“I really love boxing and have been a fan for a very long time!”–Gregory Abbott
In 1986 an album hit the record stores titled “Shake You Down” and the self titled track hit the musical airwaves as the first single. The singer with the silky smooth ala Marvin Gaye type of voice was Gregory Abbott coming out of your Hi Fi speakers. Armed with amazing vocal chops and matinee idol looks, you had the feeling success was going to come his way. Well, it did when Shake You Down, the single, hit the number one spot in 1987 on the Billboard charts and the album remained on the charts for some 27 weeks.
I can remember being stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida, in 1987, and Shake You Down was played in all the nightclubs. In fact, many a lady hit the floor with their dates and danced to Gregory in the background. I can remember sharing the floor with a lady or two and enjoying the music as well.
Abbott would go on to have a successful singing and writing career over the next twenty-two years that brings him to a place today, that he talks about with a true passion and love for his craft. For the RSR readers, you will also find a truly diehard boxing fan in Gregory who while talking with him, you could hear through the inflection in his voice a sound that only comes from a true boxing fan when they talk about our beloved sport.
Boxing fans come in all walks of society and as RSR always does, we like to bring out the artists in the world of entertainment who more and more, we are finding out have many true boxing fans and Gregory just joined that group.
Ladies and Gentlemen, RSR brings you in his own words, Gregory Abbott…
BB: Let’s catch up the RSR readers on what you have been doing in your musical career today and anything else you may be involved with.
We are currently working on a new record because, for the last two or three years, we have basically just been putting out singles. With that, we are compiling them and adding some songs to put out an album in 2009. Also during this time, I have been writing for film and TV. In the recent Ice Cube movie “Are We Done Yet,” singer Ka’u did a cover of the song I wrote “Shake You Down.” 50 Cent and Tony Yayo have recorded some of my songs as well.
BB: You were raised in Harlem, New York. For an inspiring singer, how did growing up there help mold you for your future success?
I was born in Harlem and lived there all during my childhood. Once I graduated from High School, I left to go to College and Grad School. Growing up in Harlem really exposed me to some great music with all of the acts I grew up on coming through either socially or to perform in the various clubs. During that time, I did a lot of street corner singing and learning how to play different instruments.
Living in Harlem is very vibrant, but also a motivator to do better and to live better for yourself. The funny thing is once you achieve a little success, you want to go back to show others what you have been able to accomplish and help them out. New York City really is a great place to come from.
BB: Who are some of the singers that inspired you when you were growing up?
I really liked a lot of the Philadelphia groups and the ones from Motown as well. Marvin Gaye was a personal friend of mine and very helpful to my career. He would allow me to go into the studio with him and watch him record in the early 80’s. We would go from the studio up to his house because he wanted to learn to play basketball. During this time, he would teach me the good, bad and creative side of the music industry. It really was a fun time for me.
BB: How did you actually get into singing?
I actually started out singing in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Then all through High School, I played in a Caribbean/Latin band where I played the keyboard. My break into the business was actually as a song writer because that is what I wanted to be more so than a singer. A few CBS executives heard my demo tape which I was just shopping around to find some artists to record my songs, but they actually liked my voice, and offered me a record deal.
BB: Your debut album Shake You Down with a song of the same title hit number one on the Billboard charts in 1987, and remained on the charts for some 27 weeks. Being the writer and of course the singer of “Shake You Down,” could you feel in your musical chops that it would become such a big hit that still until this day, is played all the time on the radio?
It’s funny, certain songs you have to pull teeth to come out and others, just flow out so easily. “Shake You Down” came out very easy and the melody and lyrics spelled itself out. I have never really written songs that I say or predict are going to be hits, but you do know when it’s seamless and effortless which always feels just right. The musicians on “Shake You Down” also felt it came out great as well.
BB: If you had to choose one song you performed to say to yourself: “Wow, we (the band and you) really nailed it,” what song would that be and why?
Wow, that’s a good question! I really enjoyed a song I recorded called “Handy Man” (Gregory actually starts to sing a line from it) that James Taylor also sang. It was written by singer Jimmy Jones and songwriter Otis Blackwell.
