While going through some records today, I stumbled upon this copy of Winter In America. I remember when I got it, it was beat up, but for half a dollar, I mean how could I really pass up Gil? I had always been familiar with Revolution of course and Whitey’s On the Moon, and even The Bottle. Now I could have grabbed something from Bridges, as it has been sampled by Talib Kweli and Mos Def on the Black Star record, but as my man Scholar always encourages you to do, I dug deeper . I figured this time I’d visit a not so well known side, something really smooth and mellow. i think I found it all in this side. Here’s Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson with “Back Home” off of the Strata East Records Winter in America from 1974.
Born on April Fools Day, April 1st in 1949 in Chicago, Illinois to an ex-professional footballer (Glasgow Celtic) and a librarian mother, Scott-Heron would move from Chi-town to Lincoln, Tennessee to the Bronx, NYC. It was here that he would amass his first volume of poetry at age 13, and these experiences would be the basis of his racial fueled spoken word. Scott-Heron attended Lincoln College for less than a year, but then dropped out. His short time in college would not be a waste, as he would meet his future partner in music Brian Jackson. He was later encouraged by uber producer Bob Theile to record his spoken word, and would release his debut record Small Talk at 125th Street and Lenox in 1970. Gaining accolades for his book The Vulture and Small Talk , Theile had a vision for Gil, and gathered some Funk and Jazz musicians (Ron Carter, Pretty Purdie, Eddie Knowles, Hubert Laws and others) to record behind the artists spoken word on the Flying Dutchman label. The result was nothing less than genius, and the classic “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” would come out of those sessions. Scott-Heron would gain the reputation as a revolutionary, angry and ready to tell it like it is. He went on to record two more for that label, before moving to Strata for this record, and then to be the first artist to sign on Clive Davis’s new label, Arista. He would continue with Arista, before being dropped in 1984, and release 11 records (including one greatest hits package). Along the way, Gil stayed political and on edge, tackling such subjects as nuclear power plants ( We Almost Lost Detroit), drugs (Angel Dust), Presidents, (Re-Ron), and Apartheid (Let Me See Your ID). Pianist and collaborator Jackson was with Scott-Heron up until 1978, where he would go on as a session man after that. Scott-Heron would still make music after he left Arista, challenging the rap musicians of the day to make a change than rather perpetuate a sterotype with his 1993 song “Message to the Messengers” off of Spirits on TVT Records. He would find himself in trouble from 2001 on, going in and out of jail for cocaine possession several times, making a few musical comebacks, and even guesting on the Blackalicious record Blazing Arrow in 2002. He is HIV positive (allegedly because the treatment center he was in stopped giving him his medication), out of jail, and still performing to this day. Truly one of the great political voices and activist musicians of our time. It’s a shame that he veered off of the path of success he was on, but if it’s any indication of the way the hardships he encountered in his life shaped his previous work, Gil Scott-Heron still has more great work to give us. Strata East as a label, was founded by Stanley Cowell and Charles Tolliver in 1971. Releasing over 60 records from such artists as Shirley Scott, Pharoah Sanders, and Clifford Jordan, this New York based label put out Afro-Jazz, Spiritual Jazz, and Post Bop records. It definitely has a cult following, and this is one of the only SE Lps I have seen in the field.
“Back Home” starts off with a great piano riff. Scott-Heron is longing to leave the city of which I can only assume is NYC, to get back to “home”. Home could be anywhere, but more than likely is Tennessee, where he lived before arriving in the Bronx. Shouting out his Uncle Henry, it’s almost as if he reverts back to a child (lost as an adult on the city streets), wanting to get back to the place where his people love him, there are collard greens and cornbread at Sunday dinner, and he will get back there, someday. Let’s hope he gets back to a good place sometime soon. There has been talk about a new record, a new book, etc. from this man in 2008 (which is almost over). The lineup for this “opus” record as it has been called, was Gil Scott-Heron on electric piano and vocals, Brian Jackson on electric piano, acoustic piano and vocals, Danny Bowens on fender Bass, and Bob Adams on the Drums. I think that it’s a great example of how well Jackson and Scott-Heron worked together, and how really, all of us, at one time or another, just want to get back home. Keep Diggin’!
R.I.P. to Rudy Ray Moore aka the Disco Godfather, Dolemite, The Human Tornado. This all time pimp was 81 and living in a nursing home. That’s no way to go out. Come on man, I’d let him call me a “rat soup eatin’, honky, motherfucker” any day. More to follow.