Player for Lone Justice, Andy Kaufman, Dylan Was 74

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Gregg Sutton, a songwriter and musician who recorded as a solo artist, was a member of Lone Justice, toured with Bob Dylan and was the musical director for comedian Andy Kaufman, died Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 74. No cause of death was immediately given.

Sutton joined Lone Justice as bassist when the lineup started to change after the group signed to Geffen Records, and he was a key participant in the L.A. group’s second and last album, “Shelter,” in 1986, co-writing the songs “Dreams Come True” and “Inspiration.” His work with Maria McKee continued with her 1989 solo debut as he co-wrote the songs “Breathe” and “This Property Is Condemned.”

Before joining that group, he played in Dylan’s band during the early ’80s tour that was captured on the “Real Live” album in an ensemble that included Mick Taylor and Ian McLagan.

His association with Andy Kaufman got off to a really early start: They became friends in the fourth grade in Great Neck, NY, and Sutton served as his musical director from the comedian’s club days until his death, including a legendary show at Carnegie Hall in 1979.

In the ’90s, his focus turned more toward being a songwriter, and among the songs he co-penned was Curtis Stigers‘ “You’re All That Matters to Me” (also co-written with Shelley Peiken), a number from the singer-sax player’s 1991 debut album that was a No. 6 hit in the U.K. and remains one of Stigers’ signature songs today.

“Gregg Sutton was my dear old friend,” Stigers told Variety, shortly after learning of his death Monday. “I learned so much working with him. He was one of the most talented and unique characters I’ve met in the music business, a great songwriter, bassist and guitarist, and he had the high soulful voice of an angel who smoked a pack and a half of Camels a day. I always said you would swear he was the American member of the Rolling Stones, he was so damn edgy and cool. He called me Jackie and I called him Slink because of the mercurial way he walked and moved.

“Gregg had amazing stories and he lived a rock ‘n’ roll life,” Stigers continued. “I imagine Gregg and his late wife Fredo, a painter and artist, together again now, having a smoke and talking great music and art. He was as colorful as they come. This world is an infinitely less cool and soulful place without Gregg Sutton.”

In the 1970s, Sutton was a member of the group KGB, featuring Carmine Appice and Barry Goldberg. He was subsequently a member of the Pets, a band that recorded for Arista. Following the breakup of that group, he signed with Columbia and released a solo debut, “Soft as a Side-Walk.” He also had a stint as the bassist in the group Tommy Tutone.

Sutton was especially proud of his time in Dylan’s band, saying in an interview with Blues.gr, “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… Bob realized I knew his stuff so well that, although Mick Taylor was the bandleader who chose the musicians, 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.”

But it’s Sutton’s time with Kaufman that stands out as among his most unusual musical experiences. “I miss him more than anyone in my life with the exception of my wife and lover and angel twin Fredo,” he said. “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.”

He added, “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.”

He spoke about conducting a 12-piece group for the Carnegie Hall show, which was “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 buses lined up outside and loaded the whole audience onto them and took them to a small school three blocks away to share with Andy after the show.”

Indeed, Sutton played himself in “Man on the Moon,” the Kaufman biopic.

“Playing with Bob Dylan at Wembley Stadium was another highlight,” he said in Blues.gr. “Not only did Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Chrissie 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 way 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.”

Sutton collected his memories in a book, “Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry.”

Sutton’s hits as a songwriter included “Stop!,” first recorded by U.K. singer Sam Jones, then re-recorded for “Bridget Jones” by Jamelia. His songs were also recorded by Tom Jones, Dolly Parton, Joe Cocker, Al Green, Billy Ray Cyrus and Nelson.

Although Sutton was known to have struggled with different issues throughout his life, “he managed to survive and thrive,” Stigers says, “because of his talent, his intelligence and his big heart. He was the real deal.”

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