Classics: Gil Scott-Heron – The Bottle (Strata-East)
A keydoardist, flautist and composer, Brian Robert Jackson came to meet Gil Scott-Heron by the time they were attending Lincoln University, PA.
During their long partnership, Jackson composed most of the music they performed together. From the ‘Pieces Of A Man’ album, which marked the debut of their collaboration back in 1971 to ‘1980’. Not to mention ‘Winter In America’ in 1974.
‘The Bottle’ most likely stands as their most popular song ever. Even though one could retort their work is more of an album-based repertoire. Gil Scott-Heron mesmerizingly pleading against alcohol addiction – The Bottle – that get so many people into misery…
Incredible as to how one could come up with such a production while using so few elements at the end. From Jackson‘s aerial flute part to stellar keys. Not to mention that infectious bassline courtesy of Danny Bowens around Scott-Heron‘s instantly identifiable voicing…
“He wasn’t a great singer”, said Ron Carter. A bassist who had jammed with him 3 years before on the ‘Pieces Of A Man’ album. “But, with that voice, if he had whispered it would have been dynamic. It was a voice like you would have for Shakespeare.” As many words which most likely say it all about Scott-Heron, don’t you think???
A Chicago, IL native of a Jamaican descent, Gil Scott-Heron got raised by his grandma in Jackson, TN. He eventually wrote detective stories during his teens. Then switched to Black politics after the passing of his grandmother. Movin’ to the Big Apple, he studied composition at university. He wrote a series of novels includin’ ‘The Nigger And The Factory’. He then would start putting his radical stories to music with the help of Brian Jackson.
Scott-Heron released his debut-LP – ‘Small Talk At 125th And Lenox’ – back in 1970 on the Flying Dutchman label. An album where he evoked the superficiality of television and mass consumerism, as illustrated on the memorable ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’. ‘Pieces Of A Man’ which saw the light the year after, marked the start of a long time collaboration with Brian Jackson. It featured an extra version of ‘The Revolution…’ and also the famous ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’ which Esther Phillips eventually covered back in 1972. Then by 1973, he released ‘Free Will’ which would be his final album for the label.
Switching to Strata-East in 1974, Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson delivered the magnetic ‘Winter In America’ album. Somehow overlooked at the time, ‘Winter In America’ is nowadays seen by many as their most artistic effort. Including not only ‘The Bottle’ which made it on the floors. But also the vibrant ‘Peace Go With You Brother’. Not to mention ‘H²Ogate Blues’, an opening monologue concerning the Watergate incident which he used at his concerts. This is where he most likely established himself as a Bluesologist. Blending narrations and songs with Soul, Jazz and Blues influences which would have influences on Hip-Hop years after.
Signing with Arista in 1975, they would deliver 6 albums for the label. From ‘From South Africa To South Carolina’ which featured ‘Johannesburg’, a rallying cry to the issue of apartheid in South Africa. To ‘1980’ which includes the outstanding ‘Willing’ that illustrates Scott-Heron‘s philosophy to the pressures of life.
As a solo artist, the man recorded 3 albums during the 80’s. With Arista breakin’ their contract with him, he quit recording although he kept on touring. He released 2 extra albums back in 1994 after a 12 year hiatus.
The 2000’s would see Scott-Heron alternating staying in jail for drug possession and live gigs. He neverthess came back with ‘I’m New Here’ on independent label XL Recordings on Feb. 09, 2010. With production work by label owner Richard Russell, it was his first studio album in 16 years. It spanned gems such as the aptly titled ‘Me And The Devil’. But also the ultra vibrant ‘I’ll Take Care Of U’ which Jamie xx reworked as a part of Gil‘s ‘We’re New Here’ album the year after.
A third and last album from him – ‘Nothing New’ – posthumously saw the light in 2014. Gil Scott-Heron had left us in the meantime. He’d sadly passed in the afternoon of May 27, 2011, at St. Luke’s Hospital, NYC, after becoming ill upon returning from a European trip.
Peace go with you brother…