In the early 1980s, poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron made the D.C. region a home away from home. In spring 1981, he visited Bias Studios in Springfield, Va., to record songs for his Reflections album. Less than a year later, Scott-Heron returned to the quaint studio and laid down tracks for his thoughtful Moving Target LP, which included “Washington, D.C.,” a jazzy, sardonic ode to the nation’s capital (an “outhouse of bureaucracy, surrounded by a moat.”)
He even shot the album’s cover art at the concrete factory next door. Today, those albums are displayed with hundreds of others in the cozy Bias Studios lobby, with its long wooden table and plush tan leather couches. While she didn’t have any anecdotes to share, studio president Gloria Dawson remembers Scott-Heron as a gentleman with a “very cool presence…We are honored to have been a part of his legacy,” Dawson said earlier this week.
Norm Rowland, a recording engineer during the Reflections studio sessions, said he helped Scott-Heron record guitar solos and overdubs, but couldn’t remember anything specific about the experiences. Still, Scott-Heron was a “very nice person,” not a prima donna like some of the other artists of his stature, he said. Other engineers from the sessions did not return requests for comment.
Scott-Heron, considered one of rap music’s forefathers for his fusion of spoken word, jazz, and funk, died May 27 at the age of 62. He lived in the area for a time in the 1970s, when he taught English at Federal City College. He was scheduled for several shows at Blues Alley last December, but canceled due to illness. Local singer Carolyn Malachi filled in and recited one of Scott-Heron’s poems during a performance.
Some shots of Bias Studios—-which still contains the drum set, piano, and keyboards used during Scott-Heron’s two sessions there—-and the concrete factory next door are below: