Who Dat? Ah yes, the '70s, fertile ground for prog-rockers of mostly English descent like Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. But a cult has grown around the (many would say) even more complex and experimental Gentle Giant - a quintet that, among them, could play 30 different instruments. Formed in 1970 out of the ashes of R&B band Simon Dupree & the Big Sound, which featured Phil, Derek, and Ray Shulman, the brothers added Gary Green, Kerry Minnear, and Martin Smith to form Gentle Giant, with almost all members contributing vocals. Combining just about every musical genre out there including a healthy dose of classical, they released a self-titled debut the same year and Acquiring the Taste the next. Gentle Giant - in their own words - wanted to "expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular." What Happened?
Inevitable lineup changes and concept albums followed, but because of the complexity of their music, the group was never going to go over with the punters. Derek Shulman recalled a disastrous tour opening for Black Sabbath, whose fans were unmerciful once GG pulled out their violins and cellos. But the group, now consisting of the "classic" lineup of Derek and Ray Schulman, Green, Minnear and John Weathers, hit what many fans believe was a creative (and, comparably, commercial) peak with In a Glass House, The Power and the Glory and Free Hand. The three albums had a more rock-oriented sound, and the time signatures came to a more manageable level for the long-haired hippie crowd as opposed to the long hairs (maestros). Their lyrics often ran toward the philosophical/poetic and (sometimes) obtuse. However, a concept album about being interviewed as rock stars (Interview), a movement toward a more pop sound, a creative dip, and the grinding life of the road led toward the inevitable - but mostly amicable - dissolution. By 1980, Gentle Giant had been slain.
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Why Should I Care? Though the only place you can even hear them on radio is the occasional number on Sirius/XM's "Deep Tracks" channel, Gentle Giant (like fellow prog-rockers Wishbone Ash) have a very dedicated following. Yes, their music often does take a lot of concentration, and at times is too esoteric even for Classic Rock Bob. But these guys had talent to burn, and certainly should be better known among classic-rock audiences. Where Are They Now? Derek Schulman became a Vice President at Polygram Records (where he signed Bon Jovi) and later president at ATCO and Roadrunner. He now runs DRT Entertainment. Brother Ray wrote music for TV commercials, and later went on to produce Echo & the Bunnymen and the Sugarcubes.
Today, his company provides music and sounds for computer games and DVDs. Gary Green moved to Chicago, and has played in a number of bands. John Weathers took up the sticks for the prog-rock group Man and still dabbles in skin-thumping. Kerry Minnear was heavily involved in gospel music, and now runs his company Alucard Music. A couple of partial reunions on stage and studio have taken place, but not yet with all five classic members. Green and former drummer Malcolm Mortimore play GG music and new material as Three Friends (named after the band's 1972 record) that until late last year also included Minnear. However, Gentle Giant is poised for a revival in 2010, as Alucard/EMI is reissuing seven of the band's studio records, along with other albums and DVDs. But will the Giant be awoken? Essential Listening, Viewing, Surfing In a Glass House (1973) The Power and the Glory (1974) Free Hand (1975) Edge of Twilight (1997 import anthology) Giant on the Box (performance DVD) www.blazemonger.com/gg (the band's official Web site)