Sunday, March 15, 2015

All In the Family: Birth Stone

It's Funk Sunday and time for the second half of our weekend birthday extravaganza, this time featuring a true O.G. of The One.
Yes, today's honoree is a little left of center... but who worth their weight in Funk isn't?  Without his innovations, there's simply no such thing as the music of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Once upon a time, there was no such thing. Rock, Soul, Funk, Jazz and R&B were discrete, separate genres with almost entirely separate audiences. You most certainly almost never saw a racially- and gender-integrated group amalgamating them, and such a thing most assuredly wouldn't have ruled the charts and fueled the explosion of funky music we take for granted as The World We Live In today, right?
Nope, there was no such thing... until there was. Until this man put together this group and (this is in NO way an exaggeration) completely changed the world. Don't let the idea that the twin demons of the music business and drug use drove him out of commission later detract from the impact of the fact that this guy and this band are among the most important ever to play instruments.
At one time, they were literally (not figuratively... this shit was coming out of radios worldwide) the soundtrack of the planet, and you could name a dozen or more of their songs that will be funked to when you, me, and everyone we have ever known will be long gone from here.
There isn't even a need to explain it all because this man and this band are interwoven into the DNA of this world now. All the music we know and love of the last 45 years runs through what they accomplished. Did he show up for TV appearances higher than any other single human being in the history of television? Yep. Did he fail to show up for 1/3 of the gigs on some tours? Uh-huh. Did his bass player -- himself the inventor of that slap-and-pop, thunder-thumbs style every single bass player since has copied -- once allegedly hire a hit man to take him out? Does it matter? Not in the slightest. That's all part of the fun! It's all in the Family.
Sylvester "Sly Stone" Stewart's story is well documented so I will bore you no further with pathetic attempts at description of the sublimely indescribable. Sly and the Family Stone left a mark or three on contemporary music that will never end and never stop informing the music of subsequent generations. Period.
That said, today's share is a rare thing, indeed. In the Summer of 1969, a huge, multi-week event called The Harlem Cultural Festival was put together, concurrent with and in the spirit of all the other festivals going on at the time like the first Isle of Wight one and the mothership Woodstock in August. This one was happening all that summer to promote Black artists and showcase African-American music in Uptown NYC. These events took place over the course of the whole summer, culminating in the street fair in September that Jimi Hendrix famously headlined. This is an NTSC DVD, sourced from a U-Matic master tape, of a film crew's documentation of the Sly and the Family Stone set that took place in Mount Morris Park in Harlem at the end of June of 1969, as part of the Harlem Cultural Festival, and has never been issued in any form.
Don't be distracted by the U-Matic logo in the middle of the screen... after about two minutes you forget it's there and this becomes an utterly fascinating document in a million different ways. The whole atmosphere is like watching a slice of life from the distant past and to be honest it's just as interesting to watch the crowd take it all in. You can almost sense the "what the heck is this???" vibe as the audience (there's probably 20,000 people there) wonders what to make of the outrageously-dressed multi-cultural circus act The Family whips on them over the course of the 43 minute performance. It may seem tame today, but at the time this was about the most outrageous, boundary-shattering pop group going.
Sly and the Family Stone
Harlem Cultural Festival
Mount Morris Park
Harlem, NY

01 intro/M'Lady
02 Sing a Simple Song
03 You Can Make It If You Try
04 Everyday People
05 Dance to the Music
06 Music Lover
07 Higher
08 announcement
09 Higher (reprise)

Total time: 42:50

Sly Stone - vocals, organ, percussion
Cynthia Robinson - trumpet, percussion & vocals
Jerry Martini - saxophone, percussion & vocals
Larry Graham - bass & vocals
Gregg Errico - drums
Freddie Stone - guitar & vocals
Rose Stone - electric piano, percussion & vocals

NTSC DVD from U-Matic masters, with timecode, pro-shot by The HCF in 1969 and never issued
By now, your mind has penetrated this rambling, incoherent screed and you've been able to discern that it is Sly's 72nd birthday today, born as he was in 1943. But that really doesn't matter; Sly transcends time and space and mere revolutions around The Sun. Yack this DVD down and toss it on, and that'll be all the proof you need for a Funk Sunday, trust me.--J.