Interview with Dream 2 Science’s Gregg Fore (Streetwise, Warlock, Jump Street and Fore records)
Gregg: Well let me ask you a question: Good? What is that?
Gregg is asking me how I define good music… This takes me a bit aback, for a couple of reasons.
1. I’ve never interviewed anyone before. I’m properly winging this – I hadn’t accounted for questions back the other way!
2. This is actually a question I’ve been asking myself a lot recently. And without ever coming to a conclusive answer…
Am I ok with that? If I’m going to write about music, is that acceptable? Am I worthy of interviewing people I admire if I can’t even describe why I like what they do?! Gregg thankfully continues, giving me a chance to compose myself:
Cos that’s the thing, people say good music – relative to what? You know what I mean? I think if its good to you, its damn good! If its good enough for me to spend my money on, its fucking great!
A pause. I’m going to have to say something…
Ben (Devereux – that’s me; BD from here on in): Um – well… What I’ve realised over the years that I can’t critically analyse music at all, I’m just not capable of doing it
Gregg: Why do you say that?
BD: Cos like, if you start to break it down into its constituent parts or whatever, then basically you take away all of the magic there is in listening to music. You either like it or you don’t.
Gregg: I think that’s what it is, but let me throw it at you a different way – I still I write a lot. I use music as a therapy. So for me the music I make these days is more like a musical memoir, so its like, I’ve got a regular gig – whether anybody hears it or not I don’t really give a shit. I’m not a musician by any stretch of the imagination – when I was a young man I’d spend a lot of time at a place called Rosebud Recording where people like Ralph MacDonald would come through, Grover Washington, Patti Austin, Eric Gale, Steve Gadd and Sadao Watanabe. I met Stevie Wonder there, Bobby Humphrey… I mean come on, it was ridiculous – those cats, those were musicians right?
So, going back to talking about picking the music apart: I’ve got a different way of looking at it these days. I used to go to museums and look at what they like to call fine art. Now if you roll up and stand back at the museum and look at a piece, you see it right? But when you get closer to it and you’re damn near with your nose up on it, it doesn’t make any sense. Musically to me now – you talk about picking it apart – I look at building it up in that way. A lot of times I will start something and I’m not even thinking about whether I like it or not, I’m just putting pieces to it, building it. So when I get to a point where I’m like: What is this now? And the answer is, whatever the fuck it is! And can I take it somewhere else? So that’s how I approach it now – one of the reasons I don’t work with a lot of people now is because they’re like “I wanna get this baseline right…” I don’t want to think about that shit, I’ve never thought about that. If I’ve gotta think about that for like 12 days and then tweak it for another 12 months, at the end of the year I’m bored shit with it!
I realise this is probably a bit narcissistic, but writing this blog has as much about documenting my own year long discovery of New York’s “lost era” of house music as it has eulogising its players. As I connect the dots, I sometimes think I’m starting to see the whole picture, but then I step back and realise I’m not even close yet. “I’m not an expert” I tell Gregg as we’re setting things up.
What I’m not expecting when I start the interview is that it turns out Gregg – the man the worked with Ben Cenac on some of house’s most revered records – sees himself in a similar way. One of the first things he tells me is this:
In the ideology of house music, I am probably on the lower end of the food chain. My background in this genre comes from marketing and promotion – for me, I got into house music because it was a genre that Joe average could market so to speak. I worked in a lot of companies and this was a genre that a person like myself could get in, manufacture and market – so that’s how got into it. It wasn’t about, honestly, a love of the music – to be real, I didn’t really understand it in the beginning. My thinking about the music was: “This is what I hear people doing – I need to hear this to understand what people get and then be able to give it back to them”
During the interview Gregg repeatedly makes mention of this and suggests near the end that there are lots of other people he knows that might make better interviewees than him on the subject. In fact, the admission that he wasn’t originally drawn in by a deep love of House music only makes me even more interested – it makes it all the more real. I’d go so far as to say a lot of what I’ve loved about looking into the early days of New York’s house music was the fact that I initially expected so little from it. I didn’t like a lot of what came after 92/93 when I started buying records so it surprised me how much I enjoyed those earlier records.
