.

Sly Stone shares ideas and interacts with a who's who of performers, stars, and musicians. He has a lot of interaction with Bobby Womack, Billy Preston, George Clinton, and others.

George 'Mr. P. Funk' Clinton is at the center of a famous story related by Sly. If you've watched the documentary "Tear the Roof Off: The Untold Story of Parliament Funkadelic," this birthday suit story is shown in the film and recalled by Sly's summary in the book.

Sports, Cars, and Everyday People

Sly loves boxing and collectable cars. He talks fondly about interactions with Muhammad Ali. He lustfully describes his army of personal automobiles. Everything is on the table during his story.

Mr. Stewart wanted an everyday people concept for his band Sly & the Family Stone. "White and Black together, male and female both, and women not just singing but playing instruments."

It's 1967. Sly was missing shifts at KSOL. He hops across The San Francisco Bay to Oakland's KDIA. The interracial Sly & The Family Stone drop "A Whole New Thing" into the marketplace while Sly is still at KSOL.

This collection of songs showed some promise but received mixed reviews. By the time "Dance to the Music" is released, the legend of Sly as a saint, sinner, and performer takes off.

I've written about seeing Sly & the Family Stone live at both The Apollo Theater and at Bill Graham's Fillmore East during the same short period in NYC. Sly touches on this dynamic in "Thank You..."

At these two shows I sensed the tension in the Black audience uptown, and the welcoming embrace of the white audience downtown.

Let's face it. Sly & the Family Stone were not the Temptations wearing matching suits. When "A Whole New Thing" was released by the Epic record label, Sly describes the Family Stone band outfits as "eclectic."

Sly recalls label chief Clive Davis asking "if I thought that our fashion might distract people from the music." Sly said no, continuing "it was fashion but it was also a feeling" responding to Davis.

These songs took off in 1968 and 1969:

  • "Dance To The Music"
  • "Everyday People"
  • "Sing a Simple Song"
  • "Stand"
  • "I Want To Take You Higher"
  • "Hot Fun In The Summertime"
  • "Life And Death in G & A" (Georgia and Alabama) by Abaco Dream

"Everyday People," "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mic Elf Agin)" in 1970, and "Family Affair" in 1971 are the three Sly & The Family Stone number one records.

Abaco Dream

Between all of the girl friends, marriage, children, talk show appearances, problems with promoters, gun culture, drugs, and dogs, Sly details the progression of his music year by year alongside his personal and professional challenges.

Each book chapter summarizes a couple of years through his timeline.

There are so many behind the scene stories that this element makes Thank You (Faletttinme Be Mice Elf Agin) a book you won't want to put down. 

Sly discusses all of his album covers and why specific art was used.

You'll discover what really happened between Sly and Larry Graham, his bassist who left and went on to score Graham Central Station music fame.

Sly gets into expressing how hip-hop artists have sampled his music. He likes this and thinks that sampling their music in his tracks might be wonderful to try out!

He says "working on music settles his mind." There are unsettling stories within the prose about his experiences with the drug culture that I don't need to detail. Read the book to learn more.

Stanga by Little Sister

There's also a nice explanation about the "no show" reputation he was branded with and the justification he offers for why he missed so many concerts.

Sly made his reputation with the Family Stone performing at some of the biggest shows: Woodstock, Isle of Wight, Summer of Soul (The Harlem Cultural Festival), and others.

In the later years new musicians would come and go passing through the Family Stone circle of players.

There's a good story about the original group's induction into the Rock Hall of Fame. We learn what was said, and who was there.

Sly talks candidly about superstars Michael Jackson, Prince, and James Brown. He knew them all and has lots to say about them.

Mr. Stewart shares his practice to use cameras and microphones to keep tabs on the pulse of the action inside of his home front. He is a tech guy.

I give him credit for moving smoothly from the analog world into the digital age. His music production benefited.

He got interested in using computers. He mentions the digital audio editor Pro Tools that was used to lay down tracks.

Sylvester says his Alexa smart speaker "let's me request any song I want."

As Sly now navigates through his eighties, I'm happy that this book was finally written. It's his story in his words. This is how he did it.

Sly says he loves to read 'how to' books. Here is his. There's much more that I haven't touched on. Now it's your turn to discover more!

I got the hardcover and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Back in the day, Sly was and still is one of my favorite all time artists.

If you are curious about what shorty song clips I used in the video, here they are in order:

  • "Higher"
  • "I Want To Take You Higher"
  • "M'Lady"
  • "Love City"
  • "Sing A Simple Song"
  • "Dance To The Music"
  • "Hot Fun In The Summertime"
  • "Everybody Is A Star"
  • "Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin"
  • "Everyday People"
  • "Family Affair"
  • "Life"

All photos of the record labels are from my personal music collection. I learned during the early Sly era to finally stop putting numbers and my initials on vinyl records!

Heard Ya Missed Me Well I'm Back - Sly & The Family Stone

Big Apple Showtime

The pictures below are from my May, 1969 Fillmore East program. Yes I was there. Seventeen years old. You'll notice that Sly's birthday is wrong in the group biography. I supply the correct date in the Denton, Texas paragraph above!

Sly & The Family Stone at Fillmore East NYC

Sly & The Family Stone Fillmore East biography

 A Nice Bonus!

This 12" single from my collection was released in 1986 with former Time guitarist Jesse Johnson recording "Crazay," featuring Sly Stone. "Crazay" became a number two R&B hit.

Jesse has Sly's name in pretty small print on the front cover! Can you even read it (in purple)?

The top photo is the front of the 12" single. Underneath is the flip side that features Sly.

Crazay by Jesse Johnson featuring Sly Stone

 Crazay by Jesse Johnson featuring Sly Stone

 

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