6 min readSly & The Family Stone – Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) (1969)

It is difficult to focus on a group of artists that have had so many well-known hits with just one example. This is just one of their many number 1 songs they accomplished.

Sly & The Family Stone Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) HQ Audio

 

An obvious tongue-in-cheek mondegreen title for “Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself Again”, it exemplifies the happiness and fun Sly and the Family Stone approached in their music. In 1971, Sly told Rolling Stone magazine:

If there was anything to be happy about, then everybody’d be happy about it. If there were a lot of songs to sing, then everybody got to sing. If we have something to suffer or a cross to bear – we bear it together.

Those words – a rare, lucid moment for Stone in that era – encapsulated the group’s arc up until that point: from the rosy optimism of their Summer of Love debut through their hit song era and into the cynicism of that early Seventies moment. The band would bear it together, until they couldn’t anymore.

Sly Stone (Sylvester Stewart) was born in Dallas, Texas to parents who encouraged musical expression in the household. Along with his siblings Freddie, Rose, and Vaetta, they formed the The Stewart Four.

While attending high school, Sylvester and Freddie joined student bands. One of Sylvester’s high school musical groups was a doo-wop act called The Viscaynes, then under the name “Danny Stewart”.

In 1966, renamed Sly Stone formed a band called Sly & the Stoners, which included acquaintance Cynthia Robinson on trumpet. Around the same time, Freddie founded a band called Freddie & the Stone Souls, which included Gregg Errico on drums, and Ronnie Crawford on saxophone. At the suggestion of Stone’s friend, saxophonist Jerry Martini, Sly and Freddie combined their bands, creating Sly and the Family Stone in November 1966.

Since both Sly and Freddie were guitarists, Sly appointed Freddie the official guitarist for the Family Stone, and taught himself to play the electronic organ. Sly also recruited Larry Graham to play bass guitar. The group was now “set in Stone”, so to speak, only adding Rose Stone a little later as a vocalist and a keyboardist. Rose’s brothers had invited her to join the band from the beginning, but she initially had been reluctant to leave her steady job at a local record store.

Sly and the Family Stone became the poster children for a particularly San Francisco sensibility of the late Sixties: integrated, progressive, indomitably idealistic. Their music, a combustible mix of psychedelic rock, funky soul and sunshine pop, placed them at a nexus of convergent cultural movements, and in turn, they collected a string of chart-topping hits.

In early 1968 the group reluctantly provided the single “Dance to the Music”. It became a widespread ground-breaking hit, and was the band’s first charting single. I’ll let you look up the studio recording but this live version shows just how much funky fun they had playing their music.

Dance to the music Sly & the Family Stone on soul train LIVE

 

What followed is indeed music history. Many more chart topping hits were to come. In late 1968, Sly and the Family Stone released the single “Everyday People”, which became their first No. 1 hit.

Sly & The Family Stone - Everyday People (Audio)

 

“Everyday People”, from their “Stand!” album, was a protest against prejudice of all kinds and popularized the catchphrase “different strokes for different folks”. Being a band that fused the sounds of soul and funk with psychedelic music, they were one of the first racially diverse bands to embrace the social issues faced in the 1960’s America, attempting to bring some compassion to those turbulent times. The lyrics for the band’s songs were often pleas for peace, love, and understanding among people. These calls against prejudice and self-hate were underscored by the band’s on-stage appearance. Caucasians Gregg Errico and Jerry Martini were members of the band at a time when integrated performance bands were virtually unknown. A risky venture at any time for a band seeking fame, but proved to be well received by both White and Black audiences alike.

The success of “Stand!” secured Sly and the Family Stone a performance slot at the landmark Woodstock Music and Art Festival. They performed their set during the early-morning hours of August 17, 1969; their performance was said to be one of the best shows of the festival. They performed several of their hits including “Dance To The Music”.

Dance To The Music (Live at The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, August 17, 1969)

 

With the band’s new-found fame and success came numerous problems. Relationships within the band were deteriorating; there was friction in particular between the Stone brothers and Larry Graham (bassist). With the influx of hard drugs and egos, it doomed Sly & The Family Stone, which soon imploded in the mid ’70s leaving Sly Stone as the sole founding member.

After a short, troubled period, Sly reemerged and attempted to return to the spotlight, with new musicians in tow. Instead of the optimistic, rock-laced soul that had characterized the Family Stone’s 1960s output, the new album “Riot Goin’ On” was urban blues, filled with dark instrumentation, filtered drum machine tracks, and plaintive vocals representing the hopelessness Sly and many other people were feeling in the early 1970s.

In the mid 1970’s through the 1980’s, Sly made sporadic attempts at new music, but he never regained his chart-topping interest. His live appearances became ever more erratic and disheartening. At various concerts:

He exited the stage he told the audience near the front of the stage that he would return. He did return, but only to tell the crowd that the police were shutting down the show. While many blamed Stone for this incident, others believed that the promoter was at fault.

He left the stage after saying to the audience that “when waking up this morning he realized he was old, and so he needed to take a break now”. He did the same again one day later.

He played a 22-minute set and ventured offstage, telling the crowd “I gotta go take a piss. I’ll be right back.” He never returned.

On August 18, 2009, The Guardian reported that a forthcoming documentary, “Coming Back for More” by Dutch director Willem Alkema, claims Stone is homeless and living off welfare while staying in cheap hotels and a campervan. The film alleges that Stone’s former manager, Jerry Goldstein, cut off his access to royalty payments following a dispute over a ‘debt agreement’, forcing Stone to depend on welfare payments. On September 25, 2011, Alkema wrote in the New York Post that Stone was homeless and living in a van in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles, although a subsequent report by Roger Friedman of Showbiz411 stated that Stone is not homeless, and lives in the van by choice. Reports have followed that, due to this information becoming public, fans and friends have reached out and helped Sly to get back on his feet. But his legacy remains and his musical history will remain one of the significant contributions to popular music.

Sly and the Family Stone were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. The original members of the Family Stone were in attendance, except Sly. Just as the band took the podium to receive their awards, Sly suddenly appeared. He accepted his award, made some very brief remarks (“See you soon”), and disappeared from public view. In December 2001, Sly and the Family Stone were awarded the R&B Foundation Pioneer Award. Two Family Stone songs, “Dance to the Music” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)”, are among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked them 43rd on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

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