Born a bit too late, I discovered Sly and the Family Stone’s music long after its ’70s heyday. I would later learn, while poring over liner notes in my teenage bedroom, that Sly Stone was the maestro behind the beats and melodies that shaped some of my favorite ’80s and ’90s R&B and hip-hop tracks. Years later, I had the opportunity to witness him live on stage during a tribute at the 2006 Grammy Awards – his first appearance since the late eighties.

The myth of his musical genius, tarnished by drug abuse, was all I really knew about the man behind the music.

So, imagine my thrill when Sly emerged from seclusion to release his 2023 memoir titled, Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). It promised a peek into the life of the legend who had influenced my favorites.

I have to tell you, it was quite the page turner. Not only did the book deliver on that peek into Sly’s personal life, but also into his creative process. Here are a few gems I found during my read.

1. “I wanna take you higher.”

At one point in his career, Sly was making incredible music that was highly praised by other top jazz artists of the time, but wasn’t having much impact beyond that. For some people, that might be the goal, (Personally, if I could manage to impress Miles Davis, I’d probably be ok with that.) But for Sly, he wanted to reach a broader audience and to create songs that would not only be hits, but American standards.

“Artists recognizing artistry didn’t put wind in our sales [sic].”

Be clear on your audience, intent and goals.

2. “Sing a simple song”

You may have heard of the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep it simple, stupid) before. I don’t know where it came from, but Sly lived it and it gave him some of his biggest hits. After lackluster sales of A Whole New Thing, Sly realized he lacked the simplicity of more successful artists like Bob Dylan because he was too preoccupied with filling every space in the music. Just as designers are familiar with the concept of “negative space,” the same can apply in music.

“People heard clutter. They were tripping over it instead of tripping on it.”

When it came time to get back to writing, he took this to heart and Dance to the Music flowed effortlessly with catchy melodies, clean rhythms, and straight-to-the-point lyrics – all while introducing the entire band and commanding us to get up and dance! That song became the blueprint for the rest of that second album.

Consider their later hit, Everyday People. The infectious nyah-nyah-nyah-nyaaah-nyaah sing-song melody and the simple phrases like “different strokes for different folks” were destined to become classic earworms.

“Some people said “formula,” but formula was something you fed to a baby. We were feeding people of all ages.”

3. “You can make it if you try”

Sly was already an accomplished singer and musician as a young man in the church choir. Even so, he studied music theory formally in junior college, giving him the ability to understand and love music as a language. He learned all the fundamentals from chords, scales and rhythms, to counterpoints and orchestration.

Sly could have easily skated by, convinced he already had all the answers. But his dedication to education allowed him the ability to hear the songs on the radio in new ways, and gave him additional knowledge and tools to take his own compositions to new levels.

Sly’s approach reminds us to stay curious and never stop learning.

Album Cover for Sly and the Family Stone's

BONUS: “Sometimes I’m right and I can be wrong”

Another point in Sly Stone’s timeline shows us the dance between consistency and evolution. After four albums, Epic Records unveiled a Greatest Hits compilation that reached number 2, a solid testament to the popularity of the band’s earlier work. 

Meanwhile, Sly was creating new material for the fifth album, There’s a Riot Goin’ On, a departure from his previous sound and content. Surprisingly, it became their first number one album. This seemed to indicate that the fans were totally onboard, even though the critics were divided.

Sly clearly had more to say this time around, and his choice to embrace change and evolve creatively proved that sometimes, to keep succeeding, you have to be willing to change.

Dig it all!

There’s definitely more wisdom and experiences to discover within the pages of Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).  In fact, the audio version features three never-before-heard songs, including jingles from Sly’s DJ days on KSOL—definitely worth checking out! 

So, for now, throw on those ‘fresh’ platform shoes and step into Sly’s story to find even more lessons that connect with you. 

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