Sunday, March 29, 2009



Many volumes could be published on the influence that Sylvester Stewart has had on popular music. The instances where performers have sampled, stolen or rewritten songs from his impressive catalogue are staggering. Genesis cleverly turned "Hot Fun in the Summertime" into "Misunderstanding" and the list of Hip Hop artists that have used Sly as their guide track is quite long.

"There's A Riot Goin' On" is the fifth and best album by the group. Well, it's advertised as a band effort, but Stewart did the majority of the work here all on his own, with the natural enemy of every drummer (the rhythm box ) serving as percussionist on many of the bed tracks. Members of the "Family" do supply instrumental and vocal contributions, along with notable players like Billy Preston.

Funk as a genre didn't simply materialize, nor did it originate with this recording, though Stewart did a lot to shape what it would become. Funkadelic and other acts would take their cues from brilliant grooves like "Luv 'n' Haight" and "(You Caught Me) Smilin". Heavy drug use reportedly played a large part in the production of this disc, though to paraphrase the late, great Bill Hicks, a lot of great music wouldn't have been made without it.

Compare this with previous releases and you'll immediately spot the lack of upbeat themes, supplanted in favor of more serious subject matter. Great and turbulent social change was tearing up the American cultural fabric. Musicians with a conscience were no longer content to remain silent about what they were witnessing at street level. Listen to "Africa Talks to You The Asphault Jungle" and especially "Runnin' Away" as examples.

"Look at you, foolin' you"

"Family Affair" would be the most recognizable tune of the set, even to causal listeners, as it was a put out as a single and had great commercial success. Lots of people covered it, too. (Iggy Pop did a memorable version)

I never tire of listening to this as it really does have a distinct feel coupled with rock solid material. The tapes must have been cleaned up in the transfer to digital as the original vinyl version sounds a lot muddier than the CD. Larry Graham's unmistakable bass playing is essential (and groundbreaking as he was the first to employ the "slap" technique) to the overall sound and everything comes together in the tastiest way possible. Genius is an understatement when it comes to rating Stewart and the excellent players he assembled. This clip leaves no doubt.

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