Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson
From South Africa to South Carolina
1975 Arista Records AL 4044
01 Johannesburg 4:47
02 A Toast To The People 5:45
03 The Summer Of ’42 4:38
04 Beginnings (The First Minute Of A New Day) 5:36
05 South Carolina (Barnwell) 4:33
06 Essex 9:19
07 Fell Together 4:26
08 A Lovely Day 3:25
Recorded At – D & B Sound
Remixed At – Electric Lady Studios
Mastered At – Frankford/Wayne Mastering Labs
Bass Guitar – Danny Bowens
Congas – Adenola
Congas, Drum [Chinese] – Charlie Saunders
Congas, Shaker [Shakerai], Djembe [Gembe] – Barnett Williams
Drums – Bob Adams
Harmonica, Flute, Saxophone – Bilal Sunni Ali
Keyboards, Vocals, Producer – Brian Jackson
Vocals – Gil Scott-Heron
Vocals, Bells, Tambourine – Victor Brown
Cover art – Iceman
Design – Bob Heimall
Engineer – Jose Williams
Remix engineer – Jerry Solomon, Ralph Moss
Management – Charisma Productions, NAMJAC Productions
Photography By – Peter Hujar
Produced by Gil Scott-Heron & The Midnight Band
Recorded summer 1975 at D&B Sound, Silver Springs, Maryland.
Remixed at Electric Lady Studios, New York City.
Arista AL 4044 vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply; Creek Audio OBH-15; Audioquest King Cobra cables; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; clicks and pops removed with Click Repair on very light settings, manually auditioning the output; further clicks removed with Adobe Audition 3.0; dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename. Transferred in January 2018 for Martin Luther King Day.
“I hate it when the blood starts flowin’
But I’m glad to see resistance growin’ “
It’s Martin Luther King Day in the United States of America. Long before the phrase “woke” became fodder for advertising campaigns, Gil Scott-Heron was an O.G. ‘conscious’ artist. For years, I have wanted to do some posts on the brilliant run of albums by him and Brian Jackson with The Midnight Band, and always thought I would start with Winter In America. While that record captures the prevailing mood of these dark times pretty well, its melancholy was a bit too much for me this weekend. And very recent foul emissions from the world’s loudest, gaping shithole cast the global reach of this particular record into new relevance. I’m always finding the work of Gil & Brian to be newly relevant. Hell, a few years ago I might have found their songs addressing nuclear threats to be “dated” or at least “of historical interest”, and now those sound completely contemporary again. For example, “South Carolina (Barnwell)” here, or “We Almost Lost Detroit” on the Bridges album, where Gil draws attention to the links between race, poverty, and environmental pollution decades before the water in Flint, Michigan became international headlines.
This record contains “A Toast To The People”, which Brian and Gil had performed in the group they had while students at Lincoln University, Blacks And Blues. We’ll get to that in a minute but first let’s check out this amazing footage of the band appearing in the first season of Saturday Night Live alongside none other than Richard Pryor –
Aside from the sheer delight of getting to see such sharp footage of them playing these tunes when they were so fresh (*note, there is another cool clip of them playing Johannesburg on the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test in 76), watching this makes me reflect on how the studio album appears to have been recorded with virtually no overdubs. Their phenomenal live document “It’s Your World” further underscores what a tight unit The Midnight Band was, to which keyboardist and arranger Brian Jackson deserves an enormous share of credit.
Although some of these musicians went back further with Gil (drummer and percussionist Charlie Saunders had been with him since the beginning on Small Talk on 125th and Lennox from 1970), their first outing in this formation was with the independent Strata-East label on Winter In America. I imagine it was the surprise hit single The Bottle (which surely must have made that album the biggest seller on that legendary label) that got them signed to Clive Davis’ Arista Records, where they kept some unlikely company on a roster that also included Barry Manilow and The Bay City Rollers. It’s a testament to both Davis’ instincts and to how different those times were in the business that there does not seem to have been any corporate meddling, or attempts to shape or soften the message and sound that Gil & Brian were producing. In fact, the nine-minute “Essex,” composed by reed man Bilal Sunni Ali, delves further “out” into spiritual jazz territory than anything on ‘Winter’ (and Strata-East is where you would expect to here a track like this).
Following the solidarity anthem of ‘Johannesburg’ on the album is the aforementioned A Toast To The People, which seems as fine a song for MLK Day as any. It’s worth noting an interesting change Gil made to the lyrics from its Blacks And Blues version, a demo of which appeared as a bonus track on a CD reissue of Pieces Of A Man. In that version, Gil sang, “And ever since we came to this land / The South has rued the day / When we would stand as one / And raise our voices and say…” In this revision, he broadens that out to “This country has rued the day,” rightly highlighting that the roots and branches of white supremacy are not restricted to just one region, but are firmly lodged in the bedrock of the whole nation. That this remains as true in 2018 as it was in 1975 should be screamingly obvious to anybody who isn’t living with blinders on.
It is sung beautifully by Victor Brown. Have a listen / read
A TOAST TO THE PEOPLE
And tho it’s been too long and
too many years have passed.
And tho the time has gone,
the memories still hold fast.
Yet as strange as it seems,
We still live in the past.
The essence of a black life
lost in the hour glass.
And ever since we came to this land,
this country has rued the day
when we would stand as one
and raise our voices and say:
You know there won’t be no more killings,
and no more talk of class;
your sons and your daughters
won’t die in the hour glass.
A toast to David Walker,
A toast to Martin King,
A toast to all the leaders who had a golden dream.
A toast to all black fathers who live their lives in vain.
A toast to all black mothers who shoulder this life in vain.
A toast to the people.
Enjoy the album, and look forward to more from these guys on the blog this year. Oh and a note about the audio – I have two copies of this LP at the house, and even though both are pretty clean copies they share the same surface noise that makes me suspect the entire pressing probably suffers from it. I listened to both and chose the better copy to work from. Imperfections aside, it was still worth the effort, especially as the TVT Records reissue on CD (which I bought as soon as it came out in the 90s) sounded truly awful.