A space to display my autographed LPs and share anecdotes related to them. Comments are always welcome.
Friday, March 5, 2010
I got these Gil Scott-Heron records signed after a recent gig at B.B. King's Blues Club in New York City. I was delighted to see Gil perform, which is something that I would not have thought possible just a short while ago when Gil was going through more difficult times. I'd like to say Gil's performance was an unqualified success, but a combination of factors made this evening as frustrating as it was entertaining. I should start off by saying that I don't like B.B. King's for several reasons: 1. You need to arrive early (i.e., around dinner time) to get a decent seat, which means that you inevitably shell out more money for their outrageously priced food and drinks ($9 for a beer and $17 for a burger). 2. After the show, everyone is herded out of the club to make room for an unrelated show by a different performer. 3. They seat too many people at the tables, so it's nearly impossible to stretch your legs, much less get up and visit the bathroom. 4. The staff seats you instead of allowing you to find your own seat.
Arriving to the stage 45 minutes late, Gil sat at an organ and mostly performed solo, except towards the end when he was backed by a couple of guest musicians: a woman on electric piano and some guy on harmonica. I can think of at least fifty other instruments I would choose to compliment an organ before I would select another keyboard and a harmonica, of all things. On the positive side, Gil had a commanding stage presence and the same instantly-recognizable voice, though his speech was sometimes slurred. The highlight of the evening for me was hearing Gil sing his own blues composition "Blue Collar" as a tribute to B.B. King. I don't consider Gil a blues singer, but he's as credible as anyone I have ever heard sing the blues in live performance. These particular words resonated with me, especially given Gil's recent stint in New York State prison:
I was down in Kansas City where even the blues sell by the pound I been down in New York City and that ain't no place to be down I been been lookin' at the faces of children and you see we're lookin' for higher ground And you can't name where we ain't been down.
Immediately after the show, the B.B. Kings staff began prodding the audience to leave, so they could make way for the next show--some kind of DJ event that absolutely no one on the premises had come to see. When I politely inquired as to whether Gil would be coming out, a member of the staff said something to the effect of "He's not allowed to. Everyone has to leave." I don't think this woman had any clue who Gil Scott-Heron was and it was obvious that she would not be treating him with the respect that he deserves, should he decide to venture out of the back stage area and into the venue. At this point, I decided it was too much trouble to linger any longer and I left, feeling angry with the staff and swearing to myself that I would never return to B.B. Kings.
When I got out to the street, something kept me from heading for the subway right away and I wandered around Times Square. Fifteen minutes later, I found myself back in front of the venue where, coincidentally, Richie Havens was standing around smiling for pictures for the few folks who recognized him. He wasn't performing that evening and I wondered if perhaps he had come by to say hello to Gil, but I never found out. In the midst of the excitement surrounding Richie Havens, I decided to discreetly go back into the club and see if I could find Gil. I walked back into the seating area and sure enough, there he was, signing autographs for two young girls who may not have known exactly who he was. Unfortunately, standing right next to Gil and breathing down his neck was the same obnoxious woman still trying to clear the floor for the next show that no one around had come to see. I hurriedly asked Gil if he would sign my records, while at the same time the exasperated staff member announced that Gil could sign my records, but after that, everyone had to leave. Given the rushed situation, it was impossible to have any kind of meaningful exchange with Gil, but I did manage to get his autograph and I think he was pleased to sign something other than bar napkins and ticket stubs.
I think both of these albums have visually striking and provocative covers, though I like the design of the Reflections cover best. Looking at the two autographs, I prefer the less-complicated signature on the Moving Target record to the one that looks like some kind of weird math problem on the Reflections cover. The fact that the nicer autograph is on the wrong record is my own fault. I was distracted by the rude B.B. Kings staff and I accidentally handed Gil the Reflections cover to sign first. After I saw that he dated it, I politely asked if he could simply sign the second one without adding a date. Had I handed him the Moving Target cover first, I could have gotten the nicer autograph on the Reflections record. This isn't that big a deal, but it's worth pointing out.