Friday, July 11, 2008
JOHNNY GILL'S 25 YEAR IMPACT AND SUCCESSFUL RUN
When fans first heard Stacy Lattisaw and Johnny Gill sing on their 1984 hit “Perfect Combination,” many thought she was singing with a grown man, but when fans saw them perform on the popular show “Soul Train” many were shocked to learn that he was only a sixteen year old high school student, but it didn’t matter. Fans began to take notice including singing group New Edition who would later recruit the powerful singer to help them reach the adult market, which resulted in their classic album “Heartbreak” becoming a classic and going multi-platinum. He would later make re-start his career by releasing three successful albums, appearing on multi-platinum soundtracks, singing back ground for many artists and becoming the first artist to score success as part of a duo, group, a trio and a solo artist, making him one the industry’s well loved and admired male R&B artists, and this article highlights J.G.’s or Skills’ as he’s often called by his band mates and fans career.
Gill was born on May 22, 1966 to Reverend Johnny and Anne Gill, Sr. in Washington DC as one of four sons, and like most church kids, he grew up singing Gospel music. As a child, he sang in the Gospel group Wings of Faith with his brothers, which included his brother Randy (who would have success as a member of the R&B group II D Extreme and be instrumental in having the category of Best Rap/Sung Collaboration being created at the Grammy Awards in 2002), but he also began to listening to R&B music, and particularly Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass and Luther Vandross who he would names as influences and would be compared to. He also worked at mastering several instruments including the drums, guitar, keyboards, piano and percussion.
When he wasn’t performing or practicing, he was spending time with singer Stacy Lattisaw, who was already hitting the charts with her singles “Let Me Be Your Angel,” “Love On A Two Way Street,” and “Attack of The Name Game” Whenever she wasn’t performing, she and her family would have talent shows in the basement of her home, but Gill declined to participate. “I would never participate in any of the shows.” Gill said in the Billboard Book of Number One R&B Singles. “So one day, she said, ‘OK, everybody down here’s got to do something,’ and I had to do the only thing I knew how to do.” “We were blown away.“ Lattisaw, who now operates her own church and owns a recording studio with her husband, recently, told Margena A. Christian in Jet Magazine. “They said he sounded like a grown man. He never sounded like a 15-year old.” Lattisaw’s parents told Harry Allen the president of Cotillion Records about Gill and quickly signed him to the label. “Stacy Lattisaw is responsible for changing my life, helping me the world recognize my talent and getting me a record deal, which I am so appreciative of” Gill said in Jet. The two friends record an album of duets and scored with a top ten R&B with “Perfect Combination.”
A year later Johnny released his solo debut, which featured the now-classic “Half Crazy” which made some noise on the R&B Charts, but failed to crossover due to the labels inability to market him. In a 1990 interview on Video Soul, Gill told host Donnie Simpson that the label had problems deciding whether to market him to the teen or adult market because he was sounding like a grown man.
In 1987, relocated to California, signed with MCA Records and sang back ground on Vanessa Williams debut single “The Right Stuff.” He was about to began working on his album, until he was recruited to by Michael Bivins to join singing group New Edition, who was looking to conquer the adult market, and to replace member Bobby Brown. Gill signed on and began to work with the group on their classic comeback album “Heartbreak” which went triple platinum and scored several hits including “Can You Stand The Rain” which introduced Gill as a member of the group and topped the R&B charts for two weeks becoming an instant classic and favorite, along with the Gill lead single “Boys To Men” a song that he first hated. “They (producers-songwriters Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis) could have given me some better shit” Johnny said on
Vh-1’s "Behind the Music." Johnny decided to do the song his way and it became one of the group’s biggest radio hit and a concert highlight. “That song wasn’t released as a single, it became the most popular song of the album.” he said VH-1. He embarked with the group on their Heartbreak tour, and gained a larger fan base.
When the tour wrapped, Gill began to work on his solo career. Signing with Motown Records, he re-teamed with Lattisaw to record the top charting duet “Where Do We Go From Here?” He also played guitar of Eddie Murphy’s single “Bubble Hill” and later released his self-titled platinum album, and made history by becoming the first Black artists to have two of the top Black writing and producing teams to work on his album; Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis of the R&B Funk Band The Time, and L.A. Reid & Babyface of the R&B-Adult Comptemporary group The Deele. Johnny scored four hits including “Rub You The Right Way,” “My, My, My” which became his signature and trademark song, “Fair Weather Friend” “Wrap My Body Tight.” “He’s the greatest singer I’ve ever worked with” Babyface said in the liner notes of Gill’s 1990/91 tour book.
In addition to his vocals, Johnny’s style of dress is what also attracted to him fans. While the other guys of New Edition would wear street attire during rehearsals, Johnny always maintained the grown and sexy look ,which consisted of suits and ties, vests, dress shoes, boots, and sunglasses.
He also opened for Janet Jackson on the last leg of her Rhythm Nation tour, before joining the Triple Threat Tour with Keith Sweat and group members Bell-Biv De Voe, which was dubbed one of the hottest tours of 1990’s. Gill also received two Soul Train Music awards and recorded songs for New Jack City, Boomerang and Mo’ Money soundtracks which went multi-platinum thanks to his singles “I’m Still Waitin” “There U Go” and “Let’s Runaway.“ He also sang on label mate Shanice’ top 20 hit “Silent Prayer” and joined forces with Dancehall King Shabba Ranks on their hit “Slow And Sexy.”
In 1993, Gill released his follow up album “Provocative” which went gold, and scored the hits “The Floor,” “I Got You,” “A Long Way From Home” and “Quiet Time To Play.”
In 1996, Gill and Brown rejoined New Edition for their reunion album “Home Again” which debuted at # 1 along with “Hit Me Off” while promoting his album “Let’s Get The Mood Right.“ which featured him being more involved with the writing and production went gold and scored three hits. Once the tour wrapped, he teamed with singers Gerald Le Vert and Keith Sweat to form the R&B group LSG, whose self-titled album, and single “My Body” reached platinum and gold status, earning them numerous nominations for Best New Artist. He also recorded a remake of the Rick James & Teena Marie classic “Fire & Desire” with Coco from SWV and Pendergrass’s classic “Close The Door” for the "Booty Call" and “The Ladies Man" soundtracks, and appeared in a play with Ralph Tresvant.
In 2002, Johnny began touring with New Edition, winning rave reviews from fans and peers including Sean Diddy Combs, who offered the group a deal to with his label, and while the rest of the group was happy about being a part of the Bad Boy family, Gill had reservations about signing, fearing that Diddy, known for being arrogant and overbearing, and sadly Gill’s fears were right. Diddy wanted the group to record material geared towards the teenage market. An issue that caused them to clashed with Diddy. There were also reports that Diddy didn’t want Gill to sing on most of the songs.
In 2006, Gill was honored for his contributions to music, and began touring with The O’Jays, and Brown, often performing tribute to his late band mate Gerald, who had unexpectedly died in his Ohio home.
On June 23, Johnny and New Edition were finally honored by ASCAP for their contributions to music, and along with the group, many of their peers and fears were happy that the group was finally honored as a whole. Gill is currently working on his sixth solo album, and plans on joining NE on their upcoming tour which is scheduled to begin in September.
Johnny Gill has come a long way to be one of the industry’s well loved, and respected singers in R&B. Whether he’s singing with NE or by himself, he continues to touch fans with his God-Given talents, and he’s isn’t afraid to let the audience know that he’s a grown man who sings from the heart, and he’s going to continue to have fans say ‘my, my, my.'