Sly was the most exciting live band I have ever seen; a mix of pumping psychedelic gospel and hot Rhythm n Blues soul revue, a holy communion of high energy grooves that changed the world. Their whole setup was sparkling, shiny; white shag carpet on the stage, white leslie organ speakers, white drums. Sly dressed in white tassels as long as your ass. He could dance like no one else. He could sing and play organ like no one else and he could go to extremes. The show at the Miami Hi-Lai Fronton was on a long stage with netting at the ends. Normally the netting would protect the audience from the high speed Hi Lai balls that would be hurtled back and forth by the players. It is a fast and dangerous game; macho hand ball on steroids. Tonight it was a rock n roll emporium of the highest order. Sly was going off about “Security” right away. “I don’t want to go out like Malcolm!” he said to the promoter. “I want security behind me, on stage.” Security was being run by our associate/road manager; a very famous Soldier of Fortune. He was in his mid life now but still lethal. He had led the First One Hundred into Bay of Pigs, Cuba the night before the full scale invasion. At dawn, when the whole operation went south he had to get his men back out of Cuba. He had handled operations in South and Central America and had escaped from a maximum security South American prison with the prisoner ID number still tattooed on his right lower calf, now hidden by his motorcycle boot. He was always a gentleman. He befriended us, and protected us from dangers in Miami plus he knew everyone in the music business. He was like a father to the hippie chicks. We never had to worry about not getting paid by the promoters. He described himself as, “A Soldier of Fortune… Not a mercenary… There is a difference.” His name was respected by the toughest bikers nationwide. He had grown muttonchops and sported wire rim glasses to fit in with the new generation and everyone liked him. The rumor was that Sly owed on a business arrangement from the last time he was in Miami and those Colombian businessmen were intent on teaching him a lesson. Pay up or die. Woodstock had been fairly recent, Sly and the band were hot- So was the stage security. Approaching the climax of their set; “I want to take you Higher!” Sly was jamming his peace sign fingers up into the steaming night air, screaming with thousands of kids echoing him in unison. “Higher! Higher!” At the height of the frenzy, in the darkness, double doors in the middle of the backstage wall opened slightly and five guys slid in. They were all business, loaded. Our associate/road manager, middle aged with glasses, who would occasionally say “Far Out” at odd moments to try to fit in with the hippies, came out at a full run from the far side of the backstage. About halfway across, he leaped into the air and went perfectly horizontal. His leg was rigid like a battering ram. The flat heel of his motorcycle boot caught the first intruder square in the face. The guy went down and did not move. The rest of the would be assassins were reduced to deathly quiet lumps in the shadows by the rest of his security team. They had obviously worked together before. It was like a great moment in rock n roll where each band member knew instinctively what the other guys would do; a consummate performance. Masters in their art form and no one saw it except Danny and me and it was over in less than five seconds.
“It’s great to watch professionals at work.” I said to Danny as Sly’s show continued into the drum solo without the slightest hint of what had just happened.