10 Things You Never Knew About... Gil Scott-Heron

His father played for Celtic you know...
10 Things You Never Knew About... Gil Scott-Heron
Living his life strictly on his own uncompromising terms, Gil Scott Heron’s magical aura lives on.

1. His first instrument was a grand-piano from the trash. His grandmother knew the junk-man and rescued it for a seven-year-old Gil Scott-Heron. What his dear old grandma had in mind was for him to learn some Hymns. That’s how things began – playing hymns for his grandma’s sewing circle meetings.

2. Gil’s father and his seven brothers had the middle name ‘Saint Elmo’. His dad wanted to pass this on – ‘Gilbert Saint Elmo Heron.’ That would bring the known number of men in the world with that middle-name to nine, one too many for Gil’s mother, who suggested her maiden name ‘Scott’.

3. Gil’s father became a professional footballer, eventually getting signed by Scottish side Celtic, but his grandfather too was a sportsman. Known as ‘Steel Arm Bob’, he was a revered baseball pitcher who had one of the best records in the South. Gil’s pitching skills never lived up to his legendary grandfather’s.

4. Gil collected his education through seventeen years at ten different institutions. His early schooling is best described as being “checkered” by the man himself. He first went to a catholic school named St Joseph’s but was thrown out for bringing a knife to class. He promptly decided Catholicism wasn’t for him.

5. Gil’s first job came as a dishwasher on a nightshift in a bar in Jackson. He smeared some of his mother’s eye shadow across his upper lip to look old enough to work there. “The owner knew I was too young, not how young I was, but how old I wasn’t”, he said.

6. While at Lincoln University Gil dropped out to write his first novel. “The Dean thought I was crazy and asked me to go and see the school psychiatrist,” he stated later. He bet the last of his money on the novel. ‘The Vulture’ earned him a five thousand dollar advance.

7. Despite the success of ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ and of album ‘Pieces Of A Man’, Gil still saw himself more as a novelist than a musician. He was working on second book, ‘The Nigger Factory’, and was getting credentials to become a writing teacher. He taught at Federal City College.

8. Once on tour Gil came back to his hotel room and noticed someone had been in there before him, smoking his marijuana. “It felt like a cheap condensed version of ‘The Three Bears’” he later said. It turned out four ‘dread-brothers’ were smoking in there, one of whom was Bob Marley.

9. Despite being subjected to many interviews during his career Gil had a real distain for them unless they were done on live radio or TV. He was wary about how his words could be manipulated and misinterpreted. “I started to want my records to be live, too,” he said.

10. Gil Initially disliked playing on television as it condensed all the vibrant layers of his expansive sound down to the basics on a black and white screen: “The idea of having my songs and my band all squeezed through a midrange mono speaker the size of an ash-tray had depressed me.”

This feature originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of Clash Magazine.

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