Sly’s Road to the Grammys

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No fewer than a dozen people were making sure Sly Stone got to the Grammys on time. “Are we late?” asked the 61-year-old songwriter and 1960s icon, from under a motorcycle helmet. “I thought we were right on time.” It was noon, five hours before the start of 48th Annual Grammy Awards telecast, and Stone sat, placidly, in the trailer car of a stretch purple motorcycle in the parking lot of a Beverly Hills mini-mall. Several hours later, the man known as the J.D. Salinger of funk emerged onstage at the Staples Center in Los Angeles for his first live performance since 1987.

Sporting a giant blond mohawk, a silver robe and platform boots, Stone took to his keyboards after a five-song medley tribute by John Legend, Joss Stone, Maroon 5, Will.i.am from The Black Eyed Peas and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. The singer ended his years of seclusion to lead his old band, the Family Stone, in a rendition of “I Want to Take You Higher,” and then exited the stage abruptly after just a few verses. Sly’s head was bowed during the performance and he wore a cast on his right hand, but “he’s healthy,” says his brother Freddie, the band’s guitarist. “Everything felt right tonight.”

Sly’s drug problems helped break up the Family Stone in 1975, and his later solo career never approached the success of the group’s. Little-seen in public since his 1993 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Sly has been slowly edging back toward the limelight in the last year. He made a cameo appearance at a concert with his sister, Vaetta, who plays in a Family Stone tribute band. A Sly and the Family Stone tribute album released last year under Starbucks’ Hear Music label has introduced a new generation to Sly’s music. And a documentary, “On the Sly: In Search of the Family Stone,” about Sly’s reclusiveness, is under way. It seems the bizarre and iconic songwriter isn’t content just to hear remakes of his old tunes, however. “Sly is very much interested in letting his friends, his loved ones, know that there is some evolution in his work going on,” says Freddie. “There’s some stuff you ain’t heard yet.”