Their entire output in upgraded sound from the correct master sources, including recently discovered tapes and unissued demos, with a booklet jammed with illustrations from the group’s personal archives and a 9,000-word essay based on input from all the members, including commentary from Sly himself. Truly the last word on Sly Stone’s first phase. A digipak release.
60 years ago, in the spring of 1961, a vocal sextet from Vallejo High School entered a regional talent contest in the San Francisco Bay Area, and quickly rose through the heats to snag first prize, a record contract and a trip to Hollywood. The teenagers made a handful of singles and enjoyed some local airplay, but were to become swiftly disillusioned by their brief experience of the music business, and went their separate ways.
Yes, another all-too-familiar account of innocence and experience in mid-century America: small town dreams, big city truths, and the lessons intrinsic to the path of every fresh-faced neophyte in the entertainment industry. The difference here is that one of those teenagers was Sylvester Stewart, soon to transform himself into the hugely successful, widely admired and incalculably influential Sly Stone.
It’s tempting to view the Viscaynes’ fresh-faced iridescence as a dry run for the parity of race and gender synonymous with Sly’s greatest achievement, the incomparable Sly & the Family Stone. Yet, the make-up of the young outfit celebrated in “Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962” is not only emblematic of the conviviality of its most famous member, but also an inspirational and heartwarming tale of youthful friendship and camaraderie, marked only with a bittersweet coda, given that the socio-cultural issues they encountered in Vallejo, California in the early 1960s – not to mention the continued deceits of the music business – still exist today. The group endured their own picaresque parade of opportunists in Pete Marino, George Motola and Vic Lucas, but emerged relatively unscathed, with only good memories to share.
Incredibly, while the Viscaynes were together in one form or another for the best part of three years, the music on this collection covers barely six months in the members’ lives. No-one would suggest their legacy is as groundbreaking as Sly Stone’s future work, or even an early indicator of the dizzy heights he was about to scale. But viewed in context, this is state-of-the-art pop music for its time and place, exhibiting vestiges of the waning vocal group and teen idol eras, along with the occasional flash of that mercurial period when R&B was slowly mutating into soul. The Viscaynes’ surviving recordings have real warmth, and exhibit obvious potential on the behalf of all the participants.
For decades, Sly’s juvenilia has been treated with cynical disdain by a parade of disingenuous collections, most with low-fidelity sound, artificially extended versions, and material by unrelated artists. Even recent releases have continued to use the wrong versions of tracks first heard on these exploitative releases. This compilation rectifies that injustice by offering up their entire output from the correct master sources. The earliest cuts are drawn from recently discovered tapes and include the extremely rare B-side ‘Real, True Love’, the very first disc on which Sly sang lead. There are also several unissued demo tracks produced by teen idol Gary Stites, as well as the sought-after Jasper Woods 45, featuring an incognito Richard Berry with the Viscaynes on vocal support. And finally a clutch of cuts that constitute Sly’s first official solo releases, under the names Danny (Sly) Stewart and Sylvester Stewart, the latter the only time his real name would ever grace a record label.