Tag Archives: Gil Scott-Heron

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.”

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Filed under May 2011, Sounds

My oldies station does not want me

Well, maybe it would like me to listen. But it clearly does not want my opinion about the music it plays.

The other night, I received a call from a woman with a honeyed Southern accent, asking whether I’d be willing to attend a local gathering to help rate music. Sure, I said.

Then she asked what radio station I most often listened to. I told her WAPL, our local rock dinosaur in this corner of Wisconsin (and whose playlist certainly can be described as “oldies”).

Then she asked whether I listened to an oldies station. Sure, from time to time, I said. She asked me which one. I drew a blank.

Oh, OK. Never mind. Thanks, but no thanks. Uninvited.

Shunned by what I am guessing is WOGB. It’s owned by Cumulus Media, based in Atlanta. That would explain the honeyed Southern accent.

I ran this past a friend who knows a lot more about radio than I do. He assured me it’s standard procedure. He also can explain it much better than I can:

“My guess is that for some reason they want to exclude people who cross over between ‘APL and whatever the oldies station is up there, although for what reason I don’t know. … These focus groups generally rely heavily on the station’s core listeners, because they’re the people most likely to have opinions about the station; the vast majority of people like their favorite stations but don’t obsess about it.”

OK, I’ll buy that. After all, I might have suggested they play oldies like …

One from 1969: “Kick Out The Jams,” by the MC5. You really ought to.

Or one from 1971: “We Got To Have Peace,” by Curtis Mayfield. Yes, we do.

Or one from 1974: “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” by Gil Scott-Heron. Hey, I heard it on FM radio in Wausau, Wisconsin, when it came out in 1974, so why not now?

Or one from 1975: “Fight The Power (Part I),” by the Isley Brothers.

Nah, they’ll never play any of that. Talk about your bullshit going down.

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Filed under April 2007, Sounds like bull to me