Born Sylvester Stewart in Denton, Texas, the man the world – and America in particular – would come to know as Sly Stone grew up in Vallejo, California, where by 19 he was producing hits (1958’s ‘C’mon And Swim’, by Bobby Freeman) then after relocating to San Francisco rapidly became the Bay Area’s highest profile DJ.
As a spinner of discs he was a broadminded tastemaker, freely admitting that “I was into everyone’s records, I’d play Dylan, Hendrix, James Brown back to back, so I didn’t get stuck in any one groove.” The band he formed drew on the mechanics of these icons but were freer, comfortable blending soul, jazz, psychedelic rock and pop on ..the Family Stone’s second and third albums Dance To The Music and Life, both released to near universal acclaim in 1968 before appearing at Woodstock a year later.
Much of the hippie values which surrounded that festival had dissolved however by 1971’s There’s A Riot Going On, which was released after a long unplanned sabbatical in part due to the band’s now prodigous drug intake. Such was the open ended approach to the recording process it’s rumoured that nobody knows for sure who is playing which thing on which song, but we do know that Bobby Womack plays guitar on Family Affair, Billy Preston appears as does so it’s claimed a drum machine for the first time on a mainstream release.
A comedown song for a hungover nation, Family Affair was a simple duet that reflected back the sense of introspection which had replaced the idealism of living in a flower-powered utopia. Stone’s lachrymose delivery was strung out perfection, while sister Rose’s towering vocal byplay and a wonderfully understated Rhodes gave the song a bittersweet grain the group would never recapture. Like the decade that had given birth to them, the party was truly over.