February 8, 2006

Funk pioneer Sly Stone could steal show at Grammys

By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The biggest mystery at Wednesday
night's Grammy Awards has nothing to do with how many of
music's top prizes leading nominees Mariah Carey, Kanye West
and John Legend will take home.

Rather, everyone is wondering whether reclusive funk music
pioneer Sly Stone will make his first major public appearance
in almost 13 years at the event.

Grammy organizers have invited the 61-year-old to attend
the Staples Center ceremony, which will feature an all-star
tribute to his band Sly and the Family Stone, purveyors of such
hits as "Dance to the Music" and "Everyday People."

Stone, whose real name is Sylvester Stewart, last made a
big splash in 1993, when he showed up briefly for the band's
induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Los Angeles.
Dressed in a blue jumpsuit, he muttered "see ya soon," and
quickly disappeared into the night. Since then, his only
reported appearance was at a Los Angeles club last August for a
tribute performed by blind musicians.

"I would expect him to be there," Recording Academy vice
chairman Jimmy Jam told Reuters. "That's just my gut feeling."

And that's about the best organizers can hope for until the
three-and-a-half-hour televised show begins at 8 p.m. EST (1
a.m. GMT).

Stone did appear at a Monday Grammys rehearsal, according
to the Los Angeles Times. But the paper said he was late,
dressed oddly in a hood, plastic camouflage slicker and pants
and played only two of three run-throughs of a song. He
disappeared for the third and had to be replaced on keyboards
by a crew member.

Although Sly and the Family Stone were hugely influential
practitioners of a pop-rock-funk hybrid that crossed racial
barriers during their brief heyday in the late '60s-early '70s,
Stone has not been able to bask in the glory. By the middle of
the decade, as disco was catching on, he was plagued by drug
problems and arrests. He was jailed at least twice in the '80s
for cocaine possession. Various comebacks never led to much.


The "awards" part of the Grammys will actually be a very
small part of the broadcast. Producers estimate about
three-quarters of the running time will feature performances.

In addition to the Sly and the Family Stone tribute,
featuring such performers as Aerosmith principals Steven Tyler
and Joe Perry, and young English soul singer Joss Stone, there
will be special musical segments devoted to the devastated city
of New Orleans, and late soul singer Wilson Pickett.

The broadcast will begin with a technologically challenging
collaboration between Madonna and the British cartoon band
Gorillaz, who are nominated for record of the year. Another
unusual pairing will see five-time nominees U2 join forces with
R&B singer Mary J. Blige. And three-time nominee Paul McCartney
will play the Grammys for the first time in his career.

The Grammys bestow prizes in 108 categories, and all but a
dozen will be given out in a fast-paced two hour ceremony
beginning at 4:30 p.m. EST. By the time the non-televised event
ends, it could be fairly clear who the big winners and losers
will be overall.

Jimmy Jam, a Grammy-nominated producer of the year,
predicted the awards would be spread evenly. Carey, Legend and
West each have eight nominations. Rapper 50 Cent, R&B singer
Beyonce Knowles, funk musician William Adams of the Black Eyed
Peas and Motown icon Stevie Wonder each have five.

Flying the flag for rock 'n' roll are U2 and Bruce
Springsteen, who have five each, along with rapper Missy
Elliott, R&B singer Alicia Keys and pop singer Gwen Stefani.