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The music world remembers Gil Scott-Heron as the 70s-era “conscious jazz” and soul artist behind “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” — and the poet whose deeply political spoken word inspired many hail him as the forefather of rap.
In the District, where he lived and wrote music in the 1970s, Scott-Heron found power and poverty in close proximity. “It’s a mass of irony for all the world to see / It’s the nation’s capital, it’s Washington D.C.,” he sang in a refrain.
Now, Scott-Heron’s art is an inspiration for an upcoming album from The Archives, a D.C.-based reggae band, and Brian Jackson, one of Scott-Heron’s longtime collaborators.
Produced by Margaret Barthel
- Brian Jackson Keyboardist, flautist, singer, composer and producer; longtime collaborator with Gil Scott-Heron
- Darryl Burke Band Leader, The Archives; Co-Producer, "Carry Me Home: A Reggae Tribute To Gil Scott-Heron"
KOJO NNAMDIHe's the poet and musician behind hits like "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and “TK.” People have referred to him as the godfather of rap and the black Bob Dylan. Contemporaries and successors alike praised his political and artistic consciousness, his ability to look unflinchingly at everything from excess consumerism to racism.
KOJO NNAMDISpeaking, of course, about the late Gil Scott-Heron, who spent about a decade living and making music in D.C. in the 1970s. So, it's fitting that a local D.C. band is paying tribute to Scott-Heron on an upcoming album, which will set his music to a reggae beat. And they're doing it with one of Gil Scott-Heron's early and most extensive musical collaborators who helped create some of these original tracks decades ago. That would be Brian Jackson. He's a keyboardist, flautist, singer, composer, producer , longtime collaborator with Gil Scott-Heron, and the reason why I am excited this afternoon, because it's been a long time since I've seen you, Brian Jackson. Welcome.
BRIAN JACKSONAs am I, sir. It's great to be here. It's good to see you again.
NNAMDIWelcome back to town. Also joining us in studio is Darryl Burke. He's the leader of the Archives, the D.C.-based reggae band and co-producer of their upcoming album, "Carry Me Home: A Reggae Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron." Darryl Burke, good to see you.
DARRYL BURKEGood to see you.
NNAMDIBrian, for people who don't know, who was Gil Scott-Heron? Tell us about your musical collaboration with each other, and how it started.
JACKSONWell, I consider Gil Scott-Heron to be one of the finest American poets of the 20th century. He and I first collaborated at Lincoln University in 1969. We went on to...
NNAMDI(overlapping) How old were you then?
JACKSONI had just turned 17, (laugh) and he was 20. And there was a talent show who our mutual friend, Victor Brown, wanted to enter. And he had needed me to play "God Bless the Child," which I happened to have known. And there was another song that he wanted to do, which was called "Where Can A Man Find Peace." And I found out -- when I met the writer, it turned out that it was Gil Scott-Heron. And we had been collaborating ever since.
NNAMDIPeople often talk about your and Gil Scott-Heron's music as political. You've referred to it as conscious. What do you mean by that?
JACKSONI mean that practically everything that a musician does, everything that you do musically or artistically is political. We are influenced by our society. We are influenced by our environment, and so how can what you do, how can your reactions to those things not be political? Even if you don't intend for it to be, it definitely shows others where you're coming from.
NNAMDIDarryl, what are some of your early memories of listening to music from Gil Scott-Heron and Brian? What draws you to the music.?
BURKEActually, my early -- I guess, you know, when I was first introduced to Gill Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson was through my, like, mom and uncles who, you know, my uncle went to Del State in the mid-'70s. And, you know, growing up, a lot of Gil and Brian played in my home. So, always very familiar to me.
NNAMDIThat period in the '70s, I was working at Howard University Radio, and I used to see Gil and Brian around the station a lot in those days. Brian, you and Gil spent almost a decade together working here in D.C. Did the city inspire any of the music that you two made together?
JACKSONNot at all. (laugh) D.C. inspired everything that we did, everything that we wrote. And it inspired our lives and how we lived and how we learned.
NNAMDIYou're now back here to work on this tribute album, which we'll hear about in a minute. But, first, D.C. has changed a lot since you last lived here. What is it like being back?
JACKSONWell, is this D.C.? (laugh)
NNAMDINot the one you knew.
JACKSONNot at all. Well, infrastructure, (laugh) obviously, has changed quite a bit. There are so many things that have happened here. Some of them are good, obviously. It's great to know that you can get from Washington National Airport to the heart of D.C. without getting ripped off by a...
JACKSONYeah, that's it. (laugh) It wasn't going to come out of my mouth. (laugh)
NNAMDIYou can jump on the Metro. But you had a pleasant surprise here. I remember where you and Gil used to live, around Logan Circle, and you went around there recently.
JACKSONYeah, because where I'm staying, as it turns out, was only a few blocks from where I stayed all those years ago at 1 Logan Circle. Wow, I touched the doorknob, and I think about five policemen rolled up and asked me what I was doing. (laugh) But, before that, I had actually seen a city landmark poster that was outside. And it turns out that it had a picture of Gil and me sitting on the banister outside of 1 Logan Circle.
NNAMDIDo you think we forget? No, we don't (laugh) forget in the city.
JACKSONApparently D.C. -- apparently, you have a long...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Cultural tours in D.C. make sure that people remember all of these things. Darryl, you're the leader of The Archives, the band that's working on the tribute, which you're also producing. What's the history of this band?
BURKEThe history of this band is Eric Hilton from Thievery Corporation and I actually created this band, in the studio, about 2010. And we cut an album that he had produced. And from there, all of the session musicians, good friends of mine, used to tour around, you know, with me and everything. We decided to, you know, make it a band, you know.
NNAMDII got to point out that Eric Hilton is the one who turned me on to this new collaboration that's taking place here. And if you don't know who Eric Hilton is, he's a major force in D.C.'s nightlife scene and the owner of several bars and restaurants in the city, including the Eighteenth Street Lounge and the Marvin. He's also a musician. He's half of the duo, Thievery Corporation. He's a producer, and he owns an independent record label. And, as I said, he's the one who told me about all of this.
NNAMDIJanice emails:I took a writing class from Gil Scott-Heron at Federal City College. (laugh) You got to be a local to be familiar.
NNAMDIAnd also saw...
JACKSONCreative Thinking, I believe it was called.
NNAMDIMm-hmm, I remember that. And also saw a fantastic show with Gil and Brian at the Ontario Theater. Now, you got to be around for a long time to remember the Ontario Theater. (laugh)
JACKSONI don't even remember it.
NNAMDIIt was on Columbia Road, at the corner of Columbia road, I think, and 18th or 17th Street, back in those days.
JACKSONOh, yes. Yeah, now I remember. Barnett Williams, a percussionist, lived around there.
NNAMDIThere you go. It's been gone for a long time, (laugh) though, so Janice has a pretty long memory. Darryl, how did you decide to do an album inspired by Gil Scott-Heron?
BURKEMan, just recently, I had found out that Gil's dad is Jamaican, maybe about three, four years ago. And I worked a lot with Eric Hilton, you know, and his projects from -- you know, his label is Montserrat House, and that's where we're releasing the music and everything. But I shot the idea about him. I'm like, man, you know, no one's ever done a reggae tribute to Gil and, you know, and his dad being Jamaican, I mean, it kind of puts it, you know, in that spectrum.
BURKEAnd, you know, reggae we all call -- you know, it's considered island soul music. So, I mean, it was -- the songs just go perfect. And, you know, to get Brian on the project was, like, man, it's like I have to pinch myself every other day, like, making this thing happen, you know. But then, you know, just to have his blessing, doing justice to the music, you know.
NNAMDIThat gave it historical and current context for you. Brian, what inspired you to get involved with this project?
JACKSONWell, when I first was approached by Darryl to consider it, I thought to myself, okay, well, this can either work or it can really go horribly. So, I just kind of waited. I was reserved until he sent me some music. And once I heard the album, I was convinced. They had actually nailed the feeling for all of his songs. The singer Puma Ptah, he's a fantastic vocalist. And the music is top grade.
NNAMDIDarryl, you've released one cover and the music video of the song "Home Is Where the Hatred Is." Why did you choose that one?
BURKEMan, it's just so -- I think it's just really so relevant, what's going on now, the whole opioid, you know, epidemic. And it's just like Gil and Brian's music. Anything you can play is totally relevant to what's happening today.
NNAMDIWell, I got to tell you, when I played it myself -- first Gil's version, and then yours, we'll hear both of them shortly -- I felt more strongly about it today than I did when it first came out. And that's one indication of how the epidemic of drugs in our country has never really changed, Brian.
JACKSONIt's about shame. You know, this song's about shame, and it's about feeling that, you know, that no matter what you are or what kind of a road you have taken, that you won't be accepted by those who are supposed to love you. And, you know, I think it's a very important message, because we all go down different roads, either by choice, or often not by choice. That doesn't make us any less loveable, you know.
