Story of the Song: ‘Family Affair’ by Sly and the Family Stone

From The Independent archive: Robert Webb on the band’s last major hit before fading from popularity

Friday 15 October 2021 21:30
<p>The band, here in 1968, were pivotal in the development of funk and soul</p>

The band, here in 1968, were pivotal in the development of funk and soul

Sylvester “Sly Stone” Stewart’s aerial view of late-Sixties black music took in soul, psychedelia, gospel and white rock. He created an eclectic act, the Family Stone, in 1967. It featured Sly’s lead guitarist brother, Freddie, his sister Rose, Larry Graham on bass, Greg Errico on drums, and a two-person horn section of Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini. The multiracial clan released a couple of albums, with cuts like “Don't call me N*****, Whitey”, before taking their politicised, dope-fuelled country-funk to the frontline in 1971 with their masterpiece, the militantly pensive There’s a Riot Going On.

The album matched the mood of the time. Sly “had a tendency to feel the pulse of the people”, recalled Freddie. Elegant and sublime, “Family Affair”, written and produced by Sly, was the landmark single. The song’s motto, “blood’s thicker than mud”, belied an impending familial breakdown, however. After the release, sibling unity suffered from their frontman’s increasing use of narcotics.

The family that played together just about stuck together through the Seventies, but by the following decade Sly was no longer a visible force in black music. “Family Affair” was their last major hit. The Family Stone reconvened in the studio a couple of years ago, but the head of the family failed to show. The reclusive star, now aged 60, hangs out in Beverly Hills, “doin’ what he wants to do”, as Freddie (now Pastor Frederick Stewart) puts it. “He’s heavy, and he’s my brother.”

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