Once upon a time, horns were common in rock, pop and R&B. In fact, there was a period in the late 1960s/early 1970s when horn players were regularly heard on hit recordings and were full-time members of the most popular bands in the world — among them Chicago, Tower of Power and Sly and the Family Stone.
So what’s become of horn players and their place in popular music since those glory days?
“I’ll tell you what happened — it’s called the computer and the synthesizer,” says saxophonist Jerry Martini, a founding member of Sly and the Family Stone. “They have come up with really good computer trumpets and trombones and things like that. But they haven’t been able to come up with a good saxophone sound yet, and I’m very thankful for that.”
Martini has plenty to be thankful for: In recent years, he’s backed the likes of Robert Cray in the studio and Prince onstage. Lately, Martini’s regular gig has been leading The Family Stone along with trumpet player Cynthia Robinson and drummer Greg Errico, both fellow veterans of Sly and the Family Stone.
“We’re not a tribute band because we have three original members — that takes us out of the category of ‘tribute band,’ ” Martini explains. “Audiences really get the picture of the original band when we play. When you see us, you get as close as you can get to the original band. We don’t change the arrangements — they weren’t broke, so we’re not trying to fix ’em.”
Rounding out The Family Stone’s lineup are Alex Davis, Trina Johnson Finn, Nate Wingfield and Blaise Sison. However, Martini says the door remains wide open for Sly Stone, guitarist Freddie Stone, keyboardist Rosie Stone and bassist Larry Graham to return to the fold.
“We all still have the camaraderie. We’re all staying active,” says Martini. “The thing about Sly and the Family Stone — all seven [original] members are alive, and all seven members are still working. Sly is not dormant; he’s in his studio in his house. He’s writing songs constantly; he must have written thousands of songs. Later on there’s going to be a Sly archive, and people will be fighting over it. He’s still got it.”
— By Chris M. Junior
The Family Stone on tour (schedule subject to change):
* July 20: Theater Square/New Jersey Performing Arts Center — Newark, N.J.
* July 21: Santa Paula Citrus Festival/Harding Park — Santa Paula, Calif.
* Aug. 4: Yoshi’s — Oakland, Calif.
* Aug. 18: Long Beach Funk Fest — Long Beach, Calif.
* Aug. 25: Lock 3 — Akron, Ohio
* Aug. 31: American Music Festival — Virginia Beach, Va.