#168 – I Want To Take You Higher by Sly & The Family Stone
– At the risk of sounding like I’m standing alone in the middle of a large field with no one else to support my opinion, I believe every teenage guy that played an electric guitar in 1970 learned the opening riff to this song. Okay, maybe that’s too much of a general assumption, but I’m basing it on personal experience.
I fit that demographic and pretty sure I wasn’t alone.
Sly & The Family Stone were definitely not alone in a field when they took the crowd higher with this blast of gospel rock ‘n’ roll at Woodstock in August 1969. For the 400,000 people camped out at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York – which over the decades grew to millions that claimed to be there – the band’s performance was a festival highlight and a super charged Sunday morning wake-up call when they hit the stage at 3:30 am.
If anyone in that particular large field surrounded by people slept through it, I’ll make a general assumption they were in one of the emergency medical tents after dropping the brown acid the stage announcers warned festival-goers not to take.
How do I know this? Was I one of the thousands – later millions – who claims to have been at Woodstock?
Nope. I saw the movie.
The Woodstock movie rolled through our area of northern Ohio during the summer of 1970. Most of us in my group of friends had listened to the three disc soundtrack LP, but the visuals proved to be an important part of the experience. I remember a carload of us (including my then current and future girlfriends – which is a different long story) heading to the theater decked out in our best hippie garb. In Ohio fashion sense, that just meant bellbottoms, a favorite t-shirt and probably blue-tinted round sunglasses. The girls enhanced their looks with southwestern style ponchos and yellow-tinted round sunglasses.
Yeah, we thought we looked cool.
For rockers the movie highlights included sets by The Who and Ten Years After. But the major impact for us came from Sly’s “Medley” performance of Dance To The Music, Music Lover and of course, I Want To Take You Higher. It was about 15 minutes of sheer energy and a main reason later to pick up the stereo needle on our soundtrack albums, place it back at the beginning of this song triad and listen to it again and again and again…
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It was also another reason to want to be in a band.
That was probably the biggest inspiration for my gang of friends to start planning our own outdoor music festival on the shores of Lake Erie. Now, that’s another long story that includes the transition between girlfriends at the same time, so I’ll save the results of this rock ‘n’ roll endeavor for another time. But basically it was just a group of high school friends looking for an excuse to have another party.
The preparation included forming a band that would headline this outdoor local extravaganza. Our first rehearsal was in a small room behind my parents’ garage. I had an electric guitar, but no amp. My best friend borrowed a bass guitar, but also had no amp. Our next move was to borrow an amp we could both use. We commandeered my dad’s drum set, which was vintage 1940’s big band style with a HUGE bass drum and only available because my dad had decided to focus his talent on playing the trumpet. We included another best buddy who didn’t have the talent to play anything, so we made him the singer.
And as another footnote, he really couldn’t sing. But it still gave us enough members to have a band.
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The final results didn’t improve much after this first rehearsal. We learned to play the riff from I Want To Take You Higher and… well, that was about it for that song. We’d play it, stop, look at each other, play it again, stop and repeat the process. We did the same with a couple Led Zeppelin riffs, The Rolling Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash and then made plans for our next rehearsal.
Eventually we learned songs that were of the easier three-chord variety, like Blue Suede Shoes and Long Tall Sally, which in turn influenced the theme of our outdoor music festival. Instead of the hippie vibe of Woodstock, we renamed ours a “Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival” and now had a legitimate excuse not to play any song that had more than three chords.
But once again, I Want To Take You Higher and Sly’s performance in the Woodstock movie was the impetus to get our rock rolling. The song joined this Dream Song list on September 5th. The opening riff alone was a major jolt to my waking mind and no coffee was needed to kick start the day. But then again, I wasn’t going to skip my morning caffeine buzz just because my head was already buzzing. And since the song was currently in rotation on my digital playlist, it joins the recent memory category.
I don’t have any recent memories of Sly & The Family Stone, but they really made an impact all those decades ago. The more serious minded stoner hippie bands that stood on stage for too-long jam sessions were quite frankly mind numbingly boring for a group of 17 year old high schoolers looking for any excuse to throw a party, dance and laugh a lot. So when Sly appeared on the big screen and cut loose – it was like a rock ‘n’ roll magnet.
That’s what we were looking for – and that’s when we found it.
I Want To Take You Higher first came out in 1969 as the flip side of the band’s 45 rpm single, Stand. But I don’t remember anyone taking notice of it until Woodstock hit our local theater and the high-octane live version had us lifting up our blue and yellow round shades to get a better look.
I actually think I had the opening riff down on my electric guitar after only a few tries. It’s just too bad my borrowed amp wasn’t loud enough for anyone else to hear it.
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Here’s a video of Sly & The Family Stone performing a live version of I Want To Take You Higher (sometimes called Higher and Higher) from 1969. It’s not Woodstock but still brings the energy!
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