By Chris M. Junior
On the first day, they just talked. By the end of the seventh day, they had rehearsed enough cover songs to start playing club gigs.
During that whirlwind week back in December 1966, when the seeds for Sly and the Family Stone were sown, drummer Greg Errico remembers he and his new bandmates leaning on material by Otis Redding. That continued into 1967, when a version of Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose” was included as the B side of the first Sly and the Family Stone single, which was released on the Loadstone label.
That Redding cover (along with the single’s A side, the Sly Stone-penned “I Ain’t Got Nobody”) can be found on the new career-spanning Sly and the Family Stone box set, “Higher!” (released Aug. 27 on Epic/Legacy).
Errico was only 17 years old on the night he showed up to rehearse with the Stone Souls, his band with guitarist Freddie Stewart, only to find himself at a meeting led by Freddie’s older brother — Sylvester (a.k.a. Sly), a musician, producer and popular San Francisco-area DJ — about forming a different group.
“When I got there, no one else was there except for Sly and Freddie, who were in the kitchen having something to eat,” Errico recalls with a laugh. “I walked in and said, ‘Where are all the guys?’ And they said, ‘We’re going to try something new tonight.’ And as time went on, everyone showed up individually at different times during that evening. So we gathered that first evening — all six original members, because Rose [Stone] wasn’t in it at first.
“Freddie pulled a fast one on me,” Errico adds. “He hadn’t told me that Sly had been handpicking [musicians] and thinking about this and taking notes. He kept it hush. So when I showed up, I was absolutely surprised.”
Errico also was a little surprised by the scope of the “Higher!” box set: It includes 77 tracks, of which 17 were previously unreleased. Included with the set’s four discs is a 104-page book featuring liner notes by Sly and the Family Stone biographer Jeff Kaliss, a timeline compiled by Edwin and Arno Konings as well as track-by-track annotations from various sources, among them original Family Stone members Errico, Larry Graham, Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson.
In recent years, Errico, Martini and Robinson have led a seven-piece band billed as The Family Stone. The group’s itinerary includes a free concert on Aug. 30 in Columbus, Ohio, with Rick Derringer and Blues Traveler.
But is it possible, even just for one show, for a reunion of the original Sly and the Family Stone lineup?
“You know, it’s a toughie,” Errico says, laughing. “I can say that everyone is alive and could perform, so I guess the possibility exists. I say it would have to take something short of a miracle.
“We tried the Coachella festival a couple of years ago [in 2010],” Errico adds, “but it wasn’t a good experience. … I’ve heard of an offer on the table for Japan, actually. Some promoter put up a very impressive amount — millions of dollars — for the original band [to play there]: the original band, everybody, one time, in Japan. There would be all kinds of yin and yang pulling this way and that way, but as far as me personally, I would be there.”