On New Year’s Eve, Austinites have the rare opportunity of bearing witness to the Family Stone, originators of the soul, funk and rock-hybrid sounds that provided the soundtrack for a generation dealing with peace, love and war during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The band will play two sets at Zach Theatre’s new Topfer Theatre.
Don’t call their recent touring a "comeback," or even the efforts of a "tribute band" (the group includes three of the original members of Sly and the Family Stone). Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member and original Sly and the Family Stone saxophone player Jerry Martini is quick to note this is the real deal.
During a recent interview, Martini said although he started playing Sly and the Family Stone music again around 2000, his band "evolved into the band we have now, with the current members, in 2006. It’s more authentic because we have three original members now" (including Martini, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Cynthia Robinson on trumpet and Greg Ericco on drums).
"We just had to find the right people to get the sound as close as we can to the original Family Stone," Martini said. "Now we have all the pieces of the puzzle and we’re just gonna move forward."
That includes new members: guitarist Nate Wingfield, bassist Blaise Sison, vocalist Trina Johnson and keyboardist/vocalist Alex Davis filling in for Sly Stone.
The funk-rock sound that led the band from playing clubs in San Francisco during the late 1960s, to putting out hit records, to rocking as a headliner at Woodstock along with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, is unique, and current band members have no problems not playing new music and focusing their set instead on the hits of the past.
"We knew that we were totally different (from what was happening musically back then)," Martini said. "We knew that Sly was the greatest music writer I’ve ever met, or ever seen in my life. His lyric writing, his content, what he did with harmonies.
"Everything was totally unique and I knew that we were unique (as the first multiracial, multigender band). That’s why our band is still being received the way it is now, because good music never gets old."
"I Want to Take You Higher," "Hot Fun in the Summertime" and "Family Affair," are all on the group’s current setlist, as well as some deeper cuts from what some critics, including this writer, see as one of the most poignantly beautiful albums in rock music’s history, the 1971 classic, "There’s A Riot Going On."
With "Riot," "the music got a little darker, which was representative of all the turmoil that was going on (in the band and in society) at that time, but it’s still brilliant," drummer Greg Ericco said during the same recent interview. "The songwriting is just … I mean, there’s stuff that is five generations removed from today, but the kids are still out there at festivals wherever we go in the world and they’re into the music and they understand it, and it’s amazing."