NNAMDILet's get a taste of the original track.
NNAMDIAnd that song appears on the album "Pieces of a Man," which you and Gil recorded in 1971. What do you remember about the creative process of making that album and the song we just heard, the first time around?
JACKSONWe were in a creative frenzy. We had just met each other, and I had all these songs and Gil had all of these lyrics. And we thought, wow, what we need to do is put them together like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and see, you know, what comes up. (laugh) So, that's what happened. And Gil had already been contracted to do three albums for Flying Dutchman, which was a label that the great producer Bob Thiele had started. But he really wanted to do this music.
JACKSONSo, the first album as a spoken work album, the revolution one, “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox.”
NNAMDISure, “A Rat Just Bit My Sister Nell," "Whitey on the Moon."
NNAMDIThat's right. But Gil asked him, if it was at all successful, would it be possible for us to record some of the music that we had been writing? And the rest is, I guess, history.
NNAMDIAs they say, history. Now, let's listen to The Archives cover.
NNAMDIDarryl, tell us a little bit about your process for taking the original and styling it for a reggae band.
BURKEMan, again, Eric and I, you know, Eric's the lead producer. You know, we're doing this together, and we both have similar tastes in, like, roots, rock steady reggae. So, we're just kind of just, you know, checking out some older music, you know, like some Burning Spear or, you know, some different, you know, bands from the '70s, some Bob, a little Tosh. But it just fell in place, man. It was just, like natural, like.
JACKSONHe's a pretty humble, man. But, you know, it's what you do. You know, it's what he does. (laugh)
BURKEAnd then, too, yeah, man, I kind of fell into reggae, man. You know, it's interesting how reggae ended up being my journey, but I'm doing it . But it just really worked. It made sense. And then, like I said, again, our singer, Puma, man, he's just like -- he nailed it, you know. His emotion in the music, man, you can feel it. And this guy's like -- when was Puma born, 1989? (laugh)
JACKSONMy gosh, yeah, he's a baby. (laugh)
NNAMDIBrian, what speaks to you musically about The Archives' version? What do you hear when you listen to it?
JACKSONWell, I hear the understanding behind it. And I hear the peace behind it. You know, a lot of people consider that our music was strictly protest music. A lot of people will say that our music came from an angry place. And it really didn't. You know, if you listen to our songs, you'll really understand that -- as you have, you will understand that our music is love music. It's about love, just different forms of it.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation with Brian Jackson and Darryl Burke, and take your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you have a favorite Gil Scott-Heron song? Did you listen to Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson in the 1970s or '80s, or have you discovered their music more recently? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Brian Jackson. He's a keyboardist, flautist, singer, composer, producer, longtime collaborator with Gil Scott-Heron. And we're talking about the years they lived and worked here in Washington, D.C. Darryl Burke is the leader of The Archives, a D.C.-based reggae band. He's co-producer of the band's upcoming album, "Carry Me Home: A Reggae Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron.” And they've been working with Brian Jackson on that. You actually recorded "Winter in America," you and Gil, Brian, right here in the D.C. area, in Silver Spring.
NNAMDIWhat do you remember most about that studio (laugh) and that record, when you were making it?
JACKSON(laugh) Well, it was an eight-track studio. What I remember most about it was Robert Jose Williams, we used to call Jose Williams. He was the owner of that studio, DB Sound. It was our first album. After working with Bob, we thought, we can do this. We could sit around with a pipe and tell an engineer what to do. But it turned out to be quite more involved than that, and Jose taught us the ropes.
NNAMDIWe got another clip from that album, but this one reproduced by The Archives. This is the song "Peace Go With You, Brother" played by the Archives.
NNAMDI"Peace Go With You, Brother" played by the Archives, originally by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson from the album "Winter in America." Here now is David in Purcellville. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDHi, Kojo. I just wanted to congratulate Mr. Jackson and The Archives. I saw Gil Scott-Heron perform a couple times in Philadelphia, late '70s. Let's just say my two friends and I were among the lighter-skinned members of the audience that night. (laugh)
JACKSONOh, I remember you. (laugh)
DAVIDAnd I perceived Gil Scott-Heron as being one of the giants. And I'm actually a professional musician, myself. I still play “Winter in America” occasionally in my set. I just wanted to congratulate you guys on this tribute. I think it's fantastic, and I can't wait to hear more.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Darryl, how did you decide which songs you wanted to include on this album?
