02/23/1987 at 01:00 AM EST
Even when he worked as a municipal bond researcher on Wall Street, Gregory Abbott had more on his mind than the rhythms of the market. Co-workers often found him "with a Walkman on, singing to the tapes I made at night," says Abbott, then a struggling songwriter more concerned with Billboard than the Big Board. Intrigued, the boys at the brokerage gave his tunes a listen, turned bullish and invested in his demo tapes. Bottom line? Abbott landed a Columbia Records contract, followed by a debut single that has shot upward faster than this year's Dow.
Shake You Down, the smooth and sexy title track of Abbott's first LP, glides across the turntable like a soft-shoe soul dancer. For its mid-30ish singer, writer and producer, it has meant a No. 1 hit on the Billboard pop charts and a Triple-A rating with female fans. "Women recognize me now," he says. "Very enthusiastic, very fast-running women."
Born in Harlem to an Antiguan father and a Venezuelan mother, Abbott learned the scales as a boy soprano at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral. Academically inclined, he earned an undergraduate degree at Boston University, a master's in psychology at the University of California at San Francisco and did graduate work in literature at Stanford. His favorite authors? "Wright, Faulkner, Baldwin, Kosinski," says Abbott. "I get a lot from Hemingway for my songwriting in terms of economy. I've read everything he's written." His California sojourn included a now-defunct marriage to singer Freda (Band of Gold) Payne and friendship with the late Marvin Gaye.
The success of Shake You Down, notes the singer, has not escaped the acquisitive eyes of his Wall Street friends. Says Abbott: "They always call me up and say, 'Have anything else for us to invest in, Greg?' "
With apologies to E.F. Hutton: When Gregory Abbott sings, people listen.