Saturday Night Music, March 13, 2010: Sly and The Family Stone, “I Want to Take You Higher,” 1969
This was Sly’s signature song, and this is also the long version that only FM radio of the Sixties and early Seventies would play–over five minutes long. Wiki says:
“I Want to Take You Higher” is a 1969 song by the soul/rock/funk band Sly & the Family Stone, the B-side to their Top 30 hit Stand!. Unlike most of the other tracks on the Stand! album, “I Want to Take You Higher” is not a message song; instead, it is simply dedicated to music and the feeling one gets from music. Like nearly all of Sly & the Family Stone’s songs, Sylvester “Sly Stone” Stewart was credited as the sole songwriter.
The song, one of the most upbeat recordings in the Family Stone canon, is a remake of sorts of “Higher”, a song from the band’s 1968 Dance to the Music LP. “Higher” itself has its origins in “Advice”, a song Sly Stone co-wrote and arranged for Billy Preston’s album, The Wildest Organ In Town, in 1966.
“Higher” made the setlist for the band’s performance at Woodstock alongside “Dance to the Music” and “Music Lover”; Sly Stone used the song during a memorable interlude, during which he had the entire Woodstock crowd repeating, at three in the morning, the song’s frantic cry of “higher!”
Even though it was a b-side, “I Want to Take You Higher” become a Top 40 hit of its own in 1970. That same year, Ike & Tina Turner released a cover of the song that became a hit as well, peaking 4 spots above the original Family Stone recording on the US pop charts (at #34), and one position below the original on the R&B singles chart.
Listening to the long version for me took care of a Sly and The Family Stone concert my girlfriends and I attended at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in 1971. We waited for hours for Sly to appear; but when he did, he stayed for less than half an hour, doing only about three songs and rather quickly and sloppily, because they nearly slid into each other, and one of them was “Higher.” This was during Sly’s drug period, when the drugs had won out over his black militant politics, his wanting to make good time music, being successful in the music industry, and women. Sometimes Sly wouldn’t appear at all for gigs I read much later. He was really fcked up. We were lucky he came out for that short a time. Perhaps not so lucky. It was pretty sad. All that anticipation of a great time dashed.
While Wiki says that “I Want to Take You Higher” was about the sheer joy experienced from music that inspired and moved people, a lot of other people took it as an endorsement of acid, weed or whatever turned folks on in those days, along with the music. This is not a put down, but let’s be frank, some people didn’t survive those times because they went too far afield. Both Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were dead within months of my entering my junior year in high school–Jimi in September, Janis in October of 1970. Who knew then what the summer and fall of 1971 would have offered (Jim Morrison, Duane Allman).
It wasn’t a total loss for one fan that night at the Fairgrounds; a white guy stripped naked and climbed up the fence and walked and danced on it. Anyone with even half their senses intact knew he was stoned. Some were bemused; others laughed, and others were scandalized or disgusted. Of course, I stared. It was the first time I’d ever seen anyone stark naked, much less a white man. And the guy sang “I Want to Take You Higher.” I know we kind of half watched the doings. I think he persuaded a couple more people to strip and join him, but I’m not too sure. Perhaps getting off on his own daring, he managed to pee on other fans, who scattered, and shook his penis dry. Security and sheriff’s deputies finally waded through and pulled him down to the cheers of the departing, already disgruntled patrons.
He sued former manager Gerald Goldstein and several companies in Los Angeles, alleging they kept 20 years of royalty payments and leveraged Stone’s work and rights to accumulate as much as $80 million in assets.
The complaint said Stone has been homeless at times and is dependent on Social Security. Goldstein paid Stone some money until 2007, when the payments stopped, the lawsuit states.
Stone depended on Goldstein to handle his financial affairs, the suit states.
“Some of these artists are being robbed of their intellectual property and the fruits of their genius by unscrupulous people who prey on their trusting nature and lack of business and legal knowledge,” Stone’s attorney Robert J. Allan wrote in a statement.
Goldstein has produced numerous other artists. Efforts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.
The lawsuit claims nearly 20 causes of action against Goldstein and other defendants, including allegations of fraud, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and breach of fiduciary duty.
The legal action claims Goldstein, his longtime companion Claire Levine and attorney Glenn Stone set up several companies to divert royalty payments and borrow against Stone’s work.
The article states that Sly, who now lives in Vallejo, gives a pretty eye-opening account in the initial pleading of his bouts of poverty, drug addiction, paternity suits, divorces, and IRS problems over the last few decades which may also explain his reclusiveness and disappearance from the music scene.
The Guardian picks up the rest, dated last August.
Funk legend Sly Stone is living on the dole, according to a new film, staying in cheap hotels and campervans. A forthcoming documentary by Willem Alkema alleges that Stone was betrayed by manager Jerry Goldstein, cutting off access to his royalties.
Representatives for Sly or the Family Stone have not yet commented on Alkema’s claims, which appeared in a YouTube trailer for Coming Back for More. Alkema is a Dutch filmmaker known for a previous documentary about Stone, Dance to the Music. His new film, due out this autumn, claims to include Sly Stone’s first interview in 20 years.
This claim, however, isn’t true – Stone spoke to the Los Angeles Times in 2007, and again with journalist Jeff Kaliss for a book published last year. He also appeared on KCRW radio in May. But certainly Stone has been reclusive, offering few points of access since his induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
According to Alkema, Stone’s financial security depended on a contract signed with Jerry Goldstein in the late 80s. As part of that agreement, Goldstein acquired rights to Stone’s music while paying the singer “fixed expenses” and a regular allowance. Due to a “debt agreement”, the film claims, Goldstein “turned off the tap” of payments – forcing Stone to rely on social security. He has since been staying in cheap hotels and campervans.
“Although legally the father of funk has a solid contestable case,” the trailer states, “he lacks the funds to engage a lawyer to proceed his case.”
Apparently he found his lawyer; let’s hope he gets his money to live with dignity for the rest of his life.
Look for that film at film festivals.