Sly and the Family Stone are an American rock, funk, and soul band from San Francisco, California. Active from 1966 to 1983, the band was pivotal in the development of soul, funk, and psychedelic music. Headed by singer, songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist Sly Stone, and containing several of his family members and friends, the band was the first major American rock band to have an “integrated, multi-gender” lineup.
Brothers Sly Stone and singer/guitarist Freddie Stone combined their bands (Sly & the Stoners and Freddie & the Stone Souls) in 1967. Sly and Freddie Stone, trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, drummer Gregg Errico, saxophonist Jerry Martini, and bassist Larry Graham completed the original lineup; Sly and Freddie’s sister, singer/keyboardist Rose Stone, joined within a year. This collective recorded five Billboard Hot 100 hits which reached the top 10, and four ground-breaking albums, which greatly influenced the sound of American pop music, soul, R&B, funk, and hip hop music. In the preface of his 1998 book For the Record: Sly and the Family Stone: An Oral History, Joel Selvin sums up the importance of Sly and the Family Stone’s influence on African American music by stating “there are two types of black music: black music before Sly Stone, and black music after Sly Stone”.Â The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
During the early 1970s, the band switched to a grittier funk sound, which was as influential on the music industry as their earlier work. The band began to fall apart during this period because of drug abuse and ego clashes; consequently, the fortunes and reliability of the band deteriorated, leading to its dissolution in 1975. Sly Stone continued to record albums and tour with a new rotating lineup under the “Sly and the Family Stone” name from 1975 to 1983. In 1987, Sly Stone was arrested and sentenced for cocaine use, after which he went into effective retirement
Dance to the Music
Notably, none of the band members particularly liked “Dance to the Music” when it was first recorded and released. The song, and the accompanying Dance to the Music LP, were made at the insistence of CBS Records executive Clive Davis, who wanted something more commercially viable than the band’s 1967 LP, A Whole New Thing. Bandleader Sly Stone crafted a formula, blending the band’s distinct psychedelic rock leanings with a more pop-friendly sound. The result was what saxophonist Jerry Martini called “glorified Motown beats. “Dance to the Music” was such an unhip thing for us to do.”
However, “Dance to the Music” did what it was supposed to do: it launched Sly & the Family Stone into the pop consciousness. Even toned down for pop audiences, the band’s radical sound caught many music fans and fellow recording artists completely off guard. “Dance to the Music” featured four co-lead singers, black musicians and white musicians in the same band (segregation had just been repealed four years prior), and a distinct blend of instrumental sounds: rock guitar riffs from Sly’s brother Freddie Stone, a funk bassline from Larry Graham, Greg Errico’s syncopated drum track, Sly’s gospel-styled organ playing, and Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson on the horns.
An unabashed party record, “Dance to the Music” opens with Robinson screaming to the audience, demanding that they “get on up…and dance to the music!” before the Stone brothers and Graham break into an a Capella scat before the song’s verses begin. The actual lyrics of the song are sparse and self-referential. The song serves as a Family Stone theme song of sorts, introducing Errico, Robinson, and Martini by name. After calling on Robinson and Martini for their solo, Sly tells the audience that “Cynthia an’ Jerry got a message that says…”, which Robinson finishes: “All the squares go home!”
Get up and dance to the music!
Get on up and dance to the fonky music!
Dance to the Music, Dance to the Music
All we need is a drummer,
for people who only need a beat
I’m gonna add a little guitar
and make it easy to move your feet
I’m gonna add some bottom,
so that the dancers just won’t hide
You might like to hear my organ
playing “Ride Sally Ride”
You might like to hear the horns blowin’,
Cynthia on the throne, yeah!
Cynthia & Jerry got a message they’re sayin’:
All the squares, go home!
Dance to the Music, Dance to the Music
- Audio from the 1967 album, Dance to the Music: