TheVine interview: The Family Stone: “What we’re doing feels like back in the day to me.” November 2011

I interview Greg Errico for TheVine. Errico is the original drummer for Sly And The Family Stone. On the eve of The Family Stone’s performance at Harvest Festival, Errico and I chat about the band’s halcyon early days and the possibilities of actually getting back together with their troubled former frontman. Excerpt below.

Sly And The Family Stone burst out of the San Francisco Bay Area in 1967 like poster children for the equal opportunity and civil rightsmovements that were then sweeping across the United States. An amalgamation of Sly Stone’s The Stoners and brother Freddie Stone’s The Stone Souls, it was a supergroup of socio-political proportions; their multi-racial, transgender line-up becoming musical shorthand for what was happening in the country as a whole.

The integration was reflected in their music too. The Family Stone mixed together funk, soul and psychedelic rock to create a vivid, rambunctious backdrop to Sly’s commentary on the issues that gripped his country. It resulted in a slew of dynamite singles, and three classic albums: Life,Stand!, and There’s a Riot Goin’ On.

But something that shined so bright was always in danger of burning out, and by the early ’70s the group were in disarray. Sly had moved to Los Angeles and descended into a life of heavy drug use, whilst drummer Greg Errico and bassist Larry Graham soon departed for fresh projects. By 1975 the original band had all but dissolved. Stone himself continued to record, but with an endless succession of session players. Little was heard of Sly And The Family Stone in ensuing years, other than a spluttering, one-off performance at the 2006 Grammys and an abortive show for last year’s Coachella Festival.

It was a surprise then to see The Family Stone pop up on the bill for the Harvest Festival, which hits Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in the middle of this month. Original members Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini have been touring intermittently under the banner for the last few years, and by February had convinced Errico to get back onboard. They’ve since been travelling outside of the United States and receiving strong reviews, with charismatic Las Vegas singer Alex Davis fronting the group: not Sly. In late September, The Family Stone’s reclusive front man was found by the New York Post to be living in a camper van on the streets of Los Angeles. Just last week he checked himself into a rehabilitation facility in Malibu.

With Harvest Festival less than two weeks away, TheVine got on the phone to California to chat to Errico. It was an opportunity to talk about The Family Stone’s halcyon early years, the 2011 renaissance, and explore the possibilities of the band ever getting back together with their much-revered, much-loved front man.

You’re still living in San Francisco, Greg?

Yep. Just north of San Francisco – Sonoma County – which is about 45 minutes north of SF.

Is San Francisco very different compared to 45 years ago? A lot of America’s changed a great deal – what about San Fran?

Yeah, San Francisco has changed tremendously since the ’60s. But in relationship [to the rest of the country] it still represents a unique place with a lot of diversity, a wonderful geographic area. And it’s still an international intersection – like a New York or Tokyo or London. It’s a great place to live. And I was born and raised here, so I thought the whole world was like this [laughs]. Then I was surprised: “I’m a lucky guy!”

Living somewhere like California, like San Francisco: do you feel disconnected from the east?

In what manner?

Socially and politically it’s always been a forward-thinking place. Do you feel the rest of the country runs at a different pace?

Well, not really. San Francisco’s always been a place that has a voice in society in the United States, and also in the world. It’s been part of a lot of changes around the world in the past: the music that came out of here helped change the world – along with other places, also – but that 60s explosion that came out of the Bay Area is still living today.

The Family Stone are often seen as a product of San Francisco. Do you think Sly And The Family Stone could have happened anywhere else at that time?

You know what, I really don’t think so — it being such a unique place. When we started the band we were so far outside of the box, getting black and white, male and female together. To us it was no big deal, but when we started travelling, it was vicious at first — it was a big deal. But luckily, we didn’t realise that [laughs]. All of a sudden we did, and we got what we got. I thought about that very question, and I don’t think it would have happened — not like it did, you know? Something else would have happened, maybe, but not what we did.

So that naivety worked to your advantage.

Exactly. What you don’t know, doesn’t hurt you. We may have been afraid to go out there and do what we did, had we known better [laughs].

For the full article, visit TheVine.

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