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Interview:
New Edition keeps the old school alive
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

It isn’t New Edition’s 30th anniversary yet.

But that doesn’t mean the R&B vocal group can’t start celebrating now.

“We’re on the road to the 30th anniversary,” explains Ronnie DeVoe. “Yeah, our 30th anniversary is actually 2013, but this is the beginning of that movement. 2012 is going to be an incredible year for us.”

Indeed, New Edition plans to be busy and prolific in the coming year as it prepares to commemorate three decades since its 1983 debut album “Candy Girl.” All six members who have been part of the group’s history — DeVoe, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant — reunited for a performance July 3 at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans and plan to stay on the road for much of the coming two years.

They’re also plotting a new studio album, a book, a movie, possibly a stage musical and one blow-out 30th anniversary show that may result in a DVD.

“Of course, we want to get to the 40th and 50th, too, but we just feel like our road to the 30th is going to be special because all of these different things that are in front of us,” DeVoe, 44, says. “It’s just gonna be an incredible ride.”

Bell, 44, adds that, “You keep asking yourself, ‘Where did the time go?’ So much has happened in the last 30 years. If you would’ve asked us 25 years ago where would we be, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that we’d be getting ready to go on tour and fans would still be excited, even though we don’t have a current record on the radio right now. It’s just amazing.”

Even without new material at the moment, New Edition certainly has plenty to celebrate.

Formed in Boston during 1978 by Bell, Bivins and Brown — who resided in a housing project know as The Bricks — the group modeled itself as a new edition of the Jackson 5 (manager/choreographer Brooke Payne came up with the name) and was signed to a production deal by Maurice Starr after finishing second in a 1980 community talent contest. “Candy Girl” launched New Edition’s first No. 1 R&B hit in the title track, which also topped the U.K. charts. New Edition notched 17 Top 10 R&B hits between 1983-96, including five No. 1s, as well as one platinum and three double-platinum albums.

“It definitely feels like a blur,” says DeVoe. “There’s certainly beautiful memories that you can pull out over the history. ... But the fact that we’re from an area that you’re not supposed to be able to make it out of and achieved what we did is truly a blessing.”

New Edition’s success is also credited with starting a pop “boy band” movement that included fellow Bostoners New Kids on the Block as well as Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC and others that surfaced in its wake.

“I would say we extended a movement rather than started it,” DeVoe says, “because before us you had the Jacksons and the Temptations and the Stylistics and Blue Magic. There was a void when we came along, and I think we were definitely the movement of that newer generation. I think we definitely ushered in this young excitement for the music industry.”

It wasn’t always easy, either. New Edition suffered what could have been a catastrophic loss when Brown left the group in 1985 for a solo career. But Gill proved a solid addition, with 1988’s “Heart Break” and 1996’s “Home Again” each debuting in the R&B Top 5 — and the latter topping both the R&B and Billboard 200 charts — and spawning seven of New Edition’s Top 10 hits.

The group went on hiatus in 1990, with all of the members enjoying some degree of success on their own. Brown, Tresvant and Gill worked solo as well as in a group called Heads of State. The other three formed Bell Biv DeVoe, which had eight Top 10 R&B hits including the chart-topping “Poison.”

“There haven’t been very man groups to do it like we have,” DeVoe notes, “to have success as a unit and almost greater success as individuals and then be able to come back to the unit. I think all of that over the last 20-plus years has just put a stamp of something different for our group.”

New Edition has reunited sporadically through the years — for 1996’s “Home Again” and 2004’s “One Love.” But this time out, Bell says, there’s an emphasis on keeping conflict at bay and holding the sextet together, including weekly conference calls.

“We do bump heads sometimes,” he says, “but we’re older now, so there’s more of an appreciation for what we do now. There’s more gratitude. It’s still a lot of fun, but we’re a lot more hands-on with the day-to-day of how we do business, which I think helps a lot.” DeVoe, meanwhile, feels that “everything is really resolved in time and communication. I think we come through in the clutch.”

With the concerts set as the “bread and butter” of the 30th anniversary celebration, Bell says there’s “definitely been discussion” about the other possibilities. The album is a go; “Right now it’s just about scheduling and timing and setting up who we’ll be working with,” he explains. “There’s a lot that we have to talk about, but we’re all excited about putting something new out and adding new songs into the show.”

The other projects, meanwhile, are less defined but definitely on the wish list. And Bell promises there will “absolutely” be a 30th anniversary concert, “hopefully in a stadium. What we would like to do is make it two hours ... and record a live DVD as well as a live album and put it out. We feel like we didn’t give the 25-year event its just due, and I feel so grateful that we’re all here and healthy and still relevant to an audience that has grown up with us.

“So we want to capitalize on the 30th year.”

New Edition and K-Ci & JoJo perform at 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave. Showtime is 9 p.m. Tickets are $49-$150. Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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