Thursday, February 11, 2010

SONG #79: Loose Booty


Told you I'd make up for it.  Two in one morning!

The short version of the history of Sly And The Family Stone goes like this:

1) Sly gets a start as a hip SF DJ, and his exposure to Haight Street and the Summer Of Love leads him to start his own group.

2) Sly & The Family Stone, a multiracial, multi-gendered group representing the brave new inclusive world of Planet Hippie, explodes with hit singles, a killer live show, and is a hybrid of James Brown funk, Bay Area jam bands, and the pop consciousness of a former DJ who knows a hit when he hears one.  They make some of the greatest music of the late 60s.  The steal the show at Woodstock.  The sky's the limit.  

3) Sly goes cookoo for cocoa puffs (and coca leaves).  He misses concerts, dives headfirst into a mountain of cocaine, makes a brilliant cry for help/ dance with the devil album called There's A Riot Goin' On in 1971, and basically disappears.
Classic Sly footage from the Dick Cavett Show:

4) Sly lurks reclusively in a mystery pad, throwing darts at a photo of Prince for the rest of his life.

Because most of Sly's catalog has been out of print or woefully attended to since his fall from grace, I had no reason to believe otherwise myself, so I didn't bother to listen to Sly's 1970s output for years.  The album covers from this era don't exactly lead one to want to investigate further, either.  I find this cover a little heartbreaking, actually.  Sly is trying to seem like a family man-- there he is with beautiful wife and Sly Jr., looking upward with a look of what I assume he thinks is bemusement and thankfulness.  Knowing that the truth was so different (and still is-- Sly remains a completely unreliable and damaged guy, if perhaps well-intentioned) only makes a photo like this one more poignant, and I assumed that listening to the record would be like slowing down at a car wreck.  I only found myself owning it because, finally, Sly's albums got the attention they deserve, were all released at once in fantastic new sounding editions, and this one came in the discounted box set.  

Little did I know that I'd been digging mid-70s Sly for years.  This song's riff is also the basis for "Shadrach" from Paul's Boutique.  (The chant through the track is "Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego.")  When that Beastie Boys record came out in 1989, Small Talk and most of the Beasties' source material was completely out of print and impossible to find.  So when I heard Paul's Boutique for the first time, all those samples from lost 70s funk albums were from outer space.  There was no wikipedia site to break them down for you.

Now, don't misunderstand me-- this album is deeply flawed, and not worth buying.  (At some point, we'll get to 1973's Fresh, Sly's most underrated work, but that's for next time.)  Sly was slipping, and in fact had already descended into a deeply reclusive place.  What's amazing to me is how terrific this track is considering his state of mind.  The beginning is immediately arresting, and then it breaks down to Andy Newmark's fabulously funky drum break with "Rusty Allen"'s bass bubbling and bomping all over it.  (Apparently, most of the bass on these later tracks is Sly himself.)  Part of what makes "Loose Booty" so fun is how modeled it is after early Sly hits (the call and response vocals, the shared lead part among several members of the band) but also how of its time it sounds.  It suggests that, it Sly could have kept it together, he would have at at least one more brilliant album in him.  This song is not a voyeuristic view of madness; it's just a damn fine pop-funk song.

I think, sadly, that Sly doesn't get the credit he deserves (because I think he made some of the greatest soul music ever recorded) because he lived.  If he had died like Jimi or Janis, he'd be referred to in the same revered tones and there'd be essays about all the music we lost.  Instead, he's a living casualty, and more likely to be a punch line.  Like Brian Wilson, he's not coming back from wherever he's gone to.  

                        Ladies and Gentlemen: Sly Stone has left the building.  And, perhaps, the realm of human rationality.

Saltine tasted great, by the way.  Thanks for asking.  Thinking of trying toast for lunch. 



  1. Blech the late 60s into the 70s was a great time for music but a brutal time for musicians. The list of folks killed or driven nuts by drugs during that period alone is heartbreaking. Any time anyone wonders whether being a rock star is all it is cracked up to be ask that person to consider this question: if it's so great to be a rock star, why did and do so many of them self-medicate themselves to death or madenss?

    This album cover is particularly heartbreaking, because it is one thing for Sly to drive himself sick and mad, but the human wreckage in terms of families, wives, children etc. is usually forgotten when these stories are told. Really, really sad. that said, great bass groove!

  2. Time For Livin', the other single off Small Talk, is also kind of fascinating. I almost hear it as an alternate to Family Affair...

  3. Oh, and same here with The Beastie Boys! Had it not been for Paul's Boutique, I wouldn't have searched high and low for more of The Three Sounds. That album continues to turn me on to new (old) music even 20 years later... See also: Three Feet High And Rising by De La Soul.

    Have you ever heard a live performance when they "sing' AD ROCK, Meshach and Abednego? Come to think of it, they could substitute all their names given the syllables (Ad Rock, Mike D, and MCA). I found a great on Soul Train:

    MCA could use a little more pep, but the live remix is nothing but high energy. Coincidentally, I just heard a bit on NPR's All Things Considered about the importance of the show:

    Now I'll have to go digging through those archives, along with The Dick Cavett Show...

  4. Is there any greater use for the internet than the recovery of vintage Soul Train clips? Seriously. GOLD.

  5. Maybe one more, if you watch this Richard Pryor clip from the same guys that uploaded the Cavett show. WOW.

    Come to think of it, didn't the Beasties also sample Pryor, on "Check Your Head"?

  6. Yes! On "Funky Boss." It's fantastic.

  7. Ah! That's right! Funky boss, funky boss funky BALD-ASS boss!

  8. Jeff- Glad you chose this track. I too bought the box set, looked at the album cover and thought something was awry with this shot.

    I'm amazed that Sly's lyrics could be so uplifting , while he was busy destroying himself. The best preachers are tempted, it is said.

    I think "Riot" is one of the first examples of a superstar working in a delibrately lo-fi aesthetic. Such a vibe on that record.