Larry Graham & Graham Central Station
Legendary former Sly & The Family Stone bassist brings his unique sound to City Winery
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IN the world of music, Larry Graham is often described as “a long-distance runner,” one who began his incredible career years ago, and thanks to his talent and lasting appeal, he is still among the leaders in the continuing race to satisfy generation after generation of critical, hard-to-please music lovers.
Now 68, Graham is in the midst of an extensive international concert tour that has included performances in Spain, China, Japan, the Netherlands and cities throughout the U.S. On November 22, the renowned bass player and his Graham Central Station will stop in Chicago at City Winery, where fans can expect to hear Graham hits such as “Just Be My Lady,” “When We Get Married” and the classic love song “One in a Million You.”
No Larry Graham concert, though, would be complete without a nod to the tunes created while he was a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group Sly & The Family Stone, one of the hugely impactful bands of the ’60s and ’70s. It was during that time that Graham distinguished himself with his slapping technique of playing the bass, a style that he calls “thumpin’ and pluckin’” to expand the tonal palette of the instrument. “It was through Sly & The Family Stone that my style of playing the bass became popular on songs such as “Dance To The Music,” “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin”) and others,” says the Grammy Award-nominated performer. “I have to really be thankful for Sly & The Family Stone because if Sly hadn’t asked me to join his band then, who knows, no one might not have ever heard this weird thing I was doing on the bass.”
That “weird thing” actually came to Sly Stone’s attention as a result of the persistence of one of Graham’s fans who had heard him playing in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury area. Stone, working at KSOL radio station in San Francisco during the late ’60s, announced that he had plans to put a band together (which became Sly & The Family Stone), and the fan who Graham didn’t know, called the station repeatedly to suggest that Stone go the club to hear Graham’s unique sound. “Because of her, Sly came down and heard me doing this strange way of playing, loved it and asked me to join the band,” says Graham, who by age 13 was playing drums, piano, guitar bass and harmonica, and at 15 joined his mother’s band, The Dell Graham Trio.
The time that Graham spent with Sly & The Family Stone gave him an international platform to showcase his skills as a musician and singer. By 1974, he had formed his own group, Graham Central Station, and was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist. Five years later, he started a solo career that yielded him another Grammy nomination, this time for Best R&B Vocal Performance in the male category. Later, Graham, who delivered such tunes as “Sooner or Later,” recorded with Aretha Franklin, led Eddie Murphy’s band Psychedelic Psoul on a U.S. and European tour, and he forged an association in the 1990s with Prince, a frequent musical collaborator on stage and in the studio. By the time the legendary bassist and Graham Central Station got back together in 2010, Graham had become a major influence on countless younger bass players around the world who are emulating his style.
“One thing I’m happy about is that through my travels, especially in the past decade, I’m running across more and more and more young bass players,” says Graham, whose nephew is hitmaking rapper Drake. “I’ve run across so many new and upcoming bass players all over the world who have been influenced directly or indirectly by me. They may not know about me at all, but they may be into Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Bootsy Collins, Flea [of the Red Hot Chili Peppers] or some other bass player. So now we have a whole new generation of thumpers and pluckers.”
It’s the original thumper and plucker who is continuing to add chapters to his incredible legacy, a legacy that will get another entry when Graham takes the City Winery stage. That performance will again put the spotlight on him, but after all of the accolades and the mounting appreciation from fans, the pioneering musician has a simple, straightforward message for those who have followed him for years and for those who are new to the party: “It is my great pleasure,” he says, “to bring you joy by means of my music.”
For tickets and more information about the Larry Graham and Graham Central Station performances at City Winery on November 22 (shows at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.), go to www.citywinery.com.
Pioneering musician and singer Larry Graham is still among the best in the business.
Sly & The Family Stone (including Graham, rear) was one of the most influential groups during the '60s and '70s.