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Funk icon Sly Stone pleads not guilty to cocaine charge

Sly Stone, the reclusive funk legend whose career was crippled by rampant drug abuse, pleaded not guilty to possession of cocaine rocks on Wednesday.

The 68-year-old frontman for Sly and the Family Stone was arrested April 1 when Los Angeles police pulled over a live-in van for a minor traffic violation.

Cocaine rocks were found in the clothing of both Stone, who was a passenger, and the driver, according to the singer’s defence attorneys. Both men were arrested.

“A lot of musicians hang out with people who have drugs. How are they supposed to know?” said Peter Knecht, one of his attorneys. He insisted the cocaine did not belong to Stone.

Stone, whose real name is Sylvester Stewart, is next scheduled to appear in court in the Los Angeles suburb of Van Nuys for a pretrial conference on July 19. His arraignment was originally scheduled for last Friday, but he was hospitalized for heart problems.

Stone, a veteran of the San Francisco power scene, revolutionized soul music with tunes such as “Don’t Call me Nigger, Whitey” and “I Want to Take You Higher” that both fed on and fuelled the political and social turmoil of the time.

His career, however, was marred by decades of run-ins with the law. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, he was plagued by drug and gun possession charges.

“You can’t punish a guy for what he did 40 years ago, 30 years ago,” said Knecht.

Stone made his first major public appearance in almost 13 years at the Grammy Awards in 2006 when he was the object of an all-star tribute. Sporting a blond Mohawk and a shiny white jacket, he sauntered out on stage during a performance of “I Want to Take You Higher,” but left before the song was over.

Stone just finished recording a new album that will be released on August 16, according to Tim Yasui, general manager for Cleopatra Records. It would mark his first album in almost 30 years.