How was a guy who wasn’t massively in to the house scene back then come to be involved in some of my favourite music? It turns out that throughout the 80s, Gregg’s obvious ability in understanding what people like and selling it back to them had placed him at the heart of New York’s street music scene:
I got into the actual record business with a friend of mine – Apache Ramos – who I go back with in age to childhood. You ever seen (cult classic street-gang movie) The Warriors? He’s in The Orphans, he’s the second head of the group – we go back and he went to college with Arthur Baker. I’d already built the studio in Harlem and they were trying to help me get it off – it was: you like to promote, gotta find artists – where’s the best place in the world to find artists if your an American? Fuckin Harlem, for real!
Much to my surprise, what Gregg was describing to me was the start of Arthur Baker’s first record label, the legendary hip hop, electro, pop and proto-house label Streetwise records. They would produce records for Loleatta Holloway, New Edition, Colonel Abrams, Rockers Revenge, even New Order for a while. From those early days Gregg would be exposed to all kinds of New York music and as it grew and diversified, Gregg was there at the cutting edge
Gregg: The company was basically bought out – the new owner was, I’ll say the Roulette Group. They took only two people from the company and that was Apache Ramos and myself – that’s where I actually met Newcleus.
BD: Right – so that would be when you met Ben (Cenac) and the rest of the group for the first time?
Gregg: Actually the first person I met was Bob Crafton (“Chilly B”, who sadly passed away in 2010) who a bass player, a bad ass bass player actually – if you listen to those Newcleus records, that bass is all up in there! Bob was a bad dude, I miss him still…
So I was at the Roulette Group, they had a lot of labels there – they had Becket that had the Denroy Morgan record I’ll Do Anything for You, they had Fever Records that did the Cover Girls, they had the Fat Boys there from Sutra – so it was a cool time for me. I was doing national retail and regional radio
BD: So you were working across all those labels, yeah?
Gregg: Yeah – so when you work for Roulette that’s how it goes. It was a lot of fun too! I went from Roulette to AMI Records – Anonymous Music, which was a management company: New Edition went there, they signed Colonel… One of my favourites was a rock group named Sabotage, they were some sick asses – they were a lot of fun!
From there, Adam Levy approached me when he was starting up Warlock and it was there that I met a cat named Grandwizard Tony D – Tony Dick. Tony Dick was the originator of a record label called Bad Boy – I know people would think that’s crazy, but that’s true. So it was Tony and a cat name Oswald (Oswald Elliot) – I sold my 16 track to them eventually – but they did a lot of Todd Terry records, Jungle Brothers records…
BD: Yeah, did they do a Kenny Dope record? I remember reading he did his first record on your label
(*in fact it’s in the Biog on Kenny’s facebook page)
Gregg: Yeah – well I did a KD record through Tony, but that was with a group called Kaos. I’ve been looking for my copy of that record actually. Kenny was a wiry little skinny kid when I met him! I loaned him my 808 back in the day – he was cool, I worked that record on Jump Street actually (Kaos’ Court’s in Session with Russell D. Cole, Todd Terry and one Kenneth Gonzalez on production – Gregg is in fact depicted holdina newspaper on the Album’s cover).
As you might imagine, I’m absolutely lapping this up. I’d hoped I could find a bit more about Gregg’s work with Ben Cenac and all the record labels he’d created to release their music. I approached him after a chat on Soundcloud – he’d sent me a message thanking me for making a nice comment about a Dance Advisory Commission track and it started from there. I’d thought the story would start in the late 80s at Jump Street records and Gregg’s sub label Gertie – I couldn’t believe my luck! If this is the lower end of the food chain, order me some plankton…
Gregg: I went to Jump Street because Jonathan Mann (who owned it) wanted me to do special projects, so that’s what I came over to do. When I got over there they were just finishing up a record. I didn’t do as well with it as I should have cos my focus wasn’t there. Cynthia Cherry came up with a really great record, a Jump Street compilation, and one of the groups on it was the Basement Boys. That was a group that, if I’d had more faith in the genre, should have gone a lot farther than it went. I spent more time pushing a “Wokie” Stewart record than I did that record and I probably could have did a lot better. When I did take it overseas though, I took most of the packages that Jump Street had and sold them, you know, licensed them – those kinds of things, that’s what I liked to do. I liked to come over to your side of the pond, y’know…
BD: Indeed – and there was plenty of people of here to buy them as well…
Gregg: Yeah exactly, exactly. So when I was getting ready to take the trip, Ben who I knew from Newcleus and who’d tried to sell me records at Warlock – actually he’d sold records to Adam, I never bought any of them – he asked me if I would look through his stuff. So when I heard the Sha-Lor record, it was cool and I thought well you know… Honestly, it was not like something I *really liked*, but when you’re marketing product, “like” is not an option. “Like” is understanding what people like and trying to merchandise and market those things back to them. It’s as simple as, if I can get their cash registers to ring, I’m cool.
