GIL SCOTT-HERON-THE FLYING DUTCHMAN YEARS.

Gil Scott-Heron-The Flying Dutchman Years.

After releasing a trio of studio albums on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions between 1970 and 1972, Gil Scott-Heron signed to Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell’s Strata-East Records. By then, Gil Scott-Heron was well on his way to becoming America’s social conscience.

Gil Scott-Heron was a poet, musician, and author who highlighted the social and political problems affecting and blighting American society. He was, to all intents and purposes, America’s social conscience, highlighting the problems of racism, poverty, corruption, inequality and drug addiction on 1970s Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox which was released, 1971s Pieces Of A Man and 1972s Free Will. This was the trio of studio albums that Gil Scott-Heron released for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Records. The lyrics were cerebral, witty, scathing and most importantly, honest as Gil Scott-Heron speaks up for the downtrodden and disenfranchised. Fearlessly, Gil Scott-Heron highlighted the social and political problems that blighted America. This what he continued to do throughout his long and illustrious career as he released album after album of powerful music. However, when Gil Scott-Heron first met Bob Thiele he was an author  and poet. He had made an appointment with Bob Thiele, to see if he any of his artists could use his poetry.

During the meeting, Gil Scott-Heron recounted how he was born on April Fool’s Day in 1949, which later, he joked become an important day in Chicago’s musical history. That will always be the remembered as the day poet, author, musician and political activist Gil Scott-Heron was born. 

His mother Bobbie Scott-Heron, was an opera singer, who sang with New York’s Oratorio Society. Gil Scott-Heron’s father was Gil Heron, a Jamaican footballer, who at one time, played for Glasgow Celtic Football Club. Sadly, though, Bobbie and Gil’s marriage ended when Gil Scott-Heron was young. 

After this, Gil Scott-Heron was sent to live with his maternal grandmother, Lillie Scott, who lived in Jackson, Tennessee. Then when Gil Scott-Heron was just twelve, Lillie Scott died. 

Gil Scott-Heron returned to New York to live with his mother, who was now living in the Bronx. Originally, Gil Scott-Heron enrolled at the DeWitt Clinton High School, but later, moved to the Fieldston High School.

This came after impressing the head of the English department read one of Gil Scott-Heron’s essays, and recommended that he received a full scholarship. This proved a poisoned chalice. While the education he was receiving was far superior, Gil Scott-Heron was one of only five black students. He felt alienated and alone. That wasn’t the only problem. There was also a socioeconomic gap, with the other students coming from a much more affluent background. Gil Scott-Heron by comparison, was the son of a single mother and was from a very different background.  It was during this time that Gil Scott-Heron became socially and politically aware. His eyes were opened to inequality, injustice and racism. This would shape his music in later years. Before that, Gil Scott-Heron headed to Lincoln University,

When Gil Scott-Heron was considering which university to enrol at, Langston Hughes recommended Lincoln University, which where he was staying. Gil Scott-Heron took his friend’s advice, and enrolled at Lincoln University. This was where Gil Scott-Heron’s musical career began.

At Lincoln University, Gil Scott-Heron formed his first band, the Black and Blues. Joining Gil Scott-Heron in the band was Langston Hughes. Little did Gil Scott-Heron know that this was the start of a long and illustrious career. However, after two years at Lincoln University, Gil Scott-Heron decided to take time out Lincoln University to write a novel.

During this period, Gil Scott-Heron wrote two novels. His first novel was a thriller entitled The Vulture, which was published in 1970. Whilst writing The Vulture, Gil Scott-Heron saw The Last Poets in Lincoln in 1969. This had a huge effect on him.

After watching The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron approached the band and asked: “can I form a band like you guys?” The seed had already been sown. Maybe, making music rather than writing books was the direction that Gil Scott-Heron’s career headed?

Having been impressed and inspired by The Last Poets and now considering a career in music, Gil Scott-Heron had a lot on his mind as he headed back to New York, where he found a new home in Chelsea, Manhattan. This concluded with the publication of Gil Scott-Heron’s book of poetry, Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox by World Publishing. Now Gil Scott-Heron could add poet to his burgeoning CV. Soon, he hoped to add singer and songwriter.

Once he’d settled in to his new apartment in Manhattan,  Gil Scott-Heron decided to make his dream a reality and started looking for a record company. Gil Scott-Heron just so happened to approach a label tailor-made for his music, Flying Dutchman Productions.

The Birth Of  Flying Dutchman Productions.

