Sylvester Stewart (Sly Stone)

    I was in a band called Godzilla in 1970. We wanted to be "real heavy" thus the name. We were playing 5 nights a week in a club called the Pandemonium on Rt 35 in Ocean Twshp. New Jersey. (There's a Burger King there now). This was the next town West of Asbury Park. Up the road about a mile west in an industrial park there was a surfboard factory where Tinker West, a NJ renaissance man conducted his business. It was also where a band he managed called Steel Mill rehearsed.
    By this time Bruce already had a pretty heavy rep among South Jersey musicians and I had seen him play at Neptune H.S. and the Upstage but didn't take him too seriously because he didn't seem to play out much.
    One night he came in with Steve Van Zandt and some of the other guys in his band and watched us play. Our first set always consisted of a 40 minute free form jam, no designated key or time signature. We're just warming up. (After a few weeks more people seemed to come for the jam then to hear us play our originals).
    I approached Bruce, being the nervy young man I was at the time, and suggested I come up to the factory with my amp the next night since the band was off and he and I could just jam some blues. He said OK.
    When I got to the front door the next night Bruce didn't seemed too thrilled to see me saying he was feeling a bit tired. Since I had already unloaded my very heavy Fender twin with 2 massive EV 12's in it out of the car I said something to the effect of, "ahh, come on, we'll just jam a little while". He graciously relented and we proceeded to this huge room with a beautiful Hammond B3 organ on a little platform, drums, Marshall stack. etc. Very impressive, we had been rehearsing in my small living room. We cranked up the amps and traded verses for a while and discussed the relative merits of Marshall’s vs. Fender. (Bruce said he couldn't believe the volume my amp was capable of). I remember saying to him I couldn't believe he used finger ease on the neck of his les Paul.
    Then, without saying anything he put down his guitar and wandered over to this broken down, out of tune, old upright piano over by the door which he started plunking away on... I was left standing there holding my SG thinking, "Well, I guess the jam is over". By the way, the previous year I had graduated music college as a piano major and had played an half hour of memorized classical music in order to graduate, Debussy's Cathedrale Englute, Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata, and Chopin's Opus 80. I thought I was pretty good on piano by that point. (very naïve).
   Now, instead of going over to the piano Bruce was playing and listening, perhaps making some helpful suggestions about fingering or inversions, I just said "well, I guess I'll go now, thanks for jamming", and left. Just imagine, I might have missed hearing a seminal version of Jungleland!
    We later got to open up for Bruce a few times. Once at the Sunshine Inn when Bruce put together Dr. Zoom, but that's another story for another day.



John's Blogs

     One day, I got the news from Lance Larson, the defacto leader of our band, Lord Gunner. We were going to be opening up for Sly Stone at the Fast Lane in Asbury Park. This was great news to me as I was a huge fan of his voice and arrangements. I put him up near the Beatles for originality.
     I had seen Sly at the Electric Circus in Manhattan in the late 60's and he blew my ears off, both figuratively and literally. (There were actually people puking in the corners from the volume). I stood there with my hands over my ears and my arms protecting my midsection from the bass and just loved the show.
     This was the late seventies and Sly had lost his band years ago. He had a young, eager bunch accompanying him. I was a little surprised at the fact that the guitar player seemed to be cueing him on the lyrics to the songs he had written. Also, when he kept running off the stage every 5 minutes to go in the dressing room for some hits on his pipe. Watching him rip the wooden music stand off the pristine Hammond B3 and flinging it off stage also was a little bit of a shock. But, what the hell, it was SLY! Sylvester Stewart, The guy that wrote "Wanna Take You Higher". Funkiest man since James Brown.
      Later on in the dressing room I got a chance to tell him I thought his best song was the little known "In Time". A song I still listen to frequently. Ultimate funk, insane snare part by Alan Swartzberger, renowned New York session drummer. He got a kick out of that and said that Maceo Parker, James Brown's incredible sax man, had made the same comment.
      I lit a cigarette and Sly asked to borrow my lighter. I gave it to him and forgot about it till 15 minutes later when I wanted to use it again. My green Bic. He denied having it. As I am a severe nicotine addict I persisted. He still denied it and started getting uptight. He pulled out different Bics from all of his many pockets, (4 in his fringed leather vest alone), none green, all empty. "I ain't got your mother fuckin lighter man!"  So, I got some matches and we wound up over my house where he slept on the couch for three nights.  At one point I suggested we co write a song and cued up my little 4 track. (Here was my big chance, write with Sly, Wow!!!) I sat next to him and he proceed to play and sing a few lines of a song he said he was working on. The instant he started singing the hair stood up on the back of my neck. No wonder he got a major label deal right away! His voice that close up was one of the most soulful things I had ever heard. Simply amazing! Then he played another three lines from a different new song. Again, another great song, and then a third, a gospel tinged number that flipped me out. The vocals, lyrics, and grooves were superb. I was totally floored. The only hitch was, I couldn't get him to focus on any one thing. His mind just kept jumping around, Possibly from the $3600 worth of freebase he had consumed over three days.
     The next morning his manager called very early. He said Sly had to be on a plane to Miami leaving Newark Airport at noon. Sly refused to talk to him so I assured him I would get him on the plane. He made me promise not to just drop him at the gate, but to actually wait until I saw him get onboard. I promised. We got him on the plane and it took off.
       I remember thinking what a shame such a musical genius had pissed away his huge talent with drugs. Still, I had a great time hanging out with him and found him to be an intelligent, charming human being. Imagine my surprise when I got home from the airport and found my green Bic lighter on the middle of the living room floor where Sly had left it for me. Guess he wasn't too messed up after all. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Sly, wherever you are. God bless you. If you ever need a lighter. I've got some.


Me and Bruce