BD: Yeah, absolutely – it was the same with us when we were running our night, there’s so many people you want to see for yourself but at the end of the day, you’ve got to get the paying customers through the door!
Gregg: Right – you don’t want an empty house, that’s not cool – *laughs* – that’s so not cool!
(*this “um” is what the memory of many an empty house sounds like….)
Gregg: But um, so I took a couple of those pieces, er… over to the UK…
BD: Yeah, so the Sha-Lor record blew up in the UK, it was pretty big
Gregg: Yeah, but the story of how I sold that record was crazy – I travelled all over that city and that was the last record I sold, or licensed, on the next to last day of my trip – and I was there for 2 weeks! Y’know, nobody wanted that record! But the funny thing is that when I was there, Kenny Beck was also there (from New York’s Personal records) – I was like “look man, I’ve got this record that I know they will hear in New York cos I can get it played; and I understand there’s a market here for it (in the UK) – I’ve heard the records coming back from here to the US…” So he turned me on to someone and the guy sent me (and this was all just happenstance) to this little label – I’m tempted to say Deconstruction, I don’t really remember now, I’m getting so old I can hardly remember my own kids names let alone other stuff… but it was the last record I sold and that record has been licensed many, many many times since then.
BD: So you said about Push/Pull, you sang on the record right?
Gregg: Right – that was another record I worked out with Ben. I said look, I’m going over there (for Gregg’s first trip to the UK) and I have a dance package and an R&B package. I wasn’t selling singles, I was looking for EPs – so we put this together based on 2 tracks he had. I went up there every night for like 2 weeks just doing this other stuff. I’m not a studio person, I don’t really like it, but if I have a task at hand I’ll just bust the crap out – that’s how I get down.
I sold a track that I thought was the weakest actually – Africa? Bobby Konders did a mix on Africa, an edit – John Robinson did an edit, but they couldn’t all fit on the CD. I was trying to get Bobby to do another track – he was at WBLS as an intern, he was starting to do dance shows and he was good, he was passionate about it. He was cool with me, I’ll always love him for that.
Push/Pull was a two page kind of thing – I thought the album jacket should be a story in and of itself. That photo was something that was at a friend of mines house, I had it touched up and used it as the cover. Back in those days you were vying for rack space so I was like “how do I get people drawn to this”. I think that did very well, cos I didn’t do much radio with that – the one I wanted to do was Bang The Drums. To my mind that was the better record and Secrets of The Nile, that was a bad track – those were the tracks that I thought would push us over to another level. It wasn’t to far later that I had problems with distribution
BD: Right – cos these were coming out on your own label rather than Jump Street
Gregg: Right – I was still working at Jump Street, but one of my conditions when I went over there was that I could do my own stuff. I had a distributer in Chicago and a distributer in LA that went out on me – that was the end of me for cashflow, it was like almost a quarter of a million bucks and that kind of took me back. That wasn’t so cool – I couldn’t walk in a bank and they’d just hook me up, they don’t see me that way. You know even with the collateral and the right face , it’s the wrong colour for some of that in this country – don’t get it twisted… So it didn’t work out for me back in those days, I had to get a regular gig and that’s what I did.
I wasn’t ready for this – I feel a bit out of my depth now… I wonder about what might have been, had Gregg been able to continue developing the ideas he had, considering the quality of what had gone before. At the same time, I don’t want to linger on events that Gregg has already said were not cool. I attempted to get back to something a bit more up beat, hoping that doesn’t make me seem callous…
BD: So with Fore records – there were a number of different sub-labels that you released everything under?
