Few groups have been as influential and enigmatic as San Francisco’s Sly and the Family Stone, who blazed brightly in the ’60s and ’70s with their pop, rock, and funk experiments, but dissolved amid leader Sly Stone’s increasingly erratic behavior and arrests. Sly became one of the era’s great reclusive geniuses, reappearing briefly (not to mention blonde and mohawked) at last year’s Grammys, but otherwise unheard from for the last two decades. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the group’s debut, Legacy reissued all seven Sly and the Family Stone albums last week in a deluxe box set, and FADER editor Will Welch talked to Family Stone member (and Sly’s sister) Rose Stone about the making of those classic LPs, all the rumors, the Grammy gig and the group’s potentialy reunited future. We’re proud to present the full Q&A after the jump.
What was your involvement with the box set and the reissues that have come out?
My involvement has been very minimal. Basically, just what I’m doing now!
What was your relationship like with your brother when the idea to put the band together came about, and you ended up working together?
We started off working together as little children, as a family. There was a family group, our parents used to take us around from church to church. We sang in different places and grew up singing together anyway. So being in Sly and the Family Stone was not a big change for me, it was a continuation of something I’ve been doing all my life, just under a different name. My relationship with my brother was always just–he’s my brother!
As things started to pick up – getting a record deal, people outside of the family being brought in – and it became Sly and the Family Stone as we know it, what sort of inspired that shift?
We just had our own sound, whatever we did, even in church. I call it the “family sound.” Not to put anybody down, but nobody in particular was the inspiration. We just would get together and do what we do, make our own music.
When you were still working more specifically in the church, were you doing more secular stuff on the side, just playing together?
No. When the group started, we didn’t stop and say, “We’re gonna do this now, because we used to do that.” We just kept doing what we did. As a matter of fact, when we were in the studio, sometimes Sly would say, “Just do what you do in church!” It wasn’t like a shift in our brains. We never changed. It’s truth music, truth words, and the music was the same.
That’s what you’ve got to love about us journalists, asking for a specific moment that never existed. One of my favorite albums, and obviously a lot of other people’s favorites, is There’s A Riot Goin On. What was the atmosphere like in the band coming out of the Stand! period and going into the sessions that would eventually become There’s A Riot Goin On?
The atmosphere was basically the same, except there would be different people Sly would bring in to play sometimes. I think we were just worn out with the times. We were just a product of what the state of the nation was, I guess you could say. As things progressed and changed with the people in the world, we changed right along with them. That album was just a natural progression of what time does to you.
For that album, what was the writing like? Was it still super collaborative, or did Sly emerge as more of a specific leader?
He was always the leader, but everything was always done as a collaborative affair. And when this particular album came out, it was the same thing, really. It was just a different type of music–everyone had changed, we were all just a little different than when we started.
Was there any hesitance to push into the new territory you were pushing into sonically? There was a darker feel, and some of the production was pretty out-there.
I don’t think so, because it wasn’t dark to us. Remember, when people would hear an album, we’d already done those same songs hundreds of times – so it didn’t change for us, we just moved on to different songs. You don’t want the last album to sound like the first.
What is your relationship to your brother now?
It’s great! Brother and sister.
Do you speak with him frequently?
Oh yes. We always talk.
What were you feeling leading up to Sly’s appearance at the Grammys last year? Were you nervous about how he would feel–I know you had been working on projects all along, but this was a real step out and reappearance for him.
Was I nervous about what he would feel?
Yes, were you nervous yourself, and also, what was the sort of sense you were getting about how he felt towards the whole thing?
I think he was glad to do it, because he hadn’t been out in so long, and I think he was probably more excited than I was, because I was doing things all along. He was looking forward to it! He showed up for rehearsals, he showed up for soundcheck, he did all the things he was supposed to do, even though people kept saying, “He won’t make it, he won’t do it.” But he did. He proved them all wrong, which showed how he was really feeling about it. He was glad to do it.
Does your family still get together on holidays and that sort of thing? Does Sly come? Or does he stay in touch but is kind of off doing his own thing?
I guess you could say we keep up the family tradition most of the time, when we’re not busy. As many of us that can get together, we do. We know that our parents would love that. They were very much into family affairs.
As your brother had taken himself out of the public eye, there were – as naturally happens, for better or for worse – there would be all sorts of rumors that he’s off doing this, or off doing that. Would you hear those and would they bother you?
We’re so used to rumors that they don’t even faze me. It’s just that – a rumor – and that’s how much credibility it should get.
Especially when you’re in touch and know the truth.
Exactly, when you know it doesn’t matter, really. It’s not a fun thing to hear, but it doesn’t affect you the way people think it should, or would. Especially after you’ve heard it for so long – I’ve heard so many stories about us, sometimes I’m just like, “Oh, really?”
How did you feel as a musician in the rehearsals for that Grammy performance? Was that particularly fun to work back through those songs.
I guess you could say it was fun – everything had it’s moments, you know. It was fun because of what we were doing it for. We hadn’t done the Grammys before, and to come back after not having played for so long together as a complete group, that whole time together was fun.
As the rehearsals went on, did the band get to a place you felt good about?
Going back to the atmosphere of those rumors, was it in any way a relief that the appearance of all of you together might pop that bubble a little bit, and let you just get out there and say, “Here we are!” or was that not something you were thinking about?
I think about that, I think that will happen. I don’t know when, but I think it’s in the making, I’ll put it like that.
Any kind of time table aside, what have the conversations been like about that?
Everyone that I’ve talked to in the band seems to be excited, there doesn’t seem to be be any negative input. We all agree that it would be a good thing. That’s why it’s more probable than possible.
Have you had any specific conversations with Sly about that?
Yes I have as a matter of fact. And he was excited about it! It probably would be better for me to not say any more, cause then people would try to start and pinpoint different dates and times…
I completely respect that…
How about yourself – do you still play a lot? Do you have projects going on now?
Yes, there’s an album coming out for myself in May – I was pushing for April, but I think May is a better date.
What’s the gist of the new album?
I call it family music, it’s just the same kind of sound you’ve heard over the years, with my own twist to it. It’s truth music, that’s what we write about – life, and the way things are in the world right now.
Who are some of the musicians on it? Do you write all of the songs as well?
I wrote most of the songs, there’s going to be two on there that I didn’t write. I’m working with a bass player named Robert Hill, and the keyboard player is Michiko Hill, they’re a husband and wife team. The three of us so far, and a drummer, Will Kennedy. Freddie is playing guitar, Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini are playing the horns, all from the Family Stone.