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Busy with the Good Stuff

Sly Livingston is one of the baddest bass players in Central New York. No one’s going to argue that. He is also one of the most positive forces on the scene with a plan and no one’s going to argue with that, either. And Sly does it all in a way that makes me proud to be a fellow Syracusan.

You know him as the bassist for the Blacklites and his other associations. I’ve never seen him not smiling and enthusiastically engaging with people… smiling. I don’t really know him, but he’s made an impression on me by always being cool and offering a supreme generous spirit. Everything else you need to know about him is all right here.

Chuck Schiele: Hey Sly, thanks for doing this interview.

Sylvester Livingston: Hi Chuck Thanks for the opportunity to share a little bit about me and my musical background.

CS: How does your music story begin?

SL: I was born and raised in Trenton, NJ in 1964. I started playing flute in the 1st grade.

That’s all I can recall of that. The flute was my first instrument and ended rather quickly, lol. Then, I started playing Congas at the age of 7 with my brother Walter, who’s 1 year older, and who was playing bongos. We were taught by an African percussionist name Clen-non Ware. I received an electric 6 string guitar for Christmas when I was 8 years old. And I never took lessons. I played by ear just as I do to this day. By the time I was 12 years old I was playing in clubs in Trenton with a young funk band called “Central Funk.” This continued with me into my high school years. I also was playing with my older brother Walter who played drums first and then bass. We both progressed very quickly with funk and slap style techniques because of our percussion background and our great ear for music. CS: What does life as a musician mean to you?

SL: Life as a musician means many things to me. As a musician, in a sense, I am a healer. I’ve watched my music literally transform people’s mood from gloom to happiness.

CS: Yes!

SL: As a musician, I am also a teacher. It is imperative that I give back to the youth and musicians of all ages. This is part of what has brought me such success in my musical career. Music “IS” my life. I use my music to elevate people’s frequencies from a lower to a higher state.

CS: I’ve seen you do it.

SL: The highest frequencies are generated from love and happiness.

CS: Awesome. Thanks for putting the good stuff out there.

SL: As a teenager, I played with Central Funk Band in my hometown until I was 17 or 18 years old. Oh, by the way… we won a national teen talent contest. A battle of the bands of sorts where we had to knock out 3 rounds of competition. And at that time I was about 14 and the oldest member was 17.

I lost my mother, who was my biggest supporter, at age 17. I was devastated and it took some time to start playing again. After Central Funk disbanded, I started playing guitar for a front-row Motown style singing group called “A Touch of Class”. That lasted for about 1 year.

And then, I landed a gig with Charles ”The Mighty Burner” Earland, a jazz organist out of Philadelphia around 1983. He was already an international recording and performing artist. I was honored to have the opportunity to play guitar for him. We headlined Apollo Theater in NYC—one of the highlights of my career.

CS: Well, yeah….! I sure wish I had that one on my list…

SL: Earland died in Kansas City, MO of heart failure at the age of 58 in 1999.

Fast forward to Syracuse. I came to Syracuse from Newark/East Orange in 2001 seek-ing recovery from active drug addiction. Thanks to The Salvation Army ARC on Erie Blvd, I recently celebrated 19 years clean on June 26, 2020.

CS: Good work! Congratulations!

SL: Thank you. I started playing bass while in Newark with a salsa band called Cajunta Yarey. I also played with a hip-hop group in Newark called Rare Form. Since coming to Syracuse, I’ve played with The Salvation Army Citadel Gospel Choir for at least 4 years. The first band that I played with was a band we created from Quigleys Open Mic in Hanover Square. The band was called DiverCity (sounds like Diversity), I eventually moved on from DiverCity after a few years and started working on my debut album in 2011 while working on a project with Rodney Skipworth (of Skipworth and Turner). I released SlikSly The Awakening! in 2012 (recorded in the Basement of SubCat Studios at Black Lagoon Productions with Emmett Van Slyke as producer and drummer on the album). I was approached by the members of Sheela Tucker’s About Time Band, not too long after. I performed with them after the release of my album for about 6-8 months. When the band broke up, we formed a funk and R&B cover band called The Starlight Band.

After Starlight disbanded I was approached by the legendary Blacklites in 2016. I am still the bassist for the Blacklites. I also freelance with many other local musicians such as Mike Houston’s 5th Edition Band, Kevin Stephens, and Free Spirit Gospel Group, Shawn Seals SMX Band, UAD Band and I played bass for international recording artist and Prince’s saxophonist Marcus Anderson, when he came to Syracuse.

CS: How is COVID culture affecting your music?

SL: Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge effect on me as a musician. All of the gigs with my main band were canceled this year. I play the NYS Fair every year—at least 3-4 times… canceled. Smaller venues where I’m booked in Geneva…. canceled. In light of this, I have been creating opportunities for myself with my solo performance by volunteering my time at venues like The Farmers Market at The Finger Lakes Welcome Center, by Seneca Lake, every Saturday from 12:30pm to 1:30pm. I also perform at Lake Drum Brewery Curbside where I receive tips and can sell my album. I have been playing every week since COVID hit (social distancing and following suggested guidelines of course) and literally creating opportunities for myself because I love performing and I love watching and experiencing people who enjoy my music.

CS: Tell us about your campaigns helping children and fundraising efforts.