Following his departure from ABC/Impulse Bob Thiele had decided to found his own label. He was perfectly qualified to do so, having worked with some of the most innovative and creative musicians in the history of jazz over the last few years. During that period, Bob came to the conclusion that often, large record companies aren’t the best environment for innovative and creative musicians. Often, these musical mavericks didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment. Instead, their creativity is restricted, and they’re unable to experiment and innovate. For many a musical maverick who had signed to a large record label, the experienced had proved frustrating and unsatisfactory. So when Bob Thiele parted company with Impulse, who he had transformed into one of jazz’s pioneering labels, he founded Flying Dutchman Productions. This was the label that Gil Scott-Heron approached. There was a problem though.

While Bob wanted to sign Gil Scott-Heron, there was a problem,… funding. The funding that Phillips, the Dutch record label had given Bob Thiele wasn’t going as far as he had hoped. Despite this, when he met Gil Scott-Heron he was impressed by the poet, musician, and author. So much so, that Bob Thiele decided to fund an album that was a fusion of poetry accompanied by understated, percussive arrangements.

Small Talk At 125 and Lenox.

This was Small Talk At 125 and Lenox, which featured fourteen songs from the pen of Gil Scott-Heron. Initially, it was claimed that Gil Scott-Heron and two percussionists, David Barnes, Eddie Knowles and Charlie Saunders, recorded the album live at a night club on the corner of 125 and Lenox. That wasn’t strictly true.

Forty-two years later, one of the best kept secrets in music was no more. It transpired that Small Talk At 125 and Lenox was recorded live in the studio in front of a few invited guests. Taking charge of production was Bob Thiele, who was an experienced producer.

With Bob Thiele at the controls, Gil Scott-Heron recorded an accomplished album that is a mixture of jazz, proto-rap, spoken word poetry and soul. It was released later in 1970, and immediately, comparisons were drawn with the group who had inspired Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets. This was a fair comment to some extent.

When one listen to tracks like the original version The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, plus Brother, Whitey On The Moon, Paint It Black and Who’ll Pay Reparations On My Soul? critics realised that Gil Scott-Heron had taken what The Last Poets had been doing to the next level. This he managed to do with just a trop percussionists accompanying him, on Small Talk At 125th and Lenox, which was a potent and explosive mix of scathing political and social comment.

Although Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox was a groundbreaking and powerful debut album, it didn’t sell in vast quantities. Instead, it sold steadily, and shouldn’t have lost Flying Dutchman Productions money, as they had managed to keep their overheads low. However, Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox slipped under the musical radar, and many record buyers only discovered the album when Gil Scott-Heron released Winter In America and The Bottle in 1975. By then, Gil Scott-Heron had released a trio of albums for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions. 

Pieces Of A Man.

The second of the Flying Dutchman Productions’ trio was Pieces Of A Man, which featured eleven songs, including four written by Gil Scott-Heron. This included The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, which made its debut on Small Talk at ‘125th. and Lenox. The other seven songs were penned by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, who would forge a successful songwriting partnership.

Recording of Pieces Of A Man took place on the ‘19th’ and ‘20th’ April 1971, RCA Studios, in New York. This time, Gil Scott-Heron was accompanied by a full band which featured a few well-known names.

When Bob Thiele asked Gil who he’d like to accompany him, jokingly, Gil Scott-Heron said flautist and saxophonist Hubert Laws and bassist Ron Carter. Bob Thiele who know everyone who was everyone in jazz, got them onboard for the recording of Pieces Of A Man. This was Bob Thiele’s way of making Gil Scott-Heron feel at home. Bob Thiele knew that putting together a top class bands was the way to get the best performance possible from an artist. 

With a crack band in tow, Gil Scott Heron set about recording his sophomore album Pieces Of A Man. The crack band included a rhythm section of drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and guitarist Burt Jones. Brian Jackson played piano and Gil Scott Heron played guitar, piano and sang lead vocals. Producing Pieces Of A Man was Bob Thiele. After a recording season that lasted just two days, Pieces Of A Man was completed. Now it was ready for release.

When Pieces Of A Man was released in 1971, only Rolling Stone magazine realised the cultural importance of the album. Pieces Of A Man passed the rest of the music press by. This is a sad indictment on music journalism at what was one of the most important periods in musical, social and political history. 

By 1971, America was struggling with a variety of social problems,  ranging from the Vietnam War, poverty and racism. Gil Scott Heron was using his music to speak for the poor, downtrodden and disenfranchised. Pieces Of A Man was an important album, and one that had the potential to make Americans think about the status quo, and consider change. Sadly, just like Pieces Of A Man passed the mainstream music by, it was a similar case with record buyers. Pieces Of A Man failed to find the audience it deserved.

Apart from spending six weeks in the US Jazz Charts, where it peaked at a lowly number twenty-five, commercial success passed Pieces Of A Man by. That was as good as it got for Pieces Of A Man. This was somewhat ironic, given the later reappraisal of the album.

