This review is an excerpt from the “The Divine Spark of Sly and the Family Stone” essay from Insured Beyond The Grave Vol. 2

In 1970, Sly missed 26 of 80 gigs. In 1971, he missed 12 of 41. The group began to stagnate due to Sly’s nefarious distractions. In November 1970 a Greatest Hits album was released that shot to #2, selling one million copies in two months.

In the fall of 1970, Sly rented a Spanish mission-style home at 738 Bel Air Drive in Beverly Hills owned by John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas. Sly spent most of his time in the spacious recording studio located in the attic. The house was used in the opening credits of the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies. At this point, Sly sat in the driver’s seat. Musicians like Joe Hicks, Bobby Womack, Jim Ford, Ike Turner, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and Billy Preston stopped by the mansion to jam.

There’s a Riot Goin On, released in 1971, marked Sly & The Family Stone’s fifth studio album. These songs sounded much different than the previous four albums. Songs from Riot sound murkier, darker, mellower, less-danceable, and funkier than any of their previous work. Riot is a late night record. Sly began employing a drum machine on these sessions, and Larry Graham suspected Sly of erasing his bass parts and re-recording them. Soon band members felt alienated. Chaos descended on 738 Bel Air Drive.

Riot’s opening track, “Luv N Haight” contains a disturbing yin and yang narrative within a deep rhythmic groove. “Just Like A Baby’ sounds like a zombie-powdered love song. On ”Poet”, Sly looks into the magic mirror: “My only weapon is my pen/I’m a songwriter.”

The centerpiece song, “Family Affair” rose to number 1 on the charts. “Brave And Strong” showcased Sly’s new sparse, tight-bass approach including fewer horns. “Time” finds Sly at his blissed-out, Zen master best when he mumbles the line: “Time, they say is the answer…”

“Spaced Cowboy”, another laid-back hedonistic ditty reveals: “Everything I like is nice/That’s why I try it twice.” It began to sound like the band was descending, and the critics issued their doubts on the band’s creative spark.
Riot’s bonus tracks “My Gorilla Is My Butler”, “Do You Know What?” and “That’s Pretty Clean” are all groove-oriented instrumentals founded on thick bass, organ and a steady beat. One can only imagine the rarefied air surrounding this recording session.

Later, Larry Graham and Greg Errico quit the band. Rusty Allen replaced Graham on bass and Andy Newark filled the drum position. When original members of a successful band quit the community musical dynamics change on various levels. Yet, Sly Stone still had a few tricks up his sleeve. 

(Read the full article in Insured Beyond The Grave Volume 2.)