Sly Stone on the Sly: His New York-to-Pittsburgh Escapade

Sly StoneToday is the 72nd birthday of the talented Sly Stone, the flamboyant artist who merged soul, R&B, gospel, Motown pop, and psychedelia to create a funky sound like no other. In 1966, he assembled the first – and one of the few – interracial, dual-gender rock bands of the era: the iconic Sly and the Family Stone.

In recent years he’s fallen on hard times, ravaged by years of heavy drug use and reportedly living in a van parked outside a friend’s house in L.A. But there was a time when he was the hottest act in the country.

I had the opportunity to bring him to Pittsburgh to perform a concert at the Civic Arena on November 28, 1971. After excitedly booking the act, I began to receive reports that Sly had a habit of being very late for gigs, leaving the stage in the middle of the show, or simply not showing up at all! An absentee artist would force me cancel a concert. That kind of scenario was always a major worry for me, as it resulted in angry fans, ticket refunds, and money lost on advertising, parking fees and staging.

Sly and the Family StoneSo, I got an idea. I knew he was scheduled to play a major gig at Madison Square Garden in New York the night before his Pittsburgh concert. By pulling some strings, I was able to snag a ticket to the show, which enabled me to see him in action and meet briefly with him and his road manager backstage after the concert. I arranged to fly from New York to Pittsburgh the next morning on the same plane as Sly, his father, and the entire Family Stone entourage, thus ensuring that he’d never be out of my sight.

But, just as we were walking up the stairs to board the plane, Sly pulled a fast one and disappeared on me! The next 12 hours were among the most nerve-wracking of my career. Where did he go? How and when would he arrive in Pittsburgh? Would he show up in time to perform with his band? And in what condition? I watched his fans fill the Arena, many dressed in flashy bright-colored outfits, wearing enormous bell-bottoms, snazzy shoes and fancy fedoras with feathers. Would Sly ever arrive? And would the crowd riot if he didn’t?

You can read all about the rest of my ordeal with the very sly Mr. Stone in my book “Hard Days Hard Nights,” available at this link from Amazon.

For more about the history of Sly Stone, click here to read an article from The Hip Quotient, a blog by Pittsburgh music writer Dana Spiardi.

Now, here’s Sly and the Family Stone, circa 1974.

Remember: Tickets are now on sale for my September 19 “Relive the Beatles ’64” show, featuring the great tribute band Beatlemania Now. Click here to order them online from the Palace Theatre.

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