How Sly Stone's World Became A Web Of Cocaine, Murder Plots And Black Panthers

The story of one of the greatest musicians of the '70s is one of genius, paranoia, tragedy and eccentricity. Welcome to the crazy world of Sly Stone...
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The story of one of the greatest musicians of the '70s is one of genius, paranoia, tragedy and eccentricity. Welcome to the crazy world of Sly Stone...

'I used to go over to Sly's place just for entertainment value. It was crazy. Everything you could think of, girls, drugs, guns, completely wackadoo. He even had a zoo. A fucking soul zoo. He had this monkey. Every time I went over this monkey would clamber down and bash his pit bull over the head before jumping back on the fence. It drove the dog wild. Only this one time Sly greased the fence and the monkey slid back down. The dog tore the monkeys chest out, right in front of us. It was always like that at Sly's. It was like the fall of Rome with afro's.'

That was Bobby Womack talking about a typical day at his friend Sly Stone's house in the early seventies. By then the soul star was pretty much at his creative peak. With the release of 'there's a riot going on' in late 1971, Sylvester Stewart had created a politically active record with no visible boundaries. Crossing the heritage of his soul music with the white psychedelia that was ramping up at the time had given him a masterpiece to play with.

For four more years (71 to 75), Sly Stones soul revue was arguably the high water mark for the seventies. It looked amazing for a start, with musicians in coloured wigs and dayglo being conducted in platforms up front by conductor Sly. The music was no less thrilling. It had been critically acclaimed and spawned a string of bona fida hits. Behind the scenes however all was not well. Band members were being hired and fired with the regularity of waitresses and their leader was hurtling down a dark kaleidoscope of PCP and Cocaine use.

Such drug use, meant that post 1973 it was a lucky lottery going to a Sly Stone concert as whether the singer would take the stage. In a performance from Burt Sugermans 'the Midnight Special' from the same period, those that did were probably witness to the same PCP superfly, Sly all wild eyed and crazy as an increasingly embittered band circled around him like angry flies.

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In an earlier incident bassist Larry Graham even was rumoured to have planned to murder him. This outlandish rumour was possibly due to drug filled paranoia, but it led to an infamous riot at a hotel foyer that year as the two entourages clashed with each other at a concert. It wasn't the only pressure Sly Stone was under too. The Black Panther movement, aware of his popularity had been putting the pressure on the singer to be more militant in his music for years. Now they turned the screw at precisely the wrong time. It sent Sly's paranoid meter into overdrive.

Retiring to his mansion, was the cue for Sly Stones excess to really kick in. 1975 was the year the singer went snowblind in a blizzard of Cocaine and high living.
'It was insanity,' the singer would later recall. 'I turned into a demon of excess. I wasn't in a holy place it all.
Day after day of the wack out. It takes it out of your soul.'

Such had been the bill for Stone's 12 month weekend in fact that by 1976 he declared himself bankrupt. Not only that but his natural genius had began to desert him too. His career now became a series of false starts and new line ups - with a familiar monkey on his back. Cocaine. Cocaine was the permanent fixture in Sylvester Stewarts life now and without his superstar Status and affluence he was forced to hustle for a line. Jail sentences and court appearances followed. The eighties and nineties would shuffle past in recrimination and addiction for him. Sporadic appearances and half starts would emerge in this period only to disappear again. Even the turn of a new century hardly offered a new dawn. Speaking in 2002, his friend and legendary funk player Bootsy Collins summed the situation up;
'I feel like Sly just doesn't want to deal with it any more. It's like he's had it. It's a curse.' He said.

Such words were prophetic. Apart from a spectacularly doomed fuck up at the Coachella festival, his name has remained basically out of the spotlight in recent times. Recently he's surfaced again, claiming he wants to put together a new version of Sly And the family Stone with an albino backing band. No one quite believes that but what isn't in doubt is the fact, that in his time, he created, alongside some hugely talented musicians some of the most vital, and creative music ever made. A music of spectacular verve and political energy. Blowtorch soul for blowtorch times. Unfortunately it's been a flame he's been unable to escape from his whole life.