Elsewhere on Just Backdated I describe two interviews as the worst I ever did in my life, the first with Neil Diamond and the second with Sly Stone. Both were painful encounters and I wrote them up from memory. Now it seems my memory played tricks with me, as the Sly Stone interview appeared last week on the website Rock’s Back Pages, and it doesn’t seem as bad as I thought. Neither do I mention that midway through Sly and his fiancée Kathy Silva decamped to the bedroom to do whatever it is that men and women do in bedrooms, and I’m sure that happened. Here’s the interview, as published in Melody Maker, after this shot of Sly marrying Kathy on stage at Madison Square Garden on June 5, a few days after I interviewed him.
He extended a hand but looked elsewhere. Who could tell where his eyes focused beneath those silver shades? He gripped and I felt pain through the middle finger on my right hand. He grinned and disappeared.
About half an hour later I found out what had caused the pain. On his two little fingers were a couple of matching rings. Spelled out in diamonds were the words “SLY” (right hand) and “STONE” (left hand).
Meeting Sly is like coming face to face with an ugly cop. He isn’t social. He isn’t friendly. He resents intrusions on his privacy. He doesn’t like to talk. He’s a star and he acts like a star ought. Moody, mean and magnificent.
How many interviews begin with a little prose about how the interviewee is just like an ordinary guy in the street? Too many. That’s not for Sly Stone. He isn’t like an ordinary guy in the street.
He’s Super-Black, riding on a wave of hero worship among his people, rather like Miles Davis.
Sly Stone rarely gives interviews and when he does the answers are monosyllabic apologies for replies.They pierce and challenge the writer to fumble with his next attempt until Sly is in complete control of the situation (and able to bring the exercise to a speedy conclusion).
Last Wednesday was Sly Stone day. Our appointment was scheduled for 3.30 in the afternoon but when I arrived at his manager’s office at the southern end of Central Park West, it turned out that Sly had disappeared to see a doctor for a blood test required because of his forthcoming marriage.
It was re-scheduled for five o’clock and in the meantime his new album, tentatively titled Small Talk, was played.
It was only a rough mix, but again, it’s a departure from previous Sly material. All but the two opening songs on the first side are recorded with a violin and many of them are slow, almost waltz-time, pieces. But despite this there’s still that pounding bass guitar that has distinguished the Stone catalogue from the early days.
It was six o’clock when the man arrived, preceded by a white personal assistant. He breezed through the office and disappeared almost immediately, allowing just a glimpse of a white leather suit with red trimmings and a bare, black chest.
Another ten minutes and he re-appeared, taking us through to an apartment adjoining his management offices. This was where he lived, and it was tiny by rock-star standards.
I offered him a copy of Melody Maker, pointing out that it contained an article on him (the recent rock giant story by colleague Steve Lake) and he retired to his toilet to read the story. He was gone for another ten minutes. While waiting, I caught sight of Sly’s beautiful fiancée, Kathy Silva. She’s the mother of Sly Stone Jnr and she will marry her beau on stage at Madison Square Garden during a Sly concert next month. That’s the way REAL stars ought to get married.
Sly re-emerged to the sound of plumbing and sat on a couch, still reading the Melody Maker.
An opening inquiry about the heavy use of violins on his new album: “It’s different. It’s unusual. That’s probably why I did it. The strings were around so I used them.”
Have you been wanting to do this for a long time: “Probably. I don’t need to think about it at all to get it together.”
You seem to be forever changing: “Time changes me, man.”
Will you be introducing the strings on stage: “I gotta violin player in the group now. His name’s Sidney. He’s from Sausalito and I’ve known him just long enough for him to get into the group.”
Did you arrange the strings yourself: “Part of them”
There’s a lot of slower material on the album. Are you cutting down on the frantic Sly Stone material: “There’s a lot of songs so I introduced slow songs also. There’re 11 songs. I didn’t count which were slow.”
How big is your group at present: “Nine people.”
Tell me something about the bass player: “That’s me. I play bass on all my records. I play most everything on all my records. I just overdub everything.”
Wouldn’t the group ever like to be on the record with you: “Sometimes they’re on the record also, but they feel good about it. They like it this way and they’re pretty honest about what they like. I’ve recorded like this ever since the Stand album, ever since ‘Dance To The Music’, I guess.”
Have you ever felt like playing bass on stage: “Sometimes I do.”
Kathy, Sly’s fiancée, chipped in here: “It’s in his heart. He plays it so good that he’s like to play everything on stage if he only could. He’s only one man but he has a million thoughts.”
Do you get bored with always playing the very familiar material like ‘Dance’ and ‘Higher’: “No. They like it and they keep on liking it and you gotta keep telling people you like it, too. I love every period of my career.”
Where do you write: “My songs come from environments. I just go about my day and as things come to me, I write them down. I write on the toilet ‘cos no one bothers me there.”
Are you trying to change your image by getting married and releasing slower material. Is the image mellowing these days: “I’m not trying to. Vibes just leave me. I’m still as crazy as I always was, if crazy is the right word.”
Will you actually turn up for shows: “I won’t ever be predictable.”
Your performance in the Woodstock film helped you enormously in England: “Sure. I enjoyed playing there. All my gigs are good.”
And other highlights you remember: “Yeah, but you wouldn’t know about them.”
I’d be in the wrong country, huh: “It’s not the country you’re in, it’s the skin you’re in. And it’s not the colour at that. I enjoy myself best on the toilet and I wouldn’t invite you there.”
The last remark brought the interview to an inevitable conclusion. Sly’s assistant showed me to the door while the man himself curled up on the sofa with his fiancée.
“You know something,” said the girl from his management office who’d sat in during the conversation. “He really opened up this afternoon. Usually he just grunts at writers. He’s done a few interviews this week and he said more this afternoon than he’s said all week.”