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Episode 159 : Vernon Gibbs on Marvin Gaye + Talking Heads + A&R at Arista

29 August 2023

In this episode we're delighted to invite Vernon Gibbs to look back on his career as a pioneering soul scribe and A&R man.

Vernon begins by describing his early years as a scholarship student who took the subway from Brooklyn to prep school on Manhattan's Upper East Side — and his formative years at NYC's Columbia University. He describes how he fell in with the counterculture and began writing about music for the Columbia Daily Spectator. A discussion follows of pieces he wrote about the death of Jimi Hendrix and — later, for NME — the decline of Sly Stone. He also talks about contributing to Crawdaddy! and other rock publications in the mid-'70s.

The 50th anniversary of Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On gives Vernon's hosts a chance to ask about the 1974 interview he did with the Motown superstar for Zoo World. He then explains how he was hired for A&R positions at Mercury and — more notably — Clive Davis' Arista label, where he worked with P-Funk offshoot Quazar and 'Disco Nights' hitmakers GQ.

Vernon's return to music journalism takes us into a discussion of the downtown New York punk scene and a 1983 Creem interview in which Richard Hell defines "the blank generation". This in turn leads to clips from Jim Sullivan's 1996 audio interview with Talking Heads' Tina Weymouth — and Vernon's thoughts on that most un-punk of CBGB bands — in the week when Jonathan Demme's concert documentary Stop Making Sense is given well-deserved a cinematic re-release.

After Mark quotes from archive interviews with Philly International legend Kenny Gamble (1976), L.A. bete noire Kim Fowley (1979) and smoooooth jazz man Kenny G (1988), Jasper rounds off the episode with his thoughts on Lloyd Bradley's celebration of London's Harlesden scene (2001), Def Jam rapper Ludacris (2005) and "jazz-rock" trio the Bad Plus (2013).

Watch a video clip from this recording

Many thanks to special guest Vernon Gibbs.