The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits
The Billboard charts have a currency acknowledged around the world. The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits, written by Adam White and Fred Bronson, pays tribute to many of those who helped to create a quarter-century of unimpeachable music: singers, songwriters, musicians, producers and more – even some of the record executives whose hustle delivered the hits and sent them to the soul summit.
Sly & the Family Stone
Writer: Sylvester Stewart
Producer: Sly Stone
No. 1, February 22, 1969 (2 weeks)
“San Francisco’s got a shop that does nothing but repair automatic transmissions. That’s Triple-A Transmissions at 925 Golden Gate Avenue. At Triple-A, you get a complete automatic transmission overhaul for just $99.50, with nothing down. If all your car needs is a simple adjustment, mention my name, Sylvester…uh, Sly Stone, and the cost is just $3.95.”
It’s commercial time at soul-formatted KSOL in Oakland, California, circa 1965. The DJ’s tripped tongue reveals the true identity of a man who would soon rewrite the rules of rhythm & blues. With rock licks slammed into soul grooves, doo-wop tricks jammed into psychedelic moves, Sly & the Family Stone would emerge as one of popular music’s most influential comets.
Sly salt ‘n’ peppered his music while riding the mid ‘60s airwaves. “He would play all kinds of stuff,” declares Larry Graham, who was the bass player with the Family Stone. “And if you were celebrating something, Sly would sing personally to you over the air, ‘cause he had a piano in the studio. So he would maybe make up a little song for you, include your name in it.”
The “family” coalesced in 1966 in San Francisco: Stone (keyboards), Graham (bass), Freddie Stone (guitar), Cynthia Robinson (trumpet), Greg Errico (drums), and Jerry Martini (sax). Later, pianist Rosie Stone joined. “Even before we went into the studio, we were having great success doing live shows,” says Graham. “For example, Winchester Cathedral in Redwood City — people would come and check us out there, and just be knocked out. You could tell from the audience, there was something special about this band.”
When they did begin recording for Epic Records, Sly’s experience (he had earlier produced Top 40 hits by Bobby Freeman and the Beau Brummels) and the group’s integrated innovation was magic. “We had creative freedom, and you could hear it in the music,” says Graham. “Sly was witty with words, he would live up to his name. He had a very unique way of putting things.”
“Dance To The Music” was the band’s first hit, but “Everyday People” was their first monster, beating a path through the chart jungle with the help of a single bass note. “It was like the first time that I would be playing one note for the whole song,” declares Graham. “I hadn’t realised yet how my style of playing — thumping and plucking — was going to change some things musically.”
Others in the band were trendsetting, too. “Greg Errico certainly had a very unique way of playing the drums,” says Graham. “If you allowed him to do what he does, then you’d come up with things like ‘Everyday People.’ That wasn’t your everyday drum beat. But with him doing what he did, and my bass part going with that, it kind of all clicked.”