BB: There are many videos of you on Youtube.com, but I was delighted to see you did a cover of an old standard called “Teach Me Tonight.” Do you like singing this type of music from the 50’s and do you think you would ever do a series of albums or an album like Rod Stewart did with much success of songs from the 30’s 40’s and 50’s when America had some amazing song writers such as the Gershwin brothers and Cole Porter to name just a couple?
Oh yes, I would love to do an album of nothing, but standards. As you mentioned just now, I love the Gershwin brothers and Cole Porter compositions for sure. I am actually in the process now of selecting old standards to cover and my fans from the ones I have done already, really love them. Though the music world is so different today, there are many fans still who love those romantic songs with strings and the big bands that accompanied singers when they did those types of songs. I really enjoy that very much.
BB: With you coming along at the end of the MTV Generation, but still having your video “Shake You Down” on there, do you feel it really helped the song and why do you feel today, MTV is not showing videos of artists that in the 80’s really helped promote a song, artist and album?
I definitely think the video being played on MTV helped. It gave a visual for sure for the new artist to the audience which was very important. It made that marriage between music and film and I just love that. Today, I am heavily involved in doing that by shooting movie shorts with music telling stories vice say just a video.
There are some artists out there that don’t see themselves as visual and would rather focus just on the craft have another opinion of the MTV generation. I liked it.
MTV however is a totally different format and for the most part, plays nothing, but reality television shows. My colleagues and I in the music business discuss all the time how MTV and other related shows have changed. I think what changed is there was less reliance on the record companies then you had in the past. What I mean by that is the influx of technology where any singer, songwriter or producer, with a computer, could afford to produce his own album at home with just a couple of thousand dollars worth of equipment. They didn’t need to go to a record company for a budget and could do it their self along with making the video.
For the record companies, it would generate less of revenue because the artist would bring to them the completed album and finished video which of course, weakened the record company and allowed the internet artist to get their stuff all around the world, not needing the record company to distribute the album anymore.
I think with all of these factors, it affected the economics of MTV and the record companies where in the past; there was a lot of money to be made. This along with society turning towards sort of shock and titillation with these reality shows, what can I say, that’s what are culture has developed into where people like to see the raw and seedier side of human nature and especially celebrities, such as you see on say TMZ.com today.
BB: Your biography is lined with so many awards during your career, but if you had to single out one that you were most proud of, which would you pick and why?
I would go with actually two. The first one being the CEBA (Communications Excellence Aimed at Black Audiences) Award which was for advertising, but it really was for influencing positively the community in terms of helping children. That is the reason I make music because I want to make a positive influence. It’s not about the money anymore, but having fun and influencing people.
The second award would be the Tokyo Musical Award because it was a great lineup of entertainers who performed at the Buddha Khan which is a 60,000 seat arena in Tokyo and was broadcasted to about 2 billion people over NHK TV. It was my first time to Japan and the people were so gracious to me.
BB: Do you have funny stories during your musical career that you can share with the RSR readers?
Oh yes, I really do have one for the readers. My parents grew up loving along with everyone in my neighborhood the great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. Well one year I was getting four New York Musical Awards and Miles was also there getting some New York Jazz Awards too. I met him backstage and this was the first time I ever met him in person. Till this point, I had only read the press on him. We were able to actually talk for about three hours and he was intelligent, helpful and very witty to me. He really was the coolest dude in the world! I’ll never forget he had on this beautiful leather outfit and these leather alligator shoes. At the end of the event, I was taking pictures with Miles and had these four cumbersome music awards in my hands and by mistake, I dropped them all on Miles’ foot.
His beautiful green leather alligator’s shoes were beautiful as I said, but they were very thin and he went walling backstage from one end to the other. I had to go back to home to tell my Mother who was horrified because she loved Miles and was like, “How could you?” Miles forgave me, but I was horrified and apologized to him over again, eventually even writing him a letter to offer to buy him a new pair of shoes. He forgave me! (One side note to this great story, Miles was, in fact, a huge boxing fan which I found out during my research for this interview.)
BB: At one time, you were related through the marriage of your cousin Diahnne Abbott to one of the most famous actors in the world. That actor is Robert Deniro. Did you do any acting or singing in any of his movies? Do you still stay in touch?
