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Sly Stone's Stage Debacle

Lady Goodman

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It only took a few minutes Friday night at B.B. King in New York to confirm the worst about funk and R&B legend Sly Stone. That's because Stone only made it through five of what could be loosely construed as numbers before announcing he needed a bathroom break.

As recent observers have noted of Stone's failed comeback, needing to urinate is code for drugs. And when that happens, the show is over.

As he did when I saw him on Nov. 20 at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, Stone left the stage and did not return for some time. When he did, he was clearly in a changed mental state and, yes, sleepy.

Nevertheless, his band — led by niece Lisa — sort of woke him up by launching into one of his old hits "If You Want Me to Stay."

Stone, stoned, wearing a white hooded track suit and sunglasses, actually belted out most of the number. He started another song, ironically, "I Want to Take You Higher," and then wandered off stage. That was it. Good night.

The sold-out, standing-room-only audience was not happy. One fan grabbed a mike and shouted, "You crack addict. Get back on stage. I paid $100 for this ticket." It was a sad moment.

The show had started ominously. Stone was an hour late, and when he finally sat down at his keyboards he led the audience through a medley of one-line snippets of hits sung first on an altering voice box and then in a whisper.

The band, a group of heroes including Sly-soundalike vocalist Rikki Gordon, plunged into "Dance to the Music," "Sing a Simple Song" and "Everyday People." But Stone spent most of the time nodding or pretending to play notes, occasionally chiming in.

And still there had been moments during the 40-minute set (I'm being generous here, time-wise) that were spectacular, because the band is amazing. Former Family Stone horn player Jerry Martini, for example, sizzled on solos, as did Cynthia Robinson. As many have noted, the current band is much better than the real Family Stone was some 40 years ago.

But the tragedy of Sly Stone (real name Sylvester Stewart) is one that has been continuous since around 1980. An admitted drug addict (crack a specialty), Stone has lived as a recluse.

His infrequent appearances usually have to do with lawsuits. Nevertheless, his numerous hits from 1968 to 1975, including "Everyday People" and "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" are considered groundbreaking. They're also the main influence of many other artists, including Prince.

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