SL: This started last year in the winter of 2019. November 2019 to be exact. I was performing at an Open Mic called Kashong Creek Cider here in Geneva. I was new on the scene but at my level of playing, it didn’t take long before my name started ringing bells in Geneva. I used the opportunity to start selling my CD’s and the idea just came to me to give back—or pay forward—some of my successes. I began taking $1 from every autographed CD sold and put it into my fundraiser and recorded it on my spread-sheet. Even when I gave a CD away, I still donated a dollar to the campaign on behalf of whoever I gave the CD too. Last year, I raised about $68 from after Thanksgiving until the week before Christmas. That means I sold and gave away close to 70 CDs. So this year, I decided to start early for the SlikSly 2020 Toys for Toddlers Christmas Campaign. The reason I changed the name from SlikSly Toys for Tots was not to be confused with the Marines Toys for Tots. Also because my CD is associated with it and I didn’t want there to be a conflict of interest. This year I started May 2nd and have already raised over $312 from the sale of CDs and donations on Facebook live performances.

I promote it by doing Facebook live concerts where people donate to my cash app. I love children and last year was a success because I know we made at least 10 children happy by receiving a gift.

My goal this year is to not only stream the Walmart purchase, but I plan on reaching out to Golisanos Children’s Hospital in Syracuse to see how we can safely make a difference in the lives of less fortunate children there as well. I want to impact as many children’s’ lives as I can this year. You can always see the updated spreadsheet on my Facebook page. I’m transparent and I practice integrity. It doesn’t cost anything to try and put a smile on people’s faces. You never know when you may be in a situation in need of help. CS: What are your thoughts on the CNY music community?

SL: The CNY music community is made up of many styles and genres. I love the CNY music community because I love the diversity in styles, players on all levels, and many genres—some of which overlap. As an original music enthusiast, I enjoy the spontaneity I observe when performing at venues with known and unknown players. Especially at open mic’s where styles meet improvisation, slick technique, tricks, and the whole 9 yards. And then, you have your events such as Jazz in the City, where a concert is performed in every part of the City. So I’d say the CNY music scene is pretty amazing!

CS: Who are the bass players—and/or other musicians —who most affected you?

SL: My brother Walter Livingston Jr. has had the most influence on me as we grew up playing together, my left-handed cousin Bryan Randolph and Don Adams from Trenton, Carl D-Dogg Wilson drummer from Trenton, Reggie Dash of Trenton (The best show drummer I’ve ever seen up close. He lived with us for a year, RIP), Larry English and Jasper Bradley—both phenomenal guitarists from Trenton, Deyquan Bowens of Syracuse (The person who’s influenced me the most in Syracuse). Then there’s Bootsy Collins, Louis and George Johnson (Brothers Johnson), Verdine White (EWF), Mr. Mark (from Slave), Larry Graham, Nathaniel Phillips Bassist for “Pleasure”, KC and the Sunshine Band, Luther Vandross, Joe, Darnell Jones, Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Stanley Clark, Kool, and the Gang, George Benson, Earl Klugh, Norman Brown, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Cameo, Wild Cherry. Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten are my favorite bassists to learn from because our styles sorta vibrate on similar frequencies. I think so, anyway……lol.

CS: Please share career highlights?

SL: I got to play on the Walter Steward TV Show with The Fabulous Ronnie Corbin Singers out of Willingboro NJ when I was 14 years old. I won the Teen Talent Expo with Central Funk Band at age 13. I performed at The Dell Music Center (formerly known as The Robin Hood Dell East) in front of 10k plus people in Philadelphia with A Touch of Class. I performed at The Apollo Theater with Legendary Jazz Organist Charles “ The Mighty Burner” Earland. I performed with Marcus Anderson, twice. Opened up for the Zapp Band with The Blacklites on The Experience Stage at The NYS Fair. Although I’ve been fortunate to play some big venues, I consider all my performances to be highlights because I’ll never be in that space and time again. And at my age, I have to cherish every memory!

CS: Anything funny ever happens on stage?

SL: Once when I was performing at the Pan African Village Stage at The NYS Fair, a woman hopped on stage, bowed down in front of me, and then motioned with her hand to another woman behind her as if she was presenting me with an offering. My wife was in the front row observing the whole thing. Lol.

CS: Advice to good people learning bass/music?

SL: Master the basics! Remain open-minded. Learn from everyone. Create original material. Record your sessions and listen to see where you can improve. Don’t settle for “good enough.” Learn the material exactly as it is and don’t move on until you have mastered whatever riff or techniques you are working on. The hard work will pay off and show up in the end. Don’t be afraid to “go there” wherever “there” is musically. most importantly, have fun.

CS: Tell us about music and plans for your near future. SL: I currently have enough material for another album, but I’m being patient due to Covid-19. I want to do a few artist’s collaborations on my next album with
vocalists and a few other musicians. I’m also working on other business opportunities and entrepreneurial moves to be my own boss so-to-speak. So I’m being patient. I’m mainly staying busy by doing FB live concerts, volunteering. People have hired me from seeing me, volunteer. Currently, I am booked into September. Considering this pandemic, I’d say that’s pretty good.

CS: How do we all stay in touch with you and your music?

SL: You can find me on Facebook “Sylvester Livingston” and https://www.facebook. com/SlikSlyMusic, My Website www.slikslymusic.com, YouTube: www.youtube.com/slikslysyracuse and Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sliksly_livingston My album is “SlikSly The Awakening!” available on CD Baby, Itunes, Amazon.com, Spotify and many other streaming platforms.

CS: Thanks, so much Sly for chatting with me. It’s been a pleasure to hear your story. SL: Thank you, Chuck. I appreciate the opportunity.

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is a lifelong, award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member Quatrocollective.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.