Oh, Henry!

Master Gibson covers the world with unbeatable percussion

Earlier, Gibson had become the rope in a tug-of-war between giants. "Donny Hathaway had been nursing this tune ["The Ghetto"] for six months," Gibson says. "He knocked on my door in Chicago and said, `Name your price.' But Curtis [Mayfield] had already made me an offer." The percussionist found time to grace both The Ghetto album and Mayfield's Check Out Your Mind LP, and he toured with both artists, but it was with Mayfield that he spent the largest chunk of his career, traversing the planet and cutting a number of albums with the R&B legend. "It was ten years of eleven months a year gigging," he says of the Mayfield years.

The apex, surely, came with the Superfly soundtrack in 1972. Although Mayfield had already contributed a bounty of brilliant work with his former group the Impressions, Superfly marked a new phase, earned a Grammy nomination, and provided an excellent forum for Gibson's percussive mastery. The percolating beats he laid to "Pusherman" and other tracks remain sonic evidence of Gibson's remarkable talents. Not only is his sense of keeping time perfectly honed, but his knack for timing elevates what would normally be background color to a full frontal assault. It is impossible to imagine Mayfield albums such as Superfly without Gibson's relentless rhythms. He knows precisely when to hold back, when to cut loose. "I met Stevie Wonder in a London hotel room," Gibson recalls. "And even he complimented Superfly."

...When I was in L.A. I worked with Minnie Riperton, Jose Feliciano, the Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Chaka Khan...Jackie Wilson went around with a bullet in him and had to drink half a fifth to ease the pain before he went on-stage...I got to meet the Beatles once, and spent some time rapping with Ringo...

On a rainy Sunday night in 1986, Gibson was performing with Mayfield in Stockholm, Sweden, at the Hard Rock Cafe, when he met a woman named Anne. "I asked my mom," Anne says today. "She said, `You can't find love in this world today. Go and get him. Go and get him.' I took off from my work as a drama teacher, waitress, masseuse, travel agent, and writer to jump on the tour. We went to several countries right after the Stockholm show. He had to go back to Chicago in early December, and he called and asked if I could come over for New Year's, then to Curtis's house in Atlanta, then L.A. and Hawaii. I said, `Sure, I'll be right there.'"

The couple was celebrating their wedding anniversary in 1991 at a Sheraton in Stockholm. Champagne was being passed around when CNN broke the news of Miles Davis's death. On a recent Friday night Gibson is jamming wild at the Pasta Bongo, and his biggest fan sits at one of the tables on Lincoln Road, beaming. "After living twelve years in Honolulu and touring so extensively, two planes everyday, I had my choice of anyone," Henry Gibson says. "Every lady would be on her best behavior because you're a celebrity. None of that was a solution for me. That was my first time in Stockholm. After coming off the stage, something about her aura captured me. She unlocked so many mysteries of life. She's been the only person in my life for six years straight."

Nowadays the Gibsons divide their time by allotting a few months to stay at their home in Stockholm, some weeks at another home in Hawaii, and visits to "the fun, sun, and sand" of South Florida. Last year he spent five months at Sempers supporting a jazz voice-piano duo at the behest of fan/promoter Louis Canales. Gibson joined members of the Gipsy Kings for the Marlin opening and for shows at the Strand a few months ago. This week he was planning a trip to New York City to play the Apollo with Chaka Khan.

"Being a product of the ghetto and then seeing so much else of the world," he says, "I felt I needed to unlock some secrets about the universal language." He has. "When I was growing up," the 49-year-old Gibson continues, "I had a little rubber hammer, and I'd go around pounding on anything. They thought I'd be a carpenter. This was when I was coming up in school. My desk had eight different sounds. I'd have 30 kids quiet while teacher left, all of them listening to me play those rhythms on my desk. The teacher would open the classroom door quietly, then use his finger to tell me to come to him. All the other kids would laugh. The teacher made me sit outside."

The fallacies of academia, thankfully, did not thwart young Master Gibson's pursuit of the beat. "After Superfly," he says, "I ended up working with the Board of Education in Chicago. Oscar Brown, Jr., and I played every grammar school in Chicago. I met with some of my old teachers. They said, `You really did it, you really made something of yourself.' So I got the last laugh." Must be nice.

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