Johnny Gill

The Grammy Museum

September 20, 2011

Better than … all other boy-band reunions combined.

Last night at The Grammy Museum, legendary producer Jimmy Jam remembered how, before Johnny Gill joined New Edition, a couple members were on the fence about adding the singer. So Jam decided to test Gill. He explained that New Edition was Ralph Tresvant's group, and as such, Johnny wouldn't be doing any lead vocals, only backgrounds. Gill agreed immediately, the two hesitant members (nope, he wouldn't say which two) were won over, and a thirty-year career of plenty lead vocals was catapulted.

Jimmy Jam, who along with Terry Lewis produced most of Heart Break, the first New Edition album including Gill, wasn't the only old friend who stopped by last night to share stories and celebrate Gill's first album in 15 years, Still Winning. Bobby Brown and Ralph Tresvant (who formed the group Heads of State with Gill in 2008) joined the cozy, standing-room-only audience–and Gill onstage.

Curious to know if the New Jack s(w)inger, who also was a member of LSG with Gerald Levert and Keith Sweat, still can close bedroom doors with his Quiet Storm ballads?

Johnny Gill and Jimmy Jam; Credit: Sullivan

Johnny Gill and Jimmy Jam; Credit: Sullivan

Oh yes. But with sunglasses on and pinky ring glittering, Gill, dressed in a white suit with silver-sequined stripes on his tuxedo pants, made the ladies squeal long before he started his set. All Grammy Foundation VP Scott Goldman had to say was, “the true voice of R&B,” and little yelps of agreement trilled from the audience. Raised in Washington, DC, Gill, the son of a Baptist minister, only was allowed to listen to secular music during family gatherings. “One song cut me to my soul,” he said. “Marvin Gaye's 'Let's Get It On.” Cue more screams.

He almost passed on his biggest hit, though. “Johnny came to me and said, 'L.A. Reid and Babyface did this song, but I'm not really feelin' it,'” Jam said. “And it was 'My, My, My.'” Gill laughed, “But that was the first time Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis worked with L.A. and Babyface. I was like Martin Luther King, Jr., bringing them together.”

Johnny, takin' it to the streets; Credit: Sullivan

Johnny, takin' it to the streets; Credit: Sullivan

During his set last night, he brought women to their knees. Has The Grammy Museum been turned out like that ever before? The place practically had melted midway through Gill's rendition of Paul McCartney's “My Love,” a steamy version that had him stripping off his jacket and various women popping up from their seats to testify.

That was just a warm-up. The audience was charmed by the time he'd finished “It Would Be You,” which included at least three individual sing-a-longs. But nothing compared to what felt like a ten-minute performance of “In the Mood,”

the already charting first single from his new album. The bedroom-eyed banger left Gill on the floor smack dab in the middle of the audience, seemingly exhausted. You don't spend thirty years onstage and not learn how to be a showman.

If the night stopped there, it would have satisfied. However, the still so smooth Ralph Tresvant appeared for “Can You Stand the Rain?” and an almost giddy Bobby Brown proved he can still freak it during “My Prerogative.” Of course, Gill wrapped up the night with “Rub You the Right Way.”

Earlier, Gill said when he first joined New Edition, he thought, “Damn, what are my friends gonna say? At the time, it was considered a bubblegum group, and there I was sounding like a grown man.” We love a happy ending.

Personal bias: “Rub You the Right Way” was the jam when the only things I really understood about CL Smooth's verse were the nursery rhyme and Palmolive reference; it is still the jam.

The crowd: Classy thirty- and fortysomethings looking and smelling expensive. Oh, and Sugar Ray Leonard.

Overheard: Johnny Gill imitating both Michael Bivins' and Keith Sweat's voices. Referencing Bobby Brown, Gill said, “It's a blessing we're all still here.” “Yes it is,” the woman in front of me murmured.

Set list after the break.

Still Winning

Black Box

My Love

It Would Be You

In the Mood

Can You Stand the Rain?

My Prerogative

Rub You the Right Way

LA Weekly