One on one: Johnny Gill
Posted Saturday, September 15 2012 at 19:00
- For 30 years, Johnny Gill, 46, has witnessed the past and present of R & B and continues to define its future. BONIFACE MWALII caught up with this living legend at the ‘Tusker Lite Lounge Experience’ last weekend
BUZZ: What inspired you to get into music?
A lot of things really. It was all around me even as a kid and I naturally found myself drawn to singing from listening to a lot of the greats like Marvin Gaye, Temptations and so many other soulful acts at the time.
Your music comes across as very deep and heartfelt, what guides your writing?
I believe creativity doesn’t have a set time, it happens when it happens. Sometimes you might be riding along in a car and something hits you or you could listen to another song and be inspired and find yourself coming up with something from those situations. But it definitely has to come from within you, from that button that gets pressed and causes you to write about something.
You’ve been away for quite a while, how has this changed you as an artiste?
After 16 years not recording or putting out a CD, I’ve lived a lot. I realised that I’m not just living for myself and it changes your life even when you think you’ve seen it all. Even when you listen to my new CD you will see the difference in the subject matters. I’m still singing about love but I just cover all bases.
Having been in the music business for over 30 years, what was it like in the beginning and what has changed?
At the time we started out as New Edition, we had no idea that we were making history and that what we were doing would still be respected in the manner it is today. We’re older and wiser now and understand the business more. We all have families and have a different outlook. We still have as much fun and enjoy singing just as we did the day we started.
Your comeback is more as a solo act, how has this been received?
Throughout my career I’ve worked with different artistes from New Edition to LSG and more recently, Heads of State. So I’m always trying to continue to grow and want to be inspired and want to do something different. I always try to keep moving to the next level and even though I was on tour with New Edition as recently as last year, sometimes it’s always great to put the group in the background and have my time and do what I want to do.
Which musician stands out for you?
I would have to say my dear friend Stevie Wonder. I grew up as a kid watching him and I’ve always been inspired by Stevie even to this day. Probably one of the greatest rewards of my 30-year career in this business is Stevie Wonder becoming a good friend of mine.
There’s been a lot of talk about R-n-B losing it’s appeal, what’s your take?
R-n-B is till alive. It’s taken a turn which gave it continuity but if you listen to the Trey Song’s and Usher’s and Neyo’s and they’ve done a great job of keeping it together and out there. It’s coming back to the basics now which is traditional hardcore rhythm and blues.
Personally I enjoy listening to all types of music so I never try to pigeon hole it. I’ve written a lot of songs from soul to R-n-B and I always keep myself abreast with everyone, from Justin Bieber to everyone there