BURKEThat was difficult, you know, but one thing that really helped me was to not stray away from the pulse, especially like of the mid-'70s roots vibe of reggae. So in that decision, because as Eric and I sat down, was like, man so many great tunes, but we got to stick with that pulse, you know. And then a lot of these tunes just played in my house, like "Peace Go With You, Brother," man, “Winter in America.” We got some nice ones on there.
NNAMDIWhat's your release date, and where will people be able to hear The Archives?
BURKEActually, we are performing, with Brian sitting in with us, tomorrow at the Kennedy Center, the grand opening of The REACH from -- what is it, from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m., opening up for Thievery Corporation tomorrow night.
NNAMDIThat's going to be so cool. Brian, tell us a little bit what you're doing now. Where do you live and what do you do?
NNAMDIOutside of all of the things you've always done. (laugh)
JACKSONI've been working on a solo album that's probably going to be happening soon. Around 2015 or so, I got my Masters in fine arts in digital audio. So, I've been doing some teaching, probably about 10 years of teaching at the university level. I get a lot of calls to perform in Europe. And my first time performing in Japan will happen at the end of this month.
NNAMDIHow cool. And is there anything we can do to persuade you to come back to live here in D.C. again? (laugh)
JACKSON(laugh) Listen, I'm going to be here a lot.
NNAMDIOh, good. We're happy about that. Here now calling from Atlanta, Georgia is Rumal. That would be Rumal Rackley, who is Gil Scott-Heron's son. Hi, Rumal. What's going on?
RUMAL RACKLEYHey, Kojo. How are you doing, man?
NNAMDII'm doing well.
RACKLEYGood to hear you.
NNAMDII understand Gil has a memoir coming up?
RACKLEYNo, it's actually been out. It's a memoir. The title is "The Last Holiday."
NNAMDIOh, cool, cool.
RACKLEYAnd it's a memoir that Gil wrote. And the best part about it is you can hear him speaking through it, you know, in his words, and so all the words really come to life. You can hear his voice in it. But, yes, I encourage everybody to read it because it's different than having somebody write a biography about you, as opposed to you writing it about yourself. And so that's why I encourage people to check it out. It's called "The Last Holiday."
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Brian Jackson, ever considered writing a memoir yourself?
JACKSONIn fact, I, (laugh) and it should be out probably next year. There's always two sides to every story. And, you know, the other -- there's one side that has been quite well, I think, documented...
JACKSON...and it's time for me to tell my side. There were two of us. One of us is left, and so I have to do this.
NNAMDIWe look forward to hearing your memoir, also. Darryl, what's next for The Archives after The REACH performance with Brian?
BURKEWell, with The REACH performance, we're actually working on a solo record with Brian here, on Eric Hilton's label. He's producing it at Montserrat. We've been doing it all week, recording that, so we're excited about releasing that sometime next year. The Archives is going to come out sometime in January 2020.
NNAMDIAnd it was -- was it Eric Hilton who persuaded you to come and work with this group here, Brian?
JACKSONNo, actually it was Darryl. (laugh) We have some friends in common, Larry McDonald, actually, and Larry, the percussionist from the Amnesia Express with Gil for several years. And he got us in touch.
NNAMDIWell, Darryl, we thank you for doing that, because we really look forward to Brian Jackson being back in Washington and doing work here and seeing him perform. And that comes to The REACH, when?
BURKETomorrow night. That's at 7:00 p.m.
NNAMDIAt the new space at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It is called The REACH. We did a segment about that last week, on this broadcast. You can go into our archives and find that there. Darryl Burke is the leader of The Archives. It's a D.C.-based reggae band. He's co-producer of the group's upcoming album "Carry Me Home: A Reggae Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron." Darryl, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIBrian Jackson's a keyboardist, flautist, singer, composer, producer, longtime collaborator with Gil Scott-Heron. Brian Jackson, it was such a pleasure to see you again.
JACKSONIt is an honor and a pleasure, my friend. Good to see you again.
NNAMDIThank you very much. This look at the local legacy of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson was produced by Margaret Barthel. And our segment on the new NEAR Act data was produced by Maura Currie. Coming up tomorrow, on the Politics Hour, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine will be here to share details on the many headlines his office has made in recent weeks. Plus, we'll hear from D.C.'s statehood activists about their expectations for next week's statehood hearing on Capitol Hill. That's the Politics Hour, starting tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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