You left the band in ’72 – how did Sly Stone react to your going?
I never heard his reaction nor was it ever talked about. You know sometimes people grow up in a family and then they move on for whatever reason and it doesn’t have to be negative. In fact, when I hooked up with Prince fourteen years ago, the first tour that we did I had Jerry Martini, Cynthia (Robinson) and Rose (Stone) from the Family Stone with me. There were some shows that we played where Greg Errico came in and sat in with us. We’ve had as many as five of us up there at a time playing. So that pretty much says that there were no hard feelings there. No one was upset with Greg when he left and we’re still as close as ever. No one was upset with me otherwise they wouldn’t play with me or him. It was just time, you know. And time for Greg to move on too but it all turned out good.
How did your own band, Graham Central Station, come about?
I had begun writing songs while in Sly & The Family Stone although Sly was the primary writer for the group, of course, and no one wanted to mess with that. After I left, I put together a group of musicians (called Hot Chocolate) with the intent of recording songs that I had written. I had actually gone in and recorded some stuff. The band was actually built around (singer) Patrice Banks (a.k.a. ‘Chocolate’), and she was going to be the featured vocalist: I would just be the songwriter and producer of that band. That’s where that was supposed to be heading but then they played a gig at a club called Dembo’s in San Francisco one night and it was packed. Everybody knew I was there too and then on the very last long the audience urged me to get up there and pretty much made me go and jam with them. Of course, I knew the music like the back of my hand because I wrote it. So instantly it just went into a very high gear and the crowd went crazy and pretty much everyone there knew that something had just happened – the band knew it, the crowd knew it and I knew it too. It was just a matter of changing the name from Hot Chocolate to Graham Central Station, which is what I did, and then we recorded our first album using some of those songs that I had started writing for them. That was another thing that happened that wasn’t planned but the outcome was good.
In 1980 when you released your first solo album (‘One In A Million You’) did you disband Graham Central Station?
There was never a disbanding or the thought that we were going to end it and were going to break up. It’s a similar situation (as Sly & The Family Stone) where folks went on to pursue other things. No one was ever fired but other people started doing other things. I just did a solo project and because of the style of the music – which included funk, because that’s what I do, but also some other things – I chose to call it a Larry Graham project as opposed to a Graham Central Station project. But the intent never was: “I’m not doing any more Graham Central Station records.” It was just a different direction and as it turned out, the first single (‘One In A Million You’) was quite different from stuff that Graham Central Station had been doing. In fact, I remember after that came out a lot of people that came to the shows, a whole bunch of them would have on their suits and all the ladies would have on their best dresses and came to hear ‘One In A Million You’ while the rest of the crowd would be in jeans and T-shirts and came to hear the funk, not knowing that it was the same guy.
‘One In A Million You’ showed a more romantic side to you. Was that something that you consciously set out to do just to show a different side of your musical character?
No, it’s just part of the complete me. Going back to when my mother and I worked together in clubs, in addition to salary, you tried to make a lot of tips and the way you did that was that when people requested songs you had what we called the kitty; you have a glass or jar on top of the piano and when people request a song – if you know it – then people are going to put some money in the kitty. So we made it a point to try and know as many songs in any genre as possible. My mum had this great big old thick book, called a fake book, where you have the melody of a song and the chord structure so you can jam as many songs in that book as possible. She was such a good musician that was all she needed and so we tried to learn everything. Of course when it came to handling songs by Billy Eckstine or Frank Sinatra or Nat ‘King’ Cole or Tony Bennett, it was my responsibility to cover those songs. But when it came to covering song by the women, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington or whoever, then my mum would handle those. So I had been singing ballads before Sly & The Family Stone. That’s why Sly had me sing a ballad on the very first Sly & The Family Stone album, ‘Let Me Hear It From You.’ That was the very first album so he was aware of my ability to be able sing ballads from working with my mother.
Looking back at your career, what achievements are you most proud of?
They’re all different. The things that I achieved with Sly & The Family Stone I’m very proud of. If that hadn’t happened then there would have been no Graham Central Station or a lot of other groups. So the things I accomplished then I’m very proud of and that was really the launching pad for putting my style of playing the bass out there as well as my voice. And then the things I accomplished for Graham Central Station, of course, I’m very, very proud of them – not only as a musician and part of the band but also as a songwriter and producer. Then of course, as a solo artist, my accomplishments with ‘One In A Million You’ and ‘Just Be My Lady’ and having success with that, I’m very proud of that too. So it’s all different. In all three areas there was success and so when I look at the whole picture I call it one great big old blessing.
LARRY GRAHAM will be playing at London’s Clapham Grand on Monday September 10th.
His new album ‘Raise Up’ is released by Moosicus (Razor & Tie in the USA) on October 22nd.
Look out for a review of the album next month at SJF