Grooves & Samples #27: Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson – Winter In America (1975)
Grooves & Samples is a weekly dive into old dusty crates of jazz, funk, soul and beyond.
The legacy of poet and soul/jazz music visionary Gil Scott-Heron is no secret to the hip hop world. His influence and magnificent artistry surpasses the majority of his peers and he remained musically relevant until his passing in 2011. I’m New Here, his final album released in 2010, showed a musical genius from a previous generation adapting himself to new musical trends and collaborating with Damon Albarn (Gorillaz and Blur).
With his large musical output spanning 3 decades, his sounds have been chopped and sampled for a huge array of hip hop. The lists of producers who have flipped Heron on WhoSampled doesn’t even come close to the real number. From classic 90s hits, to underground jams, to unknown bedroom beatmakers mashing on a keyboard, everyone and their grandmother has made a beat using Gil Scott-Heron.
This week we will take a look at one of his greatest works, the title track from 1974’s Winter In America, a collaboration with Brian Jackson. Oddly enough, the title track was actually not even recorded until after the album was released (which many people don’t realize). They planned to go against the trend of previous albums and avoid including a title track on Winter In America. The song “Winter In America” finally appeared in 1975 on the follow up LP, The First Minute of a New Day. It would go on to be considered one the best works by Heron and Jackson and a scintillating live version has appeared on several reissues and compilations as well.
When Gil sings about winter, he is not exactly referring to the season. Instead he uses the concept of winter as a bleak observation and critique of the state of society. The instrumentation is led by moody flute riffs and Heron’s lyrics paint a bitter picture of the stark reality of America in the 70s. His haunting voice chants in the chorus “Ain’t nobody fighting, cause nobody knows what to save”. You can enjoy the studio and live versions below, as well as a few hip hop reinterpretations from Freddie Joachim, Hannibal King, and Hulk Hodn that sampled the genius of Brian Jackson and Gil Scott-Heron.