Despite playing in one of the most popular funk bands of all time, Freddie Stone might just be one of the most underrated purveyors of funkitude ever. He and brother Sly Stone cofounded Sly & the Family Stone in 1967, and within that context Freddie set a new standard for integrating the guitar into a large band setting without sonic redundancy. His chickenscratchin’, choppy-grooved licks, and bluesy R&B lines (played initially on big, hollowbody guitars like Gibson L-4s, then later on Fender Telecasters) always popped out of the mix in the right places and added a “gut-bucket” feel to the band’s prominent horn section.
Although his heyday was nearly four decades ago, Freddie had an influence that looms large to this day. It can be heard in the styles of other influential 6-string funkateers such as Ernie Isley (The Isley Brothers), Eddie Hazel (Funkadelic), John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers), and Prince. Check out tunes like “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” to see how Freddie integrates single lines on the lower strings with sliding dominant- 9th chords on “Sing a Simple Song.” It’s a riff so irresistible Jimi Hendrix borrowed it for his album Band of Gypsys. Want more evidence? Listen to the Woodstock version of “I Want to Take You Higher” to hear how Freddie finds elbow room sandwiched between Sly’s loud, crunchy organ and Larry Graham’s bionic bass. Take note of his discretionary use of the wah pedal. He uses the right tool at the right time and knows when to stop using it.
Sly & the Family Stone was pivotal in the development of soul and funk rock, and they were the first highly successful American band that was both racially mixed and gender diverse. Their style of church-influenced psychedelic funk continues to inspire to this day. Freddie Stone’s gut-bucket guitar and screaming-from-the- pulpit vocal style changed lives and sent many a guitarist to the woodshed to investigate the full potential of unadulterated funkiness.