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  Gil Scott-Heron
 

 

 

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Click below for a Gil Scott-Heron sample

The Bottle (live)

 

It's Your World

 

Angel Dust

 

 

 

 
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An incalcuable inspiration for socially conscious artists, Gil Scott-Heron is a modern day griot. The truth embedded in his recordings continues to resonate with audiences, which is a telling statement on just how little social conditions have actually changed for some folks over thirty years.

He was born in Chicago but raised in Tennessee, which must have given him ample opportunity to witness the kind of injustices that would fire his writing.  His teenaged years were spent in New York, where he got involved in the local poetry circuit.  After dropping out of college, he published a book called The Vulture that won some minor acclaim.

By the end of the 1960s he had been signed to Flying Dutchman records as their counterpart to the Last Poets and Watts Prophets.  Like their recordings, the early Scott-Heron offering Small Talk at 125th and Lennox was little more than poems backed with minimal percussion accompaniment.  By the time of Free Will, the musical palette was expanded with the additions of Ron Carter, Hubert Laws and Bernard Purdie.  This lineup recorded Scott-Heron's most popular song, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."

Scott-Heron then jumped ship to Strata East for Winter In America.   It was an ideal relationship between label and artist as Strata's reputation for progressive black jazz seemed tailored for someone of Scott-Heron's caliber.   Unfortunately, indepenent jazz labels were struggling for survival in the mid 70s in the wake of an onslaught of fusion records produced by major labels with deep pockets and not even Scott-Heron's high profile could keep the label afloat.  Strata closed its doors not long after Winter's release, but the album was loaded with classic compositions like "H20 Gate Blues," "Peace Be With You Brother," and especially "The Bottle." A diatribe against the ravages of alocholism in the black community, the song was a watershed moment in his career as a gentle Latin disco groove caressed Gil's first genuine attempt at a conventional lead vocal.  The song was massive and covered immediately by Brother to Brother and later on by C.O.D.

The major reason for this newfound sense of musicality was Brian Jackson, a pianist/arranger who had known Gil since his early days and exerted increasing influence on his recordings.  His ideas aided the transformation of Scott-Heron from a talented-but-difficult-to-listen-to poet into a musical messenger.  When Scott-Heron was the first artist signed to Arista in 1975, Jackson's importance was recognized by being co-listed as leader on all LPs during his tenure with the Midnight Band.

The Arista years wree the highest profile moments of Scott-Heron's career, as his increasingly sophisticated production landed him on the black charts throughout the decade.  "Johannesburg," the lead single from his debut First Minute of a New Day, hit the top 30 and helped focus attention on the plight of South Africans during the era of apartheid, years before the well publicized efforts of Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel.

It's Your World captured Gil and the Midnight Band in performance and was arguably his funkiest effort, with spiralling versions of "Home Is Where the Hatred Is" and "The Bottle" to go along with the mellow funk of the title cut.

As the decade rolled on, production duties came to be handled by Malcolm Cecil, an engineer who had made his rep with the Isley Brothers and Stevie Wonder.   Under his direction, the jazz was smoothed out in favor of deeper funk.   "Angel Dust" is indicative of his sound during this period and shows him near his peak as a vocalist.

Jackson and Scott-Heron had a falling out that resulted in Jackson leaving at the dawn of the 1980s.  It was the first of many unfortunate events in a decade that shaped up as one of his worst, as drug demons began to make their presence felt.  Remarkably, Scott-Heron maintained long enough to deliver two devastating critiques of Ronald Reagan, "B-Movie" and "Re-Ron."  But Moving Target would be his last album for over a decade. 

The rise of rap, and particularly "conscious" rap, brought him back into the public eye, as numerous artists listed him as an influence.  Elsewhere, the rare groove scene made his songs "The Bottle" and "Home Is Where the Hatred Is" highly sought after, especially after Masters at Work looped the latter for their "Moonshine."  He even made an apperance in a Nike ad that used "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" as background music.

As a result of his newfound visibility, Scott-Heron inked a deal with TVT Records for Spirits, whose signature piece was "Message to the Messengers," a slice of advice for rappers who don't recognize their impact on youth.   TVT has also embarked on an ambitious reissue program of his Arista recordings, and now virtually everything he recorded is available on cd. 

 

Gil Scott-Heron's Deepest Grooves

Small Talk at 125th & Lenox (Flying Dutchman, 1970)

Pieces of a Man (Flying Dutchman, 1971)

Free Will (Flying Dutchman, 1972)

Winter in America (Strata East, 1974)

First Minute of a Brand New Day (Arista, 1975)

From South Africa to South Carolina (Arista, 1976)

It's Your World (Arista, 1976)

Bridges (Arista, 1977)

Secrets (Arista, 1978)

1980 (Arista, 1979)

The Mind of Gil Scott-Heron (Arista, 1979)

Real Eyes (Arista, 1980)

Reflections (Arista, 1981)

Moving Target (Arista, 1982)

"Re-Ron" (Arista, 1984)
Single-only release where Gil skewers Reagan for a second time.

Spirits (TVT, 1994)

Copyright 2001 B.Graff.  All rights reserved.

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