Musician and composer Sly Stone is a genuine legend, but also a somewhat of a mystery. Along with James Brown and George Clinton with Parliament/Funkadelic, Stone was one of the true innovators of funk music. His music incorporated other kinds, including soul and rock, in a psychedelic blend that made him and his band, The Family Stone, one of the innovative and beloved music bands of the late 1960’s to early 70’s. And several of his recordings, such as “Life”, “Dance to the Music”, “Stand” and “There’s a Riot Going On” are still groundbreaking recordings that inspired an entire generation, as well as musicians to come, like Prince.
But Stone, like so many other artists, wrestled with his own demons. His well documented drug problems and financial woes seriously curtailed his creativity and wreaked havoc on his personal life. Though he continued to make music and perform, his personal problems, along with his eccentric behavior on stage, like walking out during concerts, or giving unexpectedly very brief shows lasting 15 or 20 minutes (or in one case, wearing a motorcycle helmet during an entire performance) began to have an effect.
At times, Stone would disappear for years, which would fuel false rumors that he had died. Back in 2009, there were reports on how things had gotten so bad for Stone that he had become practically homeless, living in motel rooms or in a camper van. However, one journalist later claimed that it was by choice, and not due to any financial problems that Stone was experiencing.
However, finally last year, things began to look up for Stone when he was awarded $5 million by a court, after he sued his former managers for “damaging him with intentionally bad management of royalties”. Unfortunately, last December, another judge ruled that Stone could not collect the money because he previously had assigned those royalties to a production company.
But despite all his woes, Stone still remains a cipher. With the exception of an interview he did for NPR a few years ago, Stone has refused to talk to the media, and is even harder to track down. But that didn’t stop director, writer and self-confessed Sly Stone “superfan”, Michael Rubenstone, who started a five year journey to track down Stone and members of his group, for his new documentary, “On the Sly: In Search of the Family Stone”.
In the film, Rubenstone sets out to find the long-time reclusive funk legend; a journey that proves to be quite a challenge, trying to capture a man “who refuses to be contained”.
Now after years of work, the now completed “On the Sly” film will have its world premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, which runs from January 20-26, 2017.
Below is a brief clip from the documentary in which Cornell West talks about the impact that one of Stone’s biggest hit songs had on him.