Updated: Aug 27, 2019
I remember the fall of 1980 when I traveled all over the state of Michigan to catch appearances and shows of the legendary Gil Scott-Heron with my lady at the time Naeemah Hasan, and one of my good partners a brother by the name of Aten Alrey. This was a unique gathering of people whose musical interests and favorites ran the gamut of musicians and players from George Duke (Early George, Re: Vulcan Princess) Naeemah, To classic traditionalists (John Coltrane) Aten, to myself who was a serious Grover Washington Jr. fan at the time, and had the Front row photograph of him blowing the Saxophone at the Lansing Civic center that was taken by a photographer friend at the time and was gifted to me. I had that pic blown up, mounted, and framed, and held on to it for years before it was lost or stolen in many moves since that time. But the one thing we had in common musically was a great appreciation and understanding of the greatness and profound insight of the musical lyricism and poetry of the Prophetically tragic Bluesician Gil Scott-Heron.
Gil was in his Hay day at the time. With the past success of Albums such as "Winter in America", "Pieces of A Man", The Great "Midnight Band"album, "Bi-Centennial","From South Africa to South Carolina", "Bridges" and his most current offering at the time "1980", Gil had become the popular poet at the the time speaking in the contemporary lexicon of the people. He was the scribe who spoke poetic power against the forces that were abusing power in high places and making people swear in disgust about being sick and tired, of being sick and tired. He was the Poet who called the perpetrators of crimes, evil, and games out by NAME. Check out, "We Beg your pardon America" for confirmation of this fact.
Now Gil was by no means the only poet who was out there putting "The Man" on Blast! There were many others most notably "The Last Poets" whose album "This is Madness broke a record for being the first spoken word album to sell a million copies, and was the closest equivalent at the time to what Gil Scott-Heron and his musical partner Brian Jackson were doing at the time with the Great Midnight Band. There was also Haki Madhubuti who was doing very consistent publishing and political work at the time at Third World Press and who also worked in conjunction with a band called Nationhouse who worked out of Washington, DC at an institution called Nation-house Watoto School which was an independent black educational entity at that time. You also had the solo poets such Sonia Sanchez and the fiery and always controversial Amiri Baraka formerly known as the beat poet LeRoi Jones from the Mid-50's through early-60's before coming to a consciousness enlightened epiphany post 1965 Watts. These were poet-activists were always unwavering, uncompromising voices slicing into the deviltry that existed in too many stratas of American society and elsewhere.
However the thing that set Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson's incarnation of the Midnight Band apart from these other considerable voices of Poetic protest and profound prophetic insight was the fact that they had found the right blend of poetry, music, protest, and passion that found the ear, heart, and beat of a vast majority of the popular audience who were attuned to those beats and messages, more impressively catching the ears of those who were not in sync with those energies bringing in more people into consciousness and awareness of social conditions and hidden societal issues that would in turn lead the more curious and hungrier folk to these other figures mentioned earlier in the article.
These are the factors that caused the personal "Gil Scott-Heron Fall" for me and my friends. We followed his concert dates from Lansing to Kalamazoo to Detroit that Fall. Its ironic because for some reason I had placed these events in the Summer of 1980, but upon conferring with my fellow travelers and musical colleagues or adventurers at the time, it was indeed the Fall.
First the journey from Lansing to Kalamazoo where Gil was performing at the University venue whose name escapes me at this time. We were so impressed and energized by his performance, we said where is he playing next? We investigated and found out he would be at the Grand Circus Theatre in Detroit. So we drove the 2 1/2 hours in my sturdy Blue Camaro to Detroit from Kalamazoo, and arrived just in time to catch the performance at the Grand Circus theatre. Which made this journey even more memorable was we got to Meet Gil in person backstage after the show where I presented the Brother with a poem I had written for him for all of the inspiration and knowledge his songs and lyrics had led me to learn, investigate and inspire me. Brother Gil was touched, humbled, and accepted a copy of the poem graciously and embraced this poet in a brotherly hug and issued this selfless poet heartfelt thanks. It was nice to have such a moment with a person who was such an inspiration at that point in time, and who at that juncture in time, lived up to the hype. It was also great sharing that excursion and adventure with my lady at the time, and a good friend bonded in our love of jazz-related music, bridging our jazz-themed interests at the time, George Duke, John Coltrane, and Grover Washington Jr. to the pulsating poetic passion of Brother Gil Scott-Heron with the Echoes of Brian Jackson and the Midnight Band while he pushed forward with The Amnesia Express.