No because I was not into it that way at the time and focusing on my music. However, nowadays I am in contact with Tribeca (Deniro’s company) trying to get some songs into their movies and I do stay in contact with Robert.
BB: In addition to music and writing, you majored in Psychology in College earning your Masters Degree. With the music business being no doubt very crazy at times, how did your degree help you?
Well, it helps a lot both in terms of business and creative levels. On the business level, it helps you read people a little better because as you know, there are a lot sharks out there and you need to have at least a rudimentary ability to read human nature. On the creative level, I see music and songwriting basically as communication and the better you understand yourself and the better you understand human nature, the more you can communicate those complexities and make them simple so they resonate for people in the song. I consider myself a student of human nature and that is where I get my songwriting material by going about my day, watching people and what they do when they handle their joys and other things they deal with in life. Training in Psychology really does help in these types of endeavors.
BB: What are your words of wisdom to the young man or woman who is aspiring to be a singer or a songwriter?
You must learn the basics of your craft first. If you are going to be a songwriter, learn your music theory and instrument very well. If you are lyricist learn the English language and metaphor along with rhyme schemes to communicate. More than anything try to be original and don’t be derivative. Learn from what other people do, but then there is a point where you want to make your own statement by giving it your stamp. Try and use different unusual, but acceptable chord changes, base lines or maybe a lyric said a little bit differently than it normally would be said. Finally, really enjoy the process because if you are looking for quick results and riches, that is not the way at getting good at it. The way to get good at it is to love the craft and grow at it, and then the rest falls in line and will come.
BB: What are some things you can share with the RSR readers that the public doesn’t really know about you?
Wow, that’s a good one! The readers may not know I am a vegetarian and do Yoga and mediate everyday. I still play a lot of basketball when I can and like to ride my bike and do a lot of hiking and boating which I am able to do more of now since I purchased a 40 foot boat with twin engines and named it (Namaste: which means “The Highest In Me Greets The Highest In You.) I also really love boxing and have been a fan for a very long time!
BB: On your last comment, let’s talk about your love for the sport of boxing. How long have you followed the sport?
I have pretty much followed it all my life. But more so in the last ten years for sure…
BB: Who are top three favorite fighters of all-time and why?
Sugar Ray Robinson – He was such a skilled fighter and I always loved that old school style of the fighters from his generation. I would see fights where his hair was still slicked back and in perfect shape at the end of a fight (laughs). Back in the mid to late 80’s shortly before he passed away, I did get a chance to meet him in LA. I can remember as a young kid him driving through Harlem in his Pink Cadillac and at one time, he owned an entire block of businesses I think on 124th and 125th and 5th Avenue.
Roy Jones, JR. – I like him because of his athleticism and his attitude because he never in my opinion beat up a fighter more than he had too. However, don’t get him mad like talking about his mama or something like that or you are in trouble.
Floyd Mayweather, JR. – I like him because he is beyond hard to hit!
I have always admired fighters who show courage in the face of adversity, the one’s who dig deep and show the heart of a champion. Since boxers are in the public eye they have an opportunity to provide an example of how the boxing fan might overcome the many adversities in his or her own life.
I admire the guy who, after having been floored, gets up, retreats into defense mode, survives the round, goes back to his corner, listens to his team, remembers his training, realizes what he did wrong, gets back on track, and goes on out there determined not to make the same mistake again. Or, if he loses the fight, goes back to the gym and corrects his weaknesses.
What a great metaphor for life. To me a champion is not only being a good winner, but a good loser as well. The chances of a boxer retiring undefeated are slim to say the least. With odds like that, there’s no shame in losing. Aside from instances of shady scoring, that also means admitting defeat and taking your butt whupping like a man, not blaming it on anything and everything, but your performance. It also means respecting your opponent and giving him props for the successful execution of his game plan. I’m not saying it’s easy, but when I see a fighter gracious in defeat; I respect him that much more and I will be watching his next fight cheering him on in hopes of his redeeming himself.
BB: If you had to pick one boxing match you have seen over the years you followed the sport as being your favorite, which one would you pick?
The fight would be between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns back in 1985. That first round was amazing with the amount of punishment they dished out to each other. That would be the single fight for me, but I have to say, I have watched some Arturo Gatti fights where I have thought to myself this guy can take anything in the ring and still keep coming after being on the canvas a couple of times, and looking like a bloody mess.
