The Sly Stone and Prince Collaboration That Nearly But Never Was
It's a matter of fact that Prince was heavily influenced by Sly Stone, an equally unique and hard-working musical genius. According to Setlist.fm, Prince covered Sly and the Family Stone at concerts over 400 times between 1984 and 2016, performing Stone's "Stand!" at a show two months before his death.
In the late '80s, rumors abounded that the pair were collaborating, but nothing was ever confirmed. In his 2023 memoir Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), Stone discussed for the first time what transpired behind the scenes, and how a later Prince track demonstrated what could have been.
"People said that he was the new version of me, though they also said he was the new version of Little Richard and of Jimi Hendrix," Stone wrote. "Some days I understood what they meant and other days I didn't see it."
He went on to outline an accidental encounter between his girlfriend – later manager – Arlene Hirschkowitz, and Prince. "One night Arlene was at the Roxbury on Sunset and met him. He only spoke to her through his bodyguard the way he liked to do. She mentioned that she knew me. He said that he wanted to meet me. She said she thought she could help set something up.
"Prince, in a weird whisper, asked his bodyguard to ask her who she was and what she was to me. 'Engineer,' she said. I liked that answer. Prince must have, too. He spoke to her directly, in his normal voice. 'Well,' he said. 'I would like to work with Sly.'"
The pair made arrangements to "pave the way" toward a connection. "She called me to tell me about the meeting. I wasn't always on Prince, but that day I was. I told her that I was excited about the idea and I meant it. But he never called."
Perhaps Prince felt he'd absorbed enough of Stone's influence to proceed on his own. "One day a writer played me an album by a singer named Tony LeMans, who was on Prince's label back in the '80s," Stone recalled. "The first song sounded like one of mine, was titled like it too, 'Higher Than High,' and my name was even on the back of the record. Had I worked on the song? No: It was just dedicated to me. That was cool. I'm proud when people are inspired by my music. It makes me feel like I did something right."
Watch Tony LeMans' 'Higher Than High' Video
Prince's Unmistakable Connections to Sly Stone's Catalog
That track was released in 1989, a year after the rumors of Stone and Prince working together had reached the press, leading to a Warner Bros. exec telling the Chicago Tribune: "I can't believe them because Prince has been so busy on tour. He hasn't really been in one place long enough to collaborate with anybody."
In 1991, Prince's Diamonds and Pearls album contained the track "Walk Don't Walk," which features unmistakeable connections to Stone's catalog. Drummer Michael B., who played on the song, once explained that Prince had "played me some of the first Sly Stone records I ever heard," adding: "That was an education I couldn't have received anywhere else."
Listen to Prince's 'Walk Don't Walk'
Sly and the Family Stone Albums Ranked Worst to Best
Gallery Credit: Michael Gallucci