Monthly Archives: May 2011

Gil Scott-Heron, mind blower

They actually played Gil Scott-Heron on the radio in central Wisconsin in the ’70s. Late at night, of course. Then I rediscovered him in the ’80s.

(Here’s that story. I wrote this for the original Jefitoblog in August 2007 as part of a series celebrating what Jeff Giles called suburban rap’s 21st birthday.)

My mind was being blown anyway, so what was another genre?

Twenty-five years ago this summer, I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, one of the most liberal, most eccentric places on the planet. Think Berkeley. Think Austin.

There, I discovered a radio station like none I’d ever heard, like none I’ve heard since.

Because I worked nights, I spent my early afternoons listening to the volunteer DJs on WORT, 89.9 FM, listener-sponsored Back Porch Radio. They spun a staggeringly diverse mix of local bands, indie rock, R&B, soul, dance, jazz, punk, country and performance art.

The Chili Peppers and Fishbone, side by side with Camper Van Beethoven and Mojo Nixon, side by side with Husker Du and fIREHOSE, side by side with Laurie Anderson and Stan Ridgway, side by side with John Hiatt and Richard Thompson

And, yes, side by side with the hip-hop we now recognize as old school.

In that summer of 1982, I was careening through my mid-20s and still rocking out, having been raised on Top 40 radio. AM, then FM, if you will.

Yet some of my formative FM was the late-night, free-form variety. During its heyday in the mid-’70s, I heard Gil Scott-Heron for the first time. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was quite a revelation to a kid from a small town in central Wisconsin.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the door to hip-hop had opened.

One afternoon, one of the WORT DJs played something new. The voice was a direct, vaguely familiar baritone:

“Well, the first thing I want to say is, mandate, my ass.”

Then the laid-back beat of “B Movie” kicked in and Gil Scott-Heron, circa 1981, ripped Ronald Reagan for the next 6 minutes, 52 seconds.

“B Movie,” Gil Scott-Heron, from “Reflections,” 1981. This version is the radio edit. It runs 6:52. The album version runs 12:10. The LP appears to be out of print. A live version of this tune is available digitally as a cut from “Tour de Force,” a 2004 CD release also titled “The Best of Gil Scott-Heron Live.”

Some other appreciations of Gil Scott-Heron:

Larry Grogan at Funky 16 Corners: “In a word, Gil Scott-Heron was deep.”

Tris McCall, in an excellent piece in the Newark Star-Ledger: “Like Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, Gil Scott-Heron demonstrated that popular music could be as effective a vehicle for serious ideas as a broadside or a political speech.”

Greg Kot in the Chicago Tribune: “Public Enemy’s Chuck D once said hip-hop was black America’s CNN. If so, Gil Scott-Heron was the network’s first great anchorman, presaging hip-hop and infusing soul and jazz with poetry, humor and pointed political commentary.”

The Associated Press via the Los Angeles Times: “Scott-Heron’s influence on rap was such that he was sometimes referred to as the Godfather of Rap, a title he rejected. … He referred to his signature mix of percussion, politics and performed poetry as bluesology or Third World music. But then he said it was simply ‘black music or black American music’.”

David Hinkley in the New York Daily News: “Perhaps Scott-Heron’s more lasting legacy, though, lies in his lifelong insistence that music has to say something and mean something.”


Filed under May 2011, Sounds

The tale of the tapes

It all started the other day with the story headlined “Cassette tapes make a comeback” in the Washington Post.

Cassettes again, eh? Not for me, but whatever trips your trigger.

Then I shared the link on Facebook. Dane cut right to the chase.

“Damn hipsters.”

I then wondered whether this meant the Maxell guy would have to climb back into the chair to get blasted all over again.

Larry piled on.

“Now he’s sitting in one of those mobility scooters.”

That’s cold, man. That wouldn’t happen to the Maxell guy. He’s too cool for that. I’m thinking we’ve seen that cat around.

Maybe that’s him in the Cialis ads, sitting in the tub next to his lady.

Truth be told, I loved that iconic Maxell image. But I bought only TDK tapes.

In the basement is a carrying case full of almost six dozen cassette tapes I recorded off vinyl during the ’80s. Here’s a tune from an album that always comes to mind when I think of that time and those tapes.

“Drivin’ With Your Eyes Closed,” Don Henley, from “Building The Perfect Beast,” 1984.

I don’t think I’ve played any of those tapes since the ’80s, nor do I expect to anytime soon. I no longer have a cassette deck.

So I won’t be able to listen to a couple of King Biscuit Flower Hour shows I recorded off the radio: National Lampoon Radio Hour bits that aired Nov. 30, 1980, or a Rockpile live show that aired Jan. 11, 1981. (Many old King Biscuit Flower Hour concerts can be streamed at Wolfgang’s Vault.)

Nor will I be able to listen to the radio simulcast of the first Farm Aid Live from Sept. 22, 1985. (But I vividly remember Sammy Hagar, then just having joined Van Halen, dropping some F-bombs on live TV. That did not seem cool, but this cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” was all right!)

I also wonder what’s on this tape. I can’t remember.

My friend Hose sent it to me. Side A is titled “Mike Goes To The Game On Sunday.” Side B is titled “Letter Perfect.”

If you’ve made it this far, a video bonus: That classic Maxell tape ad.


Filed under May 2011, Sounds

Mothers Day

Mother’s Day is all but upon us.

Many of the blogs will be chock full of songs about moms, and rightly so.

However, this is not one.

And, no, we did not forget the apostrophe. This is Mothers Day.

So enjoy the Mothers. Here’s a charming little instrumental.

“Peaches En Regalia,” the Mothers of Invention, from “Live at Fillmore East,” 1971.

This was one of the encore numbers that followed after Frank Zappa, Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan wrapped up their extended musical spoof about rock musicians, groupies and fame. It was recorded live almost 40 years ago, in early June 1971.

There aren’t many songs on this irreverent, often sophomoric record that are appropriate for the moment. But you could play this one for Mom and there wouldn’t be much of an eyebrow raised. At least we think not.

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Filed under May 2011, Sounds