Tuesday, February 20 , 2018, 12:17 am | Fair 42º


Jeff Moehlis: The Family Stone to Bring the Music to Chumash Casino


When Sly & The Family Stone came onto the scene in the late 1960s, they truly were A Whole New Thing — a band made up of men and women with different racial backgrounds who mixed soul, funk and psychedelic rock to give music that could simultaneously make you dance and take you higher.

The band’s musical mastermind was Sly Stone, who wrote brilliant songs (a sample: “Dance to the Music,” “I Want To Take You Higher,” “Stand!,” “Everyday People,” “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”) and led their breakthrough performance at Woodstock before descending into drug addiction, from which he sadly never really recovered.

The Family Stone, which features original Sly & The Family Stone members Jerry Martini (saxophone) and Greg Errico (drums), will bring these songs and more to the Chumash Casino Thursday, April 21. Tickets are available here.

To be clear, Sly won’t be at the show, but his music will be there in full force.

Martini talked to Noozhawk about the upcoming concert and reflected a bit on his wild ride with Sly & The Family Stone over the years.

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Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at the upcoming concert?

Jerry Martini: What you can look forward to is a lot of fresh new energy. We have members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — myself and Greg Errico — and we also have the daughter [Sylvette Phunne] of Sly Stone and the recently departed Cynthia Robinson.

So we have rock royalty. She’s the only child of two Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, and she sings like an angel. She can be a comedian or she can be dead serious. She’s great.

And, also, taking her Mom’s place is a good friend of mine. He used to be in the band earlier. His name is Jimmy McKinney. He plays keyboard, and he plays trumpet also. After losing Cynthia, I really needed just to have another trumpet player out there with me, because I’m still mourning her.

Anyway, the band sounds great. Jimmy’s been with us for about six months, and the show’s better than ever. He dances all over the stage and just adds a lot of fresh energy to our unit.

You can look forward to hearing all the major hit songs and a lot of new energy.

Although the band’s current lineup doesn’t feature former frontman, Sly, original saxophonist and drummer Jerry Martini and Greg Errico will both perform April 21. (Courtesy photo)

JMo: Sounds good. And it looks like Alex Davis will be on vocals?

JMa: Yeah. Alex Davis is what I call our “Sly guy.” He’s wonderful. Sly’s brother Freddie Stone said when he came and saw us in Vallejo, “When Alex came out — the way he looked, the way he dressed — the hair stood up on my arms. He reminded me so much of my brother. Even his facial movements and voice.”

He does a perfect Sly Stone. He does a perfect Larry Graham. I found him about 10 years ago in a band where he did all kinds of different voices. He did Ray Charles, he did Bill Withers, Larry Graham and Sly Stone. He’s a multi-talented singer, and he’s loved by everybody.

JMo: Can you tell me the story of the first time that Sly & The Family Stone played at the Apollo Theater?

JMa: The first time we played at the Apollo Theater, back in those days the East Coast and West Coast were really very separated. The music industry was different. The people on the East Coast generally thought of Sly & The Family Stone as an all-black band.

We used to come out one at a time, and when Greg came he had curly hair all down his face, and they didn’t pay him much attention. He’s a little bit darker Italian than I am. I’m a total white boy even though I’m Italian.

Anyway, we’re coming out one at a time, and Larry and Freddie and the drums are already out, and when Cynthia and me walked out, they saw me with a super-white face and the long hair down my back. They started booing and yelling and causing a commotion.

So Sly, he stopped the show for a minute, and he gave one of his famous little speeches. “That’s right, he’s white, but you don’t have to be any color to be in this band. You just gotta be able to play.” And he goes, “Play Jerry!”

Oh God! I was freaking out. I was 26 years old. So I just played by myself for a little while, and I played a little bit of blues, and then one of the girls in the audience said, “Send that boy out here!”

And all the guys started laughing, and then it became funny. So I counted it out, and from that point on, it was like my acceptance into Harlem, in a turbulent time when there was a lot of racial tension and everything.

I get treated by all colors so good, I’m just so proud to be in the position that I’ve been in for the last 50 years, where you’re accepted by all races, whether it be Latino or Caucasian or African-American or Asian. They went crazy for us in Japan a few years ago.

JMo: What are your reflections on the Stand! album, released in 1969?

JMa: It was a revolutionary album. It was a visionary album. The song “Stand!” itself became like the national anthem for all the colleges. It was a song that signified freedom of choice, freedom of speech. If you listen to the lyrics closely enough on that song, you realize that he really knew what he was talking about.

Sly was an absolute genius, there’s no doubt in my mind. I’ve never met anyone like him. If he never does anything ever again, or he makes these impromptu appearances and stuff and falls down and all that stuff, that all doesn’t matter. None of that stuff matters.

It’s what he did and what he contributed to the music world, and to the world in general, that counts. That’s what they’re going to remember later on.

They’re not going to remember that Sly became a drug addict or whatever, or he could hardly walk. They’re going to remember the stuff that he left behind, the songs he wrote, and what he contributed.

That’s how I remember him. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve just always loved the guy. He changed my life.

For the full interview with Jerry Martini, click here.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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