Q&A with Gregg Sutton, one of the most accomplished singer-songwriters and musicians of his generation.

"I hope music gets back to a more rock ‘n roll and soul music type of flavor instead of the pre-recorded beats of today…"

Gregg Sutton: Experiences & Dreams

Gregg Sutton is one of the most accomplished singer-songwriters and musicians of his generation. Born and raised in New York he went to Hollywood in the early 1980’s and now resides in Beverly Hills. He has had a long and varied career as both as an accomplished musician and widely renowned songwriter. After serving an apprenticeship in the nightclubs of the USA, Sutton went on tour with the group KGB, featuring Carmine Appice and Barry Goldberg. Sutton then went on to form a group called The Pets recording for Clive Davis at his legendary Arista Records label. After the demise of The Pets, Gregg signed a deal with Columbia Records and recorded his debut solo album Soft as a Side-Walk. Despite critical acclaim this album didn’t make him a star but elevated his songwriter status. In the 1990’s Gregg signed a deal with Warner Bros Music publishing in addition to playing with numerous acts including Tommy Tutone who had the classic hit 867-5309 after Sutton joined the power pop band. During this period Gregg went on the road with his lifelong friend, the genius actor and comic Andy Kaufman as his musical director. For five years they toured together until Andy’s sad and untimely death in 1984. Sutton was the conductor at Andy Kaufman’s now famous Carnegie Hall landmark one-man-show after which the audience was transported to another location for cookies and milk! A few years later Sutton  played himself in the feature film Man on the Moon (1999) which  starred Jim Carrey which was widely recognized as a biographical comedy-drama about the late American entertainer Andy Kaufman.

At this point of his career Gregg joined Bob Dylan as his bassist and toured Europe with Dylan in a group that included Hall of Famers Mick Taylor and Ian McLagan. In 1985 Sutton joined the renowned country rock group Lone Justice who were signed to Geffen Records and remained a member until the band’s premature demise. Jimmy Iovine was Lone Justice ‘s manager and recognizing Gregg’s songwriting talent secured a deal with A&M Records publishing arm, Almo-Irving Music a move that really boosted Sutton’s songwriting career. Now legendary artists like Joe Cocker, Percy Sledge, Dolly Parton, Maria McKee, Billy Ray Cyrus and Al Green  (to name a few) were recording Gregg Sutton songs. In 1988 Stop (co-written by Gregg Sutton) was recorded by UK artist Sam Brown and went on to be a global hit selling over 1m+ singles. Stop was later a hit again for Jamelia from the soundtrack of Bridget Jones, the Edge of Reason. In 1991 Nelson had a top 30 American hit with Sutton’s Only Time Will Tell from the Double Platinum selling album After The Rain (DGC Records). In 1992 Curtis Stigers and Gregg Sutton teamed up to write the classic You’re All That Matters to Me which went on to became one of Stiger’s biggest hit singles from his multi- million selling debut album on Clive Davis’s famed Arista Records. Gregg went on to sign a deal with Windswept Music before eventually returning to Herb Albert’s & Jerry Moss famous Rondor/Almo Music. 2005 saw the paper back publication of Gregg Sutton’s autobiography entitled ‘Here’s Your Hat …Whats Your Hurry ‘ Tom Jones recorded  It Takes More Than Memories which was co-written with soul legend Carla Thomas.

Gregg has recently collaborated with Santana, Desmond Childs, Mark Hudson, Timothy B Schmidt, Shelly Peiken, Carol King and Joe Bonamasa, Human League, Heather Small, Charles & Eddie and a host of other artists, bands and writers including the soul legend Carla Thomas with whom he penned It Takes More Than Tears  recorded by Sir Tom Jones. Sutton’s work can be heard in TV shows like Sons of Anarchy to Charmed films like The Horse Whisperer. Gregg is into his sport supporting the LA Lakers), LA Galaxy and follows the EPL (English Premier League) supporting Chelsea. Sutton's Deal With It released in 2016.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the music industry? What characterize your music philosophy & songbook?

