Saturday, March 12, 2005

Gil Scott-Heron: When Heroes Weren't Zeros

Gil Scott-Heron is a powerful and prolific artist, and one of the most influential progenitors of Hip Hop. He is a poet, a musician, an activist, and a beacon of light in dark and troubling times. He was the uncompromising, witty, angry, and righteous voice of Black America. Pheonix like, he rose out of the ashes of the halted Civil Rights Movemement of the 1960's. A movement that ended with the deaths of leaders Malcom X and Martin Luther King. Gil Scott-Heron took on the torch from these leaders, and used his gifts of words, music, and sharp insight to express all the problems that resided in America. It's this same torch that would be later passed on to Hip Hop artists and groups such as Public Enemy, Paris, and Talib Kweli. Not to mention many others. Gil's art still resonates with listeners the same today as it did when it was first released, as the same issues still exist within society.

Gil Scott-Heron was born in Chicago on April Fool's Day in 1949. His parents divorced when he was a young child, and he was sent to live with his grandmother in Lincoln, Tennessee. It is here that he recieved musical and literary instruction, and experienced racism first hand. It was these experiences that provided the spark for Gil's thoughts and views. He was one of three children picked to integrate into an all white school. The abuse was too much so he was sent to live with his mother in New York City where his education continued, and he started to write. One of his biggest inspirations was the Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes. He attended university for less than a year, but during that time he wrote and released his first novel "The Vulture" which won great acclaim, and met Brian Jackson, his main musical collaborator throughout his long career.

Gil Scott Heron's music career began when he was approached by Bob Thiele (the owner of legendary jazz record label Flying Dutchman) to do a jazz fusion album with Gil reading selections from his then recently published book of poetry entitled "Small Talk At 125th & Lennox," which also became the title of the ensuing debut album. The album featured many legendary players such as bassist Ron Carter, drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, flutist Hubert Laws, and of course Brian Jackson playing keys. This album spawned the single most important song of Gil's career: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." The song is a witty polemic against major media and ignorance toward the deterioration of America and the apathy shown towards the increasing indigence and violence. Gil's second release was entitled "Pieces Of A Man." This is arguably his finest effort, and has a more straight forward song approach. Gil released a total of three albums for Flying Dutchman before a dispute caused him to leave the label.

After moving on from Flying Dutchman, Gil recorded "Winter In America" for Strata-East, then found his way to Clive Davis' Arista Records with whom he recorded twelve albums for in as many years. Gil was the first artist signed to the then nascent, and now lengendary label, so there was a lot of pressure for him to produce something both solid and that had the potential to hit the popular charts. The ensuing result was the same messages, but with more slick production. After Gil's twelve year run with Arista he was dropped from their roster in 1985. He continued to do world-wide tours, and eventually returned to recording with Brian Jackson in 1993, and released the album "Spirits" on TVT Records. The album featured a song called "Message To The Messenger" which was both a commentary and plea for today's rappers to take more responsibilty regarding the messages portrayed in their music.

Gil has had a very long and rewarding career, with many accomplishments. His style of music with it's sound, message, and spirit was a definite precursor to Hip Hop, and he will continue to be an influence on it. Below I have included a discography of all of Gil's albums, as well as a listing of all his books. Below there are also links to three MP3's of songs of his that I am currently feeling. Enjoy!


* Small Talk At 125th & Lenox Ave. 1970 Flying Dutchman Records
* Pieces Of A Man. 1971 Flying Dutchman Records
* Free Will. 1972 Flying Dutchman Records
* Winter In America. 1974 Strata-East Records
* The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. 1974 Flying Dutchman Records
* The First Minute Of A New Day - The Midnight Band. 1975 Arista Records
* From South Africa To South Carolina. 1975 Arista Records
* It's Your World - Live. 1976 Arista Records
* Bridges. 1977 Arista Records
* Secrets. 1978 Arista Records
* The Mind of Gil Scott-Heron. 1979 Arista Records
* 1980. 1980 Arista Records
* Real Eyes. 1980 Arista Records
* Reflections. 1981 Arista Records
* Moving Target. 1982 Arista Records
* The Best Of Gil Scott-Heron. 1984 Arista Records
* Tales Of Gil Scott-Heron And His Amnesia Express. 1990 Arista Records
* Glory - The Gil Scott-Heron Collection. 1990 Arista Records
* Minister Of Information. 1994 Peak Top Records
* Spirits. 1994 TVT Records
* The Gil Scott-Heron Collection Sampler: 1974-1975. 1998 TVT Records
* Ghetto Style. 1998 Camden Records
* Evolution And Flashback: The Very Best Of Gil Scott-Heron. 1999 RCA


* Small Talk At 125th And Lenox.
* The Vulture. 1969
* The Nigger Factory. 1972
* So Far, So Good. 1990
* Now And Then: The Poems Of Gil Scott-Heron. 2001

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Winter In America
Delta Man
Message To The Messengers