Also, I loved the fights between Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales as well. They banged at each other over and over again, showing what true warriors are all about with no quit in them.
BB: How about some fights that were considered to be an upset that you really enjoyed?
I can remember when Vernon Forrest was the champion and he defended against Ricardo Mayorga back in 2003. Mayorga bombed Forrest out of there and then at the post fight conference in the ring he lit a cigarette up. This outcome surprised me because I watched Vernon beat Shane Mosley twice before this fight.
BB: Since you brought up Ricardo Mayorga, who do you pick in his upcoming fight with Shane Mosley?
I would have to go with Mosley in that one. Another thing that cracked me up about Mayorga is when he said, “In my country, the women give birth to men.” (Gregory said this in a very funny voice and we both laughed.)
BB: Do you have any funny stories about any of the boxers you ever met?
Not any funny ones, but I met Howard Davis, JR., at the United Nations for an event and we became friendly. He actually is trying to get into music. I met Mike Tyson on a boat that we were on that did a cruise on the Hudson River in New York.
BB: Being a huge boxing fan as you are, have you ever sparred with any boxers?
No, I never sparred with any boxers, but I have with Martial Artists. As you know, I had to do videos and I realized that I cannot get all banged up in my face. I wasn’t going to go in to say, a sweaty Philadelphia gym to spar and say, “Just don’t hit me in the face.” (Huge laughter) I am sure if I said that, they would make an extra effort to hit me in the face.
BB: What is your favorite boxing movie of all-time and why?
I really liked “Million Dollar Baby” with Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank. The uniqueness of a lady being a boxer and the shape Swank got in was very cool and she acquitted herself very well in the movie in my opinion. The story was a great backdrop about how she had to humble herself to get to the larger goal and finally with Clint, Morgan and Hilary, you really have a great ensemble.
Even though you asked for one, I have to mention the recent Rocky installment (Rocky Balboa) where Antonio Tarver played Mason Dixon and from what I am told, this was the first time they used a real boxer against Rocky vice an actor like Carl Weathers or the others he faced. I liked how they choreographed the boxing scenes which they showed on the special features of the DVD and they were really hitting each other.
BB: If you could change one thing in boxing today, what would you change and why?
I would actually like to change two things. First, is about the heavyweight division. They start it at 201 pounds, but these guys are so big today, that they need a better breakdown then having a guy say, 220 take on a guy who is like 260 -270.
Second, I think the boxing commission could be more meticulous about how fighters are treated so the incoming ones can get paid a little better because these guys work hard and could train more not worrying about extra jobs to sustain them. The money the promoters are making in comparison to the fighters is not fair and they need to be monitored more closely.
BB: Do you favor a mandatory retirement fund for all boxers and if so, how would you like to see it accomplished?
I am absolutely for it and think a piece of each boxers purse should go into a fund and help finance boxers in the latter part of their years for stuff like Group Health Insurance. If you look at what we have with AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) you will see we have excellent health insurance which is financed by the money that all of us make.
When I see a story about Gerald McClellan who was a great fighter and he has nothing, which forced his family to go out and solicit for personal donations is sad. He made millions of dollars for promoters and should be taken care of.
In addition, the promoters should pay in a certain percentage as well.
BB: Finally, what is the saying you live your life by?
It’s going to probably sound corny and maybe there are more clever ways of saying it: “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.”
Gregory wanted to add the following to our interview:
I would like to invite all of the RSR readers to visit my website http://www.gregoryabbott.com Official Website and they can see all that we are involved with currently. Feel free to email from there and let me know what you want to hear or what you like or don’t like. This is my way to communicate with my fans…
(Interviewers Note: If you want to get any of Gregory’s CD’s personally signed that you can order on his website, you can mail the CD insert to:
The Abbott Shoppe
c/o Grabbitt Music
2340 Powell Street
Emeryville, CA 94608
I was sent his latest CD “Eyes, Whispers, Rhythm, Sex which Rolling Stone Magazine wrote, “Abbott has come out with another infectious, sultry, and seductive album.” I totally agree after playing it…
Special thanks to Ms Drew Levister Gregory’s General Manager for helping set up this interview.