Listen to Unearthed Archival Audio of Sly & the Family Stone From 1968: Exclusive

Amalie R. Rothschild
Sly and the Family Stone at Fillmore East on May 23, 1969.

Woodstock may be Sly & the Family Stone's most legendary performance, but a new archival package documents some shows just 10 months prior to the legendary 1969 music happening that were equally crucial in establishing the group's reputation. 

Live At The Fillmore East October 4th & 5th, 1968, to be released on July 17, features four shows at the legendary New York theater that capture the group at a point of ascension. "Dance To The Music" was a recent hit, with more to come in its wake, and the San Francisco-founded troupe had secured a foothold on the East Coast that was stronger than anything back home. 

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Listen to a medley of the Family Stone's own "Turn Me Loose" and Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose" from the shows in this clip below, which Billboard is exclusively premiering.

"We moved to New York when we weren't getting the acts that we wanted" in San Francisco saxophonist Jerry Martini tells Billboard. The group's blend of rock, R&B and funk, he says, was "a little strange for the West Coast at the time, even though it was hippie time and long hair and all that stuff. We were still different. But the New Yorkers embraced our band. They thought it was cool that we looked like we looked and sounded like we sounded."

Fillmore founder Bill Graham had passed on the group for the Fillmore West, according to Martini, but after the Family Stone spent time at New York's Electric Circus he offered a post on a bill that also included the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Eric Burdon & the Animals. "We'd pack (the Electric Circus) all the time," recalls drummer Gregg Errico. "Jimi used to come in and hang out. It was fantastic and the vibe was great and the New York audiences were just off the hood. We knew what the Fillmore represented, what bill represented, so we knew that was gonna be a significant gig."

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At the time the Family Stone had three albums to draw from (its third, Life, came out shortly before the Fillmore shows) but covers were still part of the repertoire. "I Can't Turn You Loose," in fact, was something the group had been playing since it formed, and Stone wrote "Turn Me Loose" as an answer song that naturally segued into the Redding tune. "We loved Otis," says Errico. "We did a version of 'Try a Little Tenderness' that Freddie (Stone) used to just kill, just a tearjerker. So we dug Otis, and this (medley) was really uptempo, the two pieces together. Sometimes we'd do it a little slower, but I think that night it was on 11." 

So was the Family Stone. "The band was at the top of its game at that point," Errico crows. "I get a chill listening to those tapes 'cause there's moments that, I mean, the hair stands up on my arms. There's points where the band just lifts up and takes off. It's amazing. By that time we felt that we had something special, but (the Fillmore) was definitely a proving ground."

Epic Records had planned to release a live album from the Fillmore shows in 1969 but tabled those plans in favor of a next studio album when the Family Stone's next single, "Everyday People," was a smash. The recordings subsequently became widely circulated bootlegs but appear in pristine form on Sony Legacy's four-disc set, whose booklet includes comments by Martini, Errico and trumpeter Cynthia Robinson.

While its past is celebrated on Live At The Fillmore East October 4th & 5th, 1968, the Family Stone remains a present concern led by the three founding members and with Sly Stone and Robinson's daughter Sylvette as one of its lead vocalists. The group maintains an active touring schedule and has released a new single, "Do Yo Dance," with plans for a full album on the horizon. 

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"We did a tour down in Australia, which we never had been to back in the day," Errico says. "We get everyone from young kids to middle-aged to older, and I'm sitting there looking out during a song and it could be 1968 at that moment. It's just amazing. The kids know all the songs and, of course, the older folks know 'em and the ones in between. They're all just into it, big time. It goes to show you it's all about the song, and we had great ones -- and they're still great."