In the current issue of the New Yorker, there is a profile of singer-songwriter Gil Scott-Heron. His star burned brightly for many albums, first in the 70s for Flying Dutchman Records, later for Arista, snapped up by record mogul Clive Davis, who was blown away by a concert he attended.
I remember interviewing Gil at KCRW in 1983. He was in LA, opening for Stevie Wonder at the Forum. I still have the cassette aircheck, a signed album, and a picture of him at John Adams Middle School, site of KCRW’s studios until 1984. He was so accomplished: Master’s degrees, published books of prose and poetry, a lot of great albums. He’s known for such classics as “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, “Johannesburg”, and “The Bottle”.
Heron wrote elegantly wrought and streetwise poetry and was respected not only by his peers but by two more generations of hip hop artists who followed him. He influenced them all, from Public Enemy to Michael Franti.
After 1983, Gil Scott-Heron pretty much vanished. After such a prolific period of creating great records—fourteen between 1970 and 1982–he stopped touring and only released a handful of albums. The sad truth is that this supremely influential artist—some have called him the father of hip hop– fell victim to the crack pipe in the 80’s. It was a shame to watch such a gifted artist go down that path, but I feel that generations of people will continue to be inspired by those early works. In fact, many of KCRW’s DJs were fans of an album he released earlier this year called “I’m New Here.” While it can’t compare to his earlier work, it was nice to see such an important voice make his return.
– Tom Schnabel