In the 1960s and ‘70s, Sly Stone was one of funk and soul music’s most hopeful figures. He penned incandescent, era-defining singles like “Everyday People” and “Stand!” while leading the Family Stone, one of the era’s most inventive and accomplished bands.
But while Stone’s fame endured, his fortune didn’t. A few years ago, he was living in a van in South Los Angeles.
This week, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury found that Stone, whose given name is Sylvester Stewart, had not been fully paid for songwriting royalties.
The civil jury said manager Jerry Goldstein, attorney Glenn Stone and Even St. Productions owed him $5 million in royalties and damages.
Stone’s attorney Nicholas Hornberger called the decision “good news for music, good news for composers and others who earn their livelihood in this business.”
“It’s a nice win for a cool guy, and in the bigger picture it sends a loud and clear message,” Hornberger said.
Gregory Bodell, the attorney for Goldstein and Glenn Stone, said his clients plan to appeal.
“When you hear people say my [clients] stole royalties, it’s not true,” Bodell said. He said that Sly Stone owns 50% of Even St. Productions, which had advanced him millions of dollars to make a record “and he never made it.”
Goldstein, a record producer and songwriter, co-wrote the ‘60s staple “My Boyfriend’s Back” for the Angels and performed in the Strangeloves, the group behind the hit 1965 single “I Want Candy.”
Sly Stone’s court complaint alleged that the musician earned millions of dollars from his longtime label Sony/Columbia that were rolled into Goldstein’s accounts. According to the complaint, Goldstein and Glenn Stone “without the permission of Sly Stone, have received, borrowed, and continue to receive millions of dollars in royalties or derived from royalties.”
The initial 2010 complaint accused Goldstein and partners with unjust enrichment, fraud, breach of contract, negligence and dozens of other charges stemming from money earned from Sly Stone’s work with his longtime band the Family Stone while under contract with Goldstein.
Stone has mostly been removed from the public eye in recent years. Through decades starting in the late ‘70s, the artist responsible for such American classics as his album-length funk masterpiece “There’s a Riot Goin’ On,” faded while his music endured.
In 2011, reports surfaced that Stone was living out of a van in the Crenshaw district. The New York Post ran a story about Stone, including a photo of the camper. “I like my small camper,” Stone told the publication. “I just do not want to return to a fixed home. I cannot stand being in one place. I must keep moving.”
On Wednesday, Hornberger said that Stone is “staying with friends, nothing really permanent.”
Save for a strange 2006 Grammy Awards appearance, his voice has survived through reissues and remastered versions of his classic work, including “I’m Just Like You: Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-70,” a 2014 collection of Stone’s production work from his label imprint of the same name.
Stone’s truncated 2010 comeback performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was widely panned by critics, and some fans feared for his well-being. Goldstein sued Stone after that show, alleging that the singer slandered him onstage.
The case is a rare moment of redemption for artists alleging mistreatment by their managers. Some, like Billy Joel, have sued managers for tens for millions of dollars; other artists have lashed out in songs like Bob Dylan’s 1967’s “Dear Landlord.”
Sly Stone’s lawyer said his client probably would not fully collect on the award until appeals have been
exhausted, but said the verdict was victory for songwriters.
“This is a really great ruling for people who create things,” Hornberger said.