When critics reappraised Pieces Of A Man at a later date, they hailed it a classic album. The music was intense, politically charged, innovative and influential. That comes as no surprise, as Pieces Of A Man features some of the best and most powerful songs Gil Scott-Heron wrote during his time at Flying Dutchman Productions. This included The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Save the Children, Lady Day and John Coltrane, Home Is Where The Hatred Is, When You Are Who You Are, I Think I’ll Call It Morning, Pieces Of A Man and Or Down You Fall. They’re part of what was the first classic album of Gil Scott-Heron’s career. Alas, the critics has still to rewrite musical history. was

Gil Scott-Heron had released two innovative and influential albums, Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox and Pieces Of A Man, they had passed music lovers by. This was disappointing for Gil Scott-Heron, who would only release one more album for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions, Free Will. However, would it be a case of third time lucky?

Free Will.

For the followup to Pieces Of A Man, Free Will, Gil Scott-Heron had written seven new songs. The other five songs,  Free Will, The Middle Of Your Day, The Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues, Speed Kills and Did You Hear What They Said? were collaborations between Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson. He played a huge part in the rise and rise of Gil Scott-Heron over the next few years.

Brian Jackson and Gil Scott-Heron had already formed a successful songwriting partnership. However, Brian Jackson was more than a songwriter. He was also a talented multi-instrumentalist who played piano, keyboards flute and bells on Free Will. 

The Free Will sessions took place at RCA Studios, in New York, between the ‘2nd’ and ‘3rd’ March 1972. Just like on Pieces Of A Man, an all-star lineup accompanied Gil Scott-Heron. The rhythm section included drummer Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie, bassist Jerry Jemmott, drummer Pretty Purdie and guitarist David Spinozza. Flautist and saxophonist Hubert Laws, who’d played on Pieces Of A Man, returned, while Brian Jackson played electric piano, flute and bells. Gil Scott-Heron took charge of the lead vocals on Free Will.  Arranging and conducting Free Will was Horace Ott, while Bob Thiele took charge of production. After just two days of lengthy recording sessions, Free Will was completed. It was released later in 1972.

On Free Will’s release later in 1972, it was well received by critics. Rolling Stone flew the flag for Free Will and Gil Scott-Heron. Despite this, Free Will failed to chart in the US Billboard 200 and US R&B charts However, Free Will sold between 20,000 to 30,000 copies, and reached the US Jazz charts. Despite this, this was a huge disappointment Gil Scott-Heron. 

With keyboardist Brian Jackson at his side, Gil Scott-Heron had fused elements of jazz, blues, funk, proto-rap and soul on Free Will. Fearlessly, he continued to highlight the social and political problems of the early seventies, and tackle controversial subjects and scenarios head on. Gil Scott-Heron delivered the lyrics with his unique and inimitable proto-rap style on Free Will. Among its highlights were Free Will, The Middle Of Your Day, The Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues, Speed Kills and Did You Hear What They Said? That took care of side one, which was one of the most cohesive sides of Gil Scott-Heron’s nascent career. It was almost flawless. Then on side, Gil Scott-Heron picks up where he left off on two No Knock and Sex Education: Ghetto Style. It was the third album from musical pioneer Gil Scott-Heron, who would become one of the most important artists of his generation.

Sadly, Free will was his final album for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions. Not long after the release of Free Will, Gil Scott-Heron left Flying Dutchman Productions. 

By then, Gil Scott-Heron’s thoughts were said to have turned to academia, and his unfinished degree. Gil Scott-Heron and his band returned to Washington D.C. which became their home. However, Gil Scott-Heron never came close to enrolling at his former alma mater Lincoln University.

Winter In America.

Not when Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell of Strata-East Records offered Gil Scott-Heron a new recording contract. Having signed to Strata-East Records, Gil Scott-Heron began work on his fourth studio album Winter In America with Brian Jackson who co-produced the album at D&B Sound, in Silver Spring, Maryland. The sessions began on the ‘4th’ and ‘5th’ September and were completed on the ‘15th’ of October of 1973. By then, Gil Scott-Heron had recorded the nine tracks that became Winter In America.

Seven months later, on the ‘5th’ of October 1975, Winter In America was released to widespread critical acclaim. Some critics believed it that Winter In America was finest album. Some critics wondered if this was going to be Gil Scott-Heron’s breakthrough album?

At first, this was looking doubtful. Initially, copies of Winter In America were in short supply, as a result of Strata-East Records  independent distribution policy. This meant that many record shops struggled to secure the copies of Winter In America that they needed. Eventually, this problem was resolved and on June ’29th’ 1974, Winter In America entered the US Top Jazz Albums charts.

