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Greg Errico recalls beat for classic Sly and the Family Stone hit

Greg Errico

Drum-wise, the first 10 seconds of the song are nothing spectacular — just eight single strikes of a closed hi-hat. After that, however, drummer Greg Errico lays down a groove in “Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” a No. 1 Billboard pop hit in 1970 for Sly and the Family Stone, that’s about as steady and funky as anything from that time (or from any time, for that matter).

Once Errico gets going, his beat is uninterrupted — i.e., no fills or cymbal crashes. His theory: “If you could make a tank and let it roll down the street, nothing is going to move it. Doing that could set yourself up for boredom, too, but on the other hand, if it’s all the right ingredients, you can’t move it.”

Sturdy and tank-like as it is, Errico’s “Thank You” beat doesn’t get stale thanks in large part to the way he, at various points in the song, quickly opens his hi-hat cymbals to make a sizzle sound (later a constant element in disco music).

“People used to comment on that: ‘Wow, the open hi-hat,’ ” Errico says with a laugh. “We’d think nothing of it, but it really connected with people. It was just the right thing at the right place. That was one of my signature moves.”

This particular signature Sly and the Family Stone tune, according to Errico, required a lot of work.

“That song evolved to what it ended up being,” he adds. “There were several versions we had cut. I remember we even had a friend of mine — Michael Carabello, the percussionist in Santana — come in and put some conga drums on it.

“[When Sly was finishing up the version we did use], I remember he would call and say, ‘Wait until you hear what I’m doing to this.’ … He worked on it a lot until he got it exactly how he heard it in his head, with all of the guitar parts winding together. That’s what really makes the song just click, that whole rhythm/melodic thing with the horn punches.”
Errico’s drumwork sure had a lot to do with making the song click, too.

— By Chris M. Junior

Higher!, the new four-disc Sly and the Family Stone box set, is out now on Epic/Legacy. Featuring 77 tracks (17 previously unreleased), Higher! also includes a 104-page book with extensive liner notes and a timeline, as well as track-by-track annotations from original Family Stone members Errico, Larry Graham, Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson, plus other sources.