The first thing I learned about myself from the music industry is that I’m too honest and genuine to be in it...My music is very much based on the blues and rhythm & blues, soul music only lyrically it reflects my own life experience, hopes, dreams, etc. Plus, I’ve led a very unconventional life and I try -actually can’t help but reflect the freak in me...also my lifelong love affair with Fredo, my wife and twin, with all its ups, downs and adventures are the subjects of a lot of my songs.

How has the Rock n’ Blues Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I am a child of the 60’s, I first smoked pot at age 12 and where did I go to get my first nickel bag-The Apollo Theatre at 125th and Broadway, the high temple of R&B where James Brown and BB King, Albert King, Joe Tex and so many others made their reps... what I’ve learned is that we always come back to the basics, always the blues.

Photo: Gregg Sutton

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I have met so many people, famous, infamous, unknown and otherwise it’s difficult to say which were the most important...This will probably be a long answer...First and most importantly, believe it or not, was Andy Kaufman. We grew up together, were close friends beginning at the age of 10 and we both made our ways in the entertainment business along parallel paths. One minute I was having Andy perform at Cherokee studios for my band KGB (to break the tension of a difficult album recording) and he needed the $200 we paid him and the next he was a giant star. He was the most uncompromising and authentic performer I ever met, and I got to see his career from beginning to end because once he could afford to pay me I became his musical director and toured with him usually between 6-8 weeks a year. And I of course was his conductor for his historic show at Carnegie Hall. What we were doing will never be done again, he was that original and different and I loved him both as a friend and as my favorite comic who ever lived and I was proud of him. He was way beyond a comic. He messed with people’s heads and got them to fall for their own illusions, a brilliant and very happy man. He was so able to put on the public that for years after his death in 1984 millions of people still thought he was alive. Plus, his Elvis Presley imitation was the best ever-even Elvis said so. By the way, I was part of the only band that ever opened a show for Elvis, New Year’s 1975-76 at the Pontiac Silverdome. The band was Pat Upton& Freedom, but the point is I had the chance to make a direct comparison, which was favorable.

   Next, I’d have to say was playing with Bob Dylan in a band with both Mick Taylor and the late Ian Maclagan. Not only was this tour the first time I would ever go to Europe but playing with those three and of course, most especially Bob, was an important experience every time we hit the stage. Bob is likely to call any song at any time and try playing it in any style, you just have to be ready and he could see that I knew almost all his songs, because I idolized the guy, still do. To me he is the greatest and most important songwriter of all time as well as a great performer and someone, who much like Andy Kaufman, is totally himself, uncompromising to the point that he completely changed music and still growing and experimenting. To get to play with your idols is something special. Also, the Stones, especially during the Mick Taylor years were probably my other biggest influence among rock’n roll bands so playing with Mick and Mac was like the ultimate icing on a giant cake for me. Plus, Eric Clapton and Van Morrison would come and sit in as well as Carlos Santana so I was caught up in the moments and learned to try to always, always be on top of my game when it was time to perform. Bob realized I knew his stuff so well that although Mick Taylor was the bandleader who chose the musicians, etc. etc. when we were onstage Bob would talk to me about song keys, and what we were about to do as well as other more comical things, and he knew that if the band didn’t know the song I would make it obvious by the choice of bass notes what was coming next-at least I tried to do that most of the time. That kind of de facto bandleader stuff just comes naturally to me and I play a little bit of enough instruments to relate to everyone in a rock ‘n roll band.

  As far as the best advice I ever received, that is more tricky. A lot of people have said a lot of shit to me, which was all meaningful, both in the positive and the negative.

  I think two things come to mind. One was from my vocal coach, Erv Windward who told me that when U get on stage forgot everything you ever learned and be in the lyric, in the moment. Technique is really just muscle memory so let it work for U unconsciously.

  The other was not really meant to be advice. I gave a copy of my last record, Deal With It to me producer friend Alan Abrahams, who has worked with a lot of my favorite acts and he asked me...”is this the record you’ve always wanted to make?” If it isn’t, why put it out? Or go back to the drawing board and make it that.......