Gregg: To me that was a comical thing – what label are we going to make up this week, that’s what it was about. I mean, I know that’s sick and what, the way people talk about brands these days they probably think I was crazy… I probably was! But there was no thinking in respect to Fore – it was manufactured by Fore, it was distributed by Fore. But I did 12th Avenue, one of the labels I did with Ben was Gertie, I did the Dance Advisory Commission, Power Move, Duck Tail – that was the label that was the nasty kinda records, the ones you didn’t want your daughters and your sons to hear! That was what that was about! What we were trying to do was establish – in that genre of music – sub-categories, a subset. It didn’t evolve that way because of the money, that put me out of the game, even though I had product – I still see it out there, people are reselling it like it’s new. People are out there pressing it now, greedy bastards, but that’s the reality of it. I look at it as, a very small part of that scene.
BD: Well, it’s obviously had a big impact – I saw an interview with Ben about the Dream 2 Science record and King Britt had put a comment on the end of the interview saying that it was one of the key records that had established his sound with Josh Wink. It was definitely all part of the history.
Gregg: Yeah, but like I said though – it was something at the time that I was just trying to understand. What’s really gonna sound stupid I guess is that the particular equipment we were dealing with at that time, that was the sound that people had here. Today its a little bit different, but part of what is its greatness and its weakness is that it’s more sound driven sometimes than song or melodic driven. I think that can take it out of the essence of the greater reception of it – I dunno, I’m probably wrong and I’m getting too old to really give a shit…
BD: No, I definitely agree with that – I like listening to those records that are musical, there needs to be more musicality. It’s good to hear it and you can always find it cos there’s always someone making it – it may not be popular, but again you don’t really care if anyone else is going to listen to it as long as you like it!
Gregg: Well, at least for me, it was a genre I liked because it was accessible to me with respect to marketing and business. From a production point of view, I’m not a musician by any stretch of the imagination – like I said, compared to the people I have run into and met and know, I would be remiss to even mention the word musician in relation to myself in their presence. It’s just not like that. But what we have in us, the science that’s there today – ha, the pun on Dream 2 Science… but, a lot of people that are credited as being really creative are in fact that, but without that science there would be a lot less of them. I think that’s why the driver is through the sound versus through the musicianship, because the sound is really what the music is.
Like I listen to the lyrics of a lot of songs and I’m thinking, well OK… I used to get into trying to write really crazy stories, but (now) I write what my story is today. That brings me back to what I was talking about before – my thing now is just to deal with memoirs in a musical way. This past month I’ve maybe done four or five songs relative to something I’ve experienced – I’ve got tracks about a guy some people would consider destitute, he’s picking up cans. He’s looking at a woman who’s maybe a paycheck and a peanut butter sandwich away from being where he is and he’s in love with her, but he thinks he can’t get to her because the guy that’s got a like a dime more than she’s got is the one with loose change. He’s feeling left out – you know, I’m just sitting there and the cat’s telling me this story, so this is what’s making it on the kind of tunes that I write. It’s not really about anything more than, ok – this is what my day was. That’s where I’m at with it now. I figure that by the time I close my eyes for real there will be a couple of hundred pages of that, that are basically just music. My biggest fear in this world is really having not been remembered on any level, like not having been there you know. That’s a kind of frightening situation…
We continue chatting for a while, mainly about the guys from the record business that dealt more predominantly with house music back in the day and who it would be good for me to speak to. This last part of the conversation about Gregg’s own story sticks with me though – about the recording of memoirs and not wanting those stories to just be lost with the passage of time. Ensuring that era is not lost…
I also think a lot about the question Gregg asked me – “Good? What is that?” To Gregg, what is good is what will sell – presumably also what stands the test of time to allow it to be resold again and again. In that, you can only conclude that Gregg has had great success. Others may have produced and sold house music by the truckload through the 90s, but how does it stand up to the test of time? I’d say his hit rate is up there with the very best.
As I finish writing up the interview (praise the good Lord for Google Transcribe, that’s all I’m sayin!), I feel hugely positive that Gregg’s fears will not be realised anyway. Since the hugely successful reissue of Dream 2 Science, he has worked with Italian House’s rising star Nick Anthony Simoncino’s debut album on Open Your Eyes, providing both vocals and a remix with Ben of the track In A Dream. He had a previously unreleased solo track Who Loves You on Ben Cenac’s Cozmic House EP (hopefully getting a reprint soon) as G4 and is currently working on a new EP on one of his old labels (Fore or 12 Avenue) which should be coming soon.
Standing back, the picture looks pretty good to me.