Little did Gil Scott-Heron realise that this as the start of a forty week run in the US Top Jazz Albums charts, which saw Winter In America eventually reach number six. This was helped by the success of only single released from Winter In America, The Bottle. Helped by an underground following, The Bottle gave Gil Scott-Heron the biggest hit of his career, when it reached number fifteen in the US R&B charts. The success of The Bottle resulted in Winter In America selling 300,000 copies. Incredibly, this wasn’t enough to even reach the lower reaches of the US Billboard 200.  However, Winter In America was the only album Gil Scott-Heron released for Strata-East Records. Clive Davis of Arista came calling, and offered Gil Scott-Heron the opportunity to sign to a major label. 

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

In the space of just a few short years, Gil Scott-Heron’s life had been transformed.  The former poet, author and ‘academic’ had come a long way. Gil Scott-Heron had Bob Thiele to thank for his success. He had believed in him and given him first recording contract. Then when Gil Scott-Heron was considering returning to academia, and decided to move back to Washington with the rest of his band, Bob Thiele didn’t stand in his way. What Bob Thiele never foresaw was Strata-East Records offering Gil Scott-Heron a recording contract. This was enough for Gil Scott-Heron  to turn his back on academia and release the most successful album of his career. This must have been frustrating for Bob Thiele.

Although the three albums that Gil Scott-Heron released on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions  weren’t hugely successful they had sold reasonably well. Bob Thiele wanted to record more albums with Gil Scott-Heron. For Bob Thiele, Gil Scott-Heron was the one that got away. 

By 1974, Bob Thiele had just  signed a new deal with RCA. Part of the deal was that Flying Dutchman Productions released a compilation of tracks from Gil Scott-Heron’s first three albums, 1970s Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox, 1971s Pieces of a Man and 1972s Free Will. This was perfect timing, as Gil Scott-Heron was now officially one of music’s rising stars.

For the Gil Scott-Heron compilation, Bob Thiele spent time choosing eleven tracks from 1970s Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox, 1971s Pieces of a Man and 1972s Free Will, that would eventually become The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. There was no way that Bob Thiele was going to be accused of throwing together a compilation that cashed-in on Gil Scott-Heron’s newfound popularity. Instead, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was a lovingly curated compilation that was compiled by the man who discovered him…Bob Thiele. When he had finalised the track-listing, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was released in late 1974, and for forty-three years has been the perfect introduction to Gil Scott-Heron’s Flying Dutchman Productions’ years.

When The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was released in 1974, it was to widespread critical acclaim and indeed commercial success. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised reached number twenty-one on October the ’12th’ 1974 and spending five weeks on the US Billboard Jazz charts. This meant that Gil Scott-Heron’s Flying Dutchman Records’ years closed with a successful album. By then,  Gil Scott-Heron was preparing to start life at a major label.

The Start Of The Arista Years.

The First Minute Of A New Day.

Clive Davis of Arista came calling, and offered Gil Scott-Heron the opportunity to sign to a major label. This was the start of a relationship that produced nine albums and lasted until 1985. Gil Scott-Heron’s debut for Arista was The First Minute Of A New Day, which was the most successful of his career so far. Not only did it reach number five in the US Top Jazz Albums charts and number eight in the US R&B charts, The First Minute Of A New Day also reached number thirty in the US Billboard 200. Gil Scott-Heron’s music had crossed over and reached the wider audience that Bob Thiele knew it always would.

The First Minute Of A New Day proved to the most successful album of Gil Scott-Heron’s forty-one year recording career. While many of his albums charted, they never reached the same heights as The First Minute Of A New Day. It was one of the finest albums of Gil Scott-Heron’s career at Arista. 

Despite the quality of albums like Winter In America and The First Minute Of A New Day, Gil Scott-Heron recorded some of the best music of his career long before he signed to Arista. This was at Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions where he released three studio albums, 1970s Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox, 1971s Pieces of a Man and 1972s Free Will. This trio of albums includes some of the best music of Gil Scott-Heron’s long career. It showcases one of the most talented singer and songwriters of his generation as he blossoms and flourishes. Bob Thiele had given Gil Scott-Heron a platform, and the freedom to record and release music that he believed in.

Soon, was well on his way to becoming America’s social conscience, as he provided a voice for those who had none. Gil Scott-Heron was their voice on 1970s Small Talk At ‘125th’ and Lenox, 1971s Pieces of a Man and 1972s Free Will, which feature lyrics that cerebral, witty, scathing and most importantly, honest as Gil Scott-Heron spoke up for the poor, downtrodden and disenfranchised. Fearlessly, Gil Scott-Heron highlighted the social and political problems that blighted America in the early seventies using his unique and imitable proto-rap style on the trio of albums he recorded during the during the Flying Dutchman Records. These three album contain some of the most important, powerful, cerebral and music of Gil Scott-Heron’s career. Over forty years later, and Gil Scott-Heron’s music is timeless and is still relevant today, and continues to influence and inspire a new generation of musicians.

Gil Scott-Heron-The Flying Dutchman Years.

 

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