"Playing with Bob Dylan at Wembley stadium was another highlight…not only did Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Chryssie Hynde and Carlos Santana jam with us but the stage was surrounded by rock'n roll Stars-let's put it like this-Fredo was making her was across the backstage and she tripped and almost fell but a hand reached out and it was Mick Jagger's hand that rescued my girl-that's how thick it was with big stars.. Was a great show and I have never been so proud to be an American…" (Photo: Bob Dylan Band / Promotion-photo for European Tour)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

There are dozens of memories that I could share with you... But, I have a book out entitled “Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry” and it has quite a few amusing stories…Use my Facebook page if you’d like a copy.......

   I use to play in a great band called The Nervis Brothers. We played around LA, Al’s Bar and the very famous jazz club known as The Lighthouse were two of our more frequent venues. We played New Orleans style R&B and Rock’N Roll a la Little Richard and there were a lot of different players but always Eddie Baytos on keys, accordion and vocals, Ian Espinoza, guitar and vocals, me on bass & vocals, Jimmy Roberts on sax and Kenneth Sara on drums. One Valentine’s day we had a gig at The Music Machine in West LA and we decided to do it as “The Debutantes” and dress in drag, doing girl’s songs as part of the mix. I did “Stop in the Name of Love” and “Will U Still Love ME Tomorrow”. My girl Fredo, my wife and lifetime companion dressed me up in black tights and a green tight skirt, black sweater and beret, with necklaces and earrings I wore anyway as well as a good makeup job. WE videoed the set (Debutantes only do 1 set a night) and it was quite fun. I named my character Mavis. Later after we had changed back to men’s clothing a good friend of all of ours, the late, great Catfish came to the club and Bill, the owner put it on for his viewing pleasure just saying” U missed the opening act, check them out”.  I figured he’d see right through our veils but stunningly not only did he not realize who we were, he started asking who was that chick in the beret and how could he meet her? And he wasn’t kidding.... Well I couldn’t help but string him along for a while but when he asked me again a few weeks later if I’d got him Mavis’ number I told him the truth and he refused to believe me!!

  There were many memorable gigs with Lone Justice, Andy Kaufman, Bob Dylan and others.... The day I met the Reverend Al Green he was on the soundstage at A&M records doing a video with my good friend, the legendary producer Arthur Baker. Arthur had just played the Reverend a song I had written with Shelly Peiken, a very well-known songwriter in her own right. The song is called Every Time You Cry. Besides people like Bob, Keith Richard, Otis Redding Al Green is one of my biggest idols...I worship the man...When Al came out Arthur introduced me... ”Al this is Gregg Sutton” Al said, “Gregg Sutton!” and began singing the chorus to my song....”Every Time You Cry, Save up all Your Tears..” I was overcome just by being in the same room as AL Green who is superhumanly handsome and charismatic and He was singing my song…” unbelievable-I told him… ”Reverend, I am ready to go to God now after hearing you sing that song and shaking your hand…he can take me...how much better can life get?????” And I truly felt that way...

  For more gig stories check out my book “Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry”... plenty of gig and session stories in there.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the amount of eccentricity that existed and also the fact that acts would try to do things they had not done before on their new albums...Acts knew what they were good at but were not afraid to enter different musical territories, adapting to their own life experience...That’s not how it goes theses days...

Hopes and fears?...I hope music gets back to a more rock ‘n roll and soul music type of flavor instead of the pre-recorded beats of today…I like a lot of the great drummers of olden days, James Gadson and Clyde Stubblefield, Zigaboo Modeliste, Chgarlie Watts, Tony Williams, Al Jackson-I could go on and on...My fear is that people won’t be able to recognize quality  compared to just what sells the most....

What has made you laugh from and what touched (emotionally) you from the late Andy Kaufman?

About Andy Kaufman-I miss him more than anyone in my life with the exception of my wife and lover and angel twin Fredo...we would usually work between 6-10 weeks a year touring nightclubs and colleges throughout the USA and we always had so much fun it was probably illegal! It was interesting to see these heavy comedians try to do Andy!!! They were ok but never really got him...uh uh....try to catch him...

  As I said I have known Andy since we made friends in the 4th grade at Baker Hill Elementary School in Great Neck, NY...Great Neck was a very picturesque suburban town about a 45 minute car ride from Manhattan...One day there was  a concert given to all the students  by this African drummer named Olatunji, who was famous in his homeland...Andy and I just by chance were sitting next to each other that day...I loved the concert and Olatunji’s music -unlike most of my fellow students who were not rockin’ ...all of them were in their seats  ...-except ANDY!!!- I could see by the look in his eyes and the fact that he was up on his feet like me, movin’ and a grooving to the very African rhythm that was getting to both of us!!!!!!!!!  We were both on our feet enjoying ourselves no matter what our teachers or our classmates might think/btw, my cousin and best friend Glenn Barrett was the third child up on his feet but some rows across the auditorium, “seated with the 5th graders, although he shoulda been with us!! Right then we knew we were having a good time -why leave our good time to have less fun but get a gold star from Miss Reagan-even if she was pretty, and from Tennessee,,,..what else affected me having to do with Andy?

 Plenty...

  I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot and I think there are many things I could say about how Andy affected me in many ways, especially given the emotional bond we shared. The most important to me is simply that Andy never changed at all even in the face of such giant success. Andy was always true to himself...Now you might say that “..hey he was a thousand people rolled into one, a schizophrenic personality to say the very least so of course no matter what self he was doing it was true to himself....a really stupid take on schizoids. The truth is Andy was always Andy, sometimes on the verge of childishness and at other times like a hackneyed old comic, a road rat but then he’d say hey look at me and he’d start imitating himself and do a bit on the bit.

  But the lesson learned from Andy is BE YOURSELF- the rest of the world may or may not get it but you are just different than the others, be it blessing or be it a curse....

  I’ll tell you a story...We were in Greeley Colorado, Andy, Bob Zmuda and me, which was our usual  group..Zmuda would set up the stage and talk to the club owners or School rep(depending on where we were)-collect the $$$$$, etc. and I would teach the band(whoever they were-I’d only meet them the day of the show) the show, give them instructions about how to act during the show-most of them had never played with any comedians before, let alone a comic revolutionary like Kaufman, so it was important they act natural and play everything straight.  The show came off without a hitch and everyone was happy though the little town was buzzing because they had never seen anything like Andy’s show. Around noon I ran into Andy in the little coffee shop of the Holiday Inn or wherever we were staying and sat down to have a cup of coffee with him while he ate breakfast-I had already eaten. We started talking about last night’s show, which he had enjoyed so our vibe was generally UP... Zmuda came in and saw the waitresses fawning over Andy and Andy was flirting  back with them and I was smoking (U could still smoke in restaurants back then) and having coffee joining in on the laughs, etc.

  Bob walked in, saw what was going on and realized that everyone knew Andy was in town and I was obviously his musician sidekick (I didn’t look quite like I came from Greeley Colorado) so Bob started doing ‘schtick’.... Doing ‘schtick’ is when U start doing a comic routine simultaneously hoping the others would join in...Andy got it immediately... Zmuda was a big somewhat overweight guy with blonde hair and glasses and he looked very much like he could be from Iowa, or Colorado, Minnesota-an” everyman” type of dude... He stopped in front of our table and acting as if he’d never seen Andy before in his life adopted a low, growly type voice and said to him -I want to know what kind of a man eats his breakfast at noon on a Saturday afternoon?  The waitress starts to say...d..d don’t U know who this guy is? Why that’s Andy Kaufman the famous TV star!!! I don’t care who he is he is disgusting me...the vibe was starting to get thick in there so I decided to go up to my room and smoke some pot in private…this was 1982 or 1983 marijuana was far from legal anywhere in the USA at this point.... I spent a nice half hour up in my room and noticing the time I headed out the door of my room to meet everyone at the car and get the hell out of Greeley... as I stepped out into the hallway I lost my breath at the sight of 3 large Colorado Highway Patrolmen in the hallway just outside my room and Andy’s room...I was carrying my bass and one of the cops asked...” hey, buddy, have you seen a blonde fat guy with a beard who was bothering Mr. Kaufman before?” of course I had but could not be truthful and headed down to the car in which I saw a blanket in the back covering the body of Bob Zmuda who was hiding there-mad as hell...Bob usually drove but in this emergency circumstance it was my turn!!!! As Kaufman got in the front Bob started abusing him from under the blanket in the back and he was angry....

   “Why couldn’t you just tell them that I am your tour manager we work together and were just getting a bit together for Saturday Night Live or something...???” said Bob Zmuda

  Andy Kaufman: “You know I’m a purist, Bob and I could never ever break the integrity of the bit we were doing..”

  Zmuda” Even if I had to go to jail...??!!

  Kaufman...”Yeah even if You had to go to jail...I mean come on they weren’t gonna put you away-look how nice they were to me.......”

  Zmuda....” To U! exactly -not to ME!!!!!!!”

  Kaufman’’’PURIST, BOB!!!!!!!! And then he’d laugh they goony laugh he had.......

"I believe that the instant accessibility of music as it is online today really helped to kill rock’n roll...there is an air of taboo about so called “devil’s music” and out of the wayness about it that is part of the appeal of rock’n roll and if I could make the world include that element today I would."

What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

What moment changed my life the most? The day I met Fredo-I remember exactly where we were I can see it all w crystal clarity-we spent our lives together, so many of my songs are written either about her or because of something she said…plus she was a GREAT visual artist and her paintings and just her way of living affected me greatly…. Highlights? Again there have been so many...I think one was New Year's Eve 1975-76 ...I was the bassist in a band called "Pat Upton and Freedom"...we were the only band to ever open a show for the KING of ROCK 'n ROLL ELVIS AARON PRESLEY!!!! It was at a sold out Pontiac Silver Dome, approx. 80,000 people and Elvis….Watching Elvis in person and having access to almost everywhere so being able to see the inner workings and observe

Col. Parker etc was a big eye opener…Pat Upton, btw was the guy who sang and wrote "I WIll Love You More Today Than Yesterday"-an amazing voice and Col. Parker was considering managing him.

 Another highlight was of course playing Carnegie Hall and conducting a great 12-piece group for Andy Kaufman's show there. You have to understand that Carnegie Hall was (and still is in many circles) considered the pinnacle as far as high-class venues go. Plus, it was a historical show, the likes of which were so unique there were movies made about it and rightfully so…This was the concert after which Andy took the entire audience out for cookies and milk- he had busses lined up outside and loaded the whole audience onto them and took them to a small school 3 blocks away to share with Andy after the show!!!!

  Playing with Bob Dylan at Wembley stadium was another highlight…not only did Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Chryssie Hynde and Carlos Santana jam with us but the stage was surrounded by rock'n roll Stars-let's put it like this-Fredo was making her was across the backstage and she tripped and almost fell but a hand reached out and it was Mick Jagger's hand that rescued my girl-that's how thick it was with big stars.. Was a great show and I have never been so proud to be an American…

What is the impact of music on the literary, and on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

I really could not tell you what the racial, political and social impact of music on the culture is now…why don't you ask me how we can achieve world peace?

"The first thing I learned about myself from the music industry is that I’m too honest and genuine to be in it...My music is very much based on the blues and rhythm & blues, soul music only lyrically it reflects my own life experience, hopes, dreams, etc. Plus, I’ve led a very unconventional life and I try -actually can’t help but reflect the freak in me...also my lifelong love affair with Fredo, my wife and twin, with all its ups, downs and adventures are the subjects of a lot of my songs."

In your opinion, what is the biggest revolution which can be realized today? What do you think the major changes will be in near or far future of the world?

It seems people keep getting stupider and stupider which is what the powers that be want-witness the right-wing shift in the world today and the rise of morons like Donald Trump who is the puppet of that thug Putin and the entire muddying of journalism and the nature of TRUTH...unfortunately I think things will keep going in this direction which bodes tragedy for mankind.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I believe that the instant accessibility of music as it is online today really helped to kill rock’n roll...there is an air of taboo about so called “devil’s music” and out of the wayness about it that is part of the appeal of rock’n roll and if I could make the world include that element today I would.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

In a time machine I would go back 5,000 years and check out ancient Egypt and see what those people were really doing...were they space men? how did they build the pyramids really? and align them with the stars?

Gregg Sutton - Official website

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