Unlike Neil Diamond, I loved Sly Stone but remember all too well going to see him at the Hollywood Palladium in 1973, a show that started late and featured just the ‘Family’ for the most part. Sly made a token appearance on stage for just half an hour, jamming on ‘Dance To The Music’ and ‘I Want To Take You Higher’ before skulking off, after which the crowd began to jeer, prompting Sly to return for two more chorus of ‘Higher’ and that was it. I was surprised they didn’t ask for their money back.
When I went to interview Sly in June 1974, he was even ruder than Neil Diamond, and what's more I believe he did leave the room and have a shag halfway through my interview with him. At least Diamond waited until after the interview was over.
A girl from his PR company took me to meet Sly at a rented apartment on New York’s Central Park West. I was told he “didn’t like hotels” but I strongly suspect that the reality of the situation was that “hotels didn’t like him”. We were met at the door of his apartment by a member of Sly’s entourage, who informed us that his employer was “getting ready”. We waited quite a long time, at least 20 minutes, and drank coffee. The living room of the apartment was airless, quite dark and very untidy, as was the adjoining kitchenette. No one had done the washing up.
When Sly finally did appear he was dressed from head to toe in full stage regalia, a striking figure in a white leather outfit adorned with fringes and tassles, skintight pants and huge white boots with rhinestone studs everywhere, the whole ensemble topped off with a massive afro wig. He looked sullen, as if doing an interview with a white boy, and a limey to boot, was not at the top of his priority list for that day. He was also high as a kite, by turns giggling, morose or tetchy, and he was constantly fooling around with a very beautiful, slightly Indian looking girl with incredibly long jet black hair, almost down to her knees, who was also dressed in a white leather outfit, and in her case a very short mini skirt. She sat next to him on the couch with her arm around his waist, and he was constantly touching her thigh. I was told she was his fiancée. They certainly made a handsome couple.
Conversation was difficult. Sly either babbled unintelligently or answered in monosyllables. He was also very intimidating, deliberately so, antagonistic, trying to score points. Attempts by me to discover who played what on his records were treated as an insult: he played everything, drums, guitar, keyboards, the lot. How dare I suggest otherwise? The ‘Family’ Stone were used solely for live work. He didn’t want to discuss the reasons why so many of his shows had been cancelled in recent months, though he did mutter something about “bad promoters”. Like Neil Diamond, he seemed to want to impress his girl, and she giggled a lot too.
After about 15 minutes he stood up and said, "I need to go to the toilet" and disappeared with the girl into another room for a full 20 minutes. I could hear a lot more giggling and what sounded suspiciously like what the red tops refer to these days as a romp. It sounds funny now but it was actually very embarrassing at the time. The girl from Sly's PR company just didn't know what to say or do. She kept apologising to me and all we could hear was this giggling from the next room, and we both knew (or guessed) what was going on, but of course neither of us could bring ourselves to mention it. It didn’t help that Sly’s minder was sat with us, which made small talk even more difficult, so we sat in silence while I pretended to read a magazine. I should have written about all this in my story but I hadn't the nerve in those days, and in any case I didn’t think Melody Maker would have printed it.
Sly eventually re-appeared alone, looking rather pleased with himself but he was still unwilling, or unable, to communicate properly. When I asked him where he wrote his music, in the studio or at home, he said “On the toilet where you can’t go”, and, indeed, he managed to use the word “toilet” several times and each time he had a fit of giggles. The minder, sycophantic to a tee, joined in. They were like a couple of five-year-old boys. I distinctly recall asking Sly what contribution bassist Larry Graham, then making a name for himself with Graham Central Station, had made to his records and he replied “none”. As it happened I’d interviewed Graham fairly recently and he’d insisted he played bass on Sly’s records. I thought it unwise to bring this up.
The interview sort of petered out. Monosyllabic, unintelligible answers, a contrary stance and fits of giggles aren’t the stuff to inspire interviewers. He’d made some great music in his time but I thought he was a prat. We left together, the PR girl and I, and if she apologised once she apologised 100 times as we waited for a cab.
Subsequent reports regarding Sly’s demise didn’t really come as any great surprise.
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