Some rock stars make headlines when they’re having trouble building mega-million-dollar dream homes (like The Edge, who wants to construct a massive Malibu estate), but funk pioneer Sly Stone doesn’t have that problem: About 30 miles east of the U2 guitarist’s controversial compound, Stone has been living in a small camper parked on a residential street in the rough Los Angeles neighborhood of Crenshaw. One of music’s most influential legends is on the edge of homelessness.
How did Stone go from the Beverly Hills mansion he once owned to a Winnebago? A combination of bad business decisions, a greedy manager, and decades of drug use that ate into his savings. Amazingly, Stone is taking his troubles in stride, telling the New York Post, “I like my small camper. I just do not want to return to a fixed home. I cannot stand being in one place. I must keep moving.” Still, the musician says he wants to recoup the cash he lost over the past decades.
Sly and the Family Stone, the band Sly formed with his siblings Freddie and Rose, were one of the most influential groups of the Woodstock era, seamlessly blending elements of funk, R&B, psychedelic rock, and soul into chart-topping hits like “Family Affair,” “Everybody People,” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” They released landmark albums like 1969’s Stand and 1971’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On. Stone’s group changed the trajectory of American music, and everyone from Michael Jackson and Parliament/Funkadelic to Prince and Red Hot Chili Peppers were inspired by his work — Tupac Shakur and the Wu-Tang Clan even sampled his songs. However, by 1987, Stone ditched the music industry completely.
The Family Stone were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. At first, Sly didn’t appear to be in attendance, but just as the Family was about to accept the honor, their singer suddenly emerged, made a few comments, and disappeared from the stage. A similar incident happened in 2006 at the Grammy’s all-star tribute to Sly and the Family Stone: After missing rehearsals all week, Sly popped up mid-performance, sang “I Want to Take You Higher,” then quickly bailed. To say Stone is eccentric is an understatement: He’s spent much of the last decades as a recluse, scarcely performing in public. However, money problems have forced him out of hiding.
Stone’s drug use slowly eroded his health and wealth — he was busted for cocaine earlier this year, so those problems persist — but his business decisions are mostly responsible for his current living situation. In 1984, three years after the Family Stone released their final (until this summer) album Ain’t But the One Way, Sly foolishly sold the publishing rights to his catalog to Michael Jackson and his Sony ATV group for $1 million, much less than it was worth. In 1989, Stone signed with manager Jerry Goldstein, who the singer is now suing for $50 million. Sly claims Goldstein withheld 20 years of royalties from him.
The Post writes that Stone has been subsisting on the handouts of neighbors, which is surprising since Stone has been more active with performances in recent years. He delivered a (disastrous) gig at the 2010 Coachella festival, toured Europe in 2007, and even released a new album, I’m Back… Family & Friends, earlier this summer. However, money might not be Stone’s only problem. The Post reports that Stone has become increasingly paranoid, afraid that both the FBI and assassins are pursuing him. The newspaper snapped a photo of Stone toting a Taser and wearing a silver helmet and a white jumpsuit that looks a lot like a straitjacket.
“My music is a format that will encourage you to have a song you won’t forget. That’s why I got so much money, that there are so many people around, and that’s why I am in court. Millions of dollars!” Stone told the Post, adding he’s eager to collaborate with Lady Gaga and today’s artists. “But now please tell everybody, please, to give me a job, play my music. I’m tired of all this s—, man.”