I’d be remiss if I allowed Gil Scott-Heron’s passing to occur without a post to commemorate him—at one time, his music was extremely important to me, & I still hold his position as songwriter/musician/poet/philosopher in high regard. So, although this is a bit belated & more brief than it should be, here are some thoughts to mark the fact that this remarkable man made an impact in my life.
I was fortunate enough to see him perform twice, both times in the 1970s; & oddly, both times he was the opening act. Talk about a tough act to follow! When he opened for George Benson, the first time I saw Scott-Heron, Benson’s performance just couldn’t come up to the energy level to which Gil Scott-Heron & the Midnight Band had risen; & the only reason he didn’t steal the show the second time was that Rahsaan Roland Kirk was the headline act. What a privilege to have seen such amazing performers!
Back in the 1970s & early 80s, I listened to the Winter in America & It’s Your World albums a lot—songs like “The Bottle,” “Home is Where the Hatred Is,” “Tomorrow’s Trane,” & others were a soundtrack. As a songwriter, Scott-Heron was literate but also able to convey direct meaning & emotion, as a singer, he was blessed with a remarkable voice; & the Midnight Band could really play—what a foundation, with three drummers! & atop that drumming, they could swing out uptempo or play lush & lovely ballads. His frequent collaborator Brian Jackson is a soulful flautist & keyboard player—Scott-Heron also played piano, & he employed various talented horn men. His main bassist was the rock-solid Danny Bowens, tho he also recorded with Ron Carter.
Gil Scott-Heron is justifiably remember as one of hip hop’s fathers; he did a number of spoken word pieces with rhythmic musical settings, the most famous being “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” He should also be remembered as both a talented jazz artist & as a social commentator of great depth—& as a man who struggled with his own demons. His 2010 album, I’m New Here was his first release of new material in 16 years. It met with critical acclaim & even had one successful single, “Me & the Devil,” which is an adaptation of Robert Johnson’s “Me & the Devil Blues.”
It was difficult for me to pick just two songs to feature with this post, but I decided on “It’s Your World,” the title track from his 1976 Arista live album & one of his real masterpieces, “Winter in America,” the title track from the 1974 album that may well be his best.
Fly high, Gil Scott-Heron.