These Stones keep on rolling
By John Benson
We are weeks away from the 45th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival that seemingly defined the ‘60s music scene. That’s why it’s apropos The Family Stone – a Sly and the Family Stone offshoot act – returns to Northeast Ohio for a show Friday at McMenamy’s in Niles.
Recently, original member and leader of The Family Stone, Jerry Martini, was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which inducted Sly and the Family Stone in 1993, to discuss the iconic concert that took place at Max Yasgur’s farm.
“They interviewed us about what it was like to play Woodstock,” said Martini, calling from Folsom, Calif. “Looking back at it, of course we were so impressed when we saw all of the people. We had no idea it would be like that. When we got there, it was a big muddy mess with people all over the place.
“We waited for six hours before we went on. Once we got on stage, it was unbelievable. The energy between the audience and the band was magnetic. That was probably the most memorable concert we ever did.”
He added that at that time, Sly and the Family Stone was already a touring entity playing in casinos and theaters, but the Woodstock gig catapulted the act into a higher orbit that led to more festival dates and major venues.
Regarding the magic experienced at Woodstock, Martini said it’s something that can never be duplicated.
“There have been several tries of people trying to replicate Woodstock,” Martini said. “As a matter of fact, our band played there a couple of years ago a few hills over where it’s all modern and all paved with really nice sanitary facilities. But nothing could replicate that raw feeling of a half a million people laying in the mud, getting up and jumping up and down without a care in the world at 3 a.m. in the morning.”
Today, Martini said The Family Stone does its best to replicate the sounds of Sly and the Family Stone with a hit-laden set list including “Dance To The Music,” “Stand,” “Thank You [Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin],” “I Want to Take You Higher,” “Everyday People” and “Hot Fun in the Summertime.”
The new version of the band features original members Martini (saxophone, trumpet), Cynthia Robinson (vocals) and Greg Errico (drums).
As far as finding a replacement for the band’s namesake, that proved to be difficult; however, current singer and Akron native Alex Davis is a perfect fit.
“Nobody can be exactly the same or have the exact power from that era, but we do a darn good job,” Martini said. “I chose very carefully people for that reason. When Sly’s brother Freddie came to see us, he said when Alex walked out on stage, the hair stood up on his arm.”
So what is it about the music of Sly and the Family Stone that keeps audiences coming out to see The Family Stone decades later?
“Because the songs are timeless; that’s it,” Martini said. “They’re great songs, family songs, and not one swear word in any of our songs — and that’s a popular thing nowadays. We have a unique blend of rock, soul and funk with a little bit of psychedelica. We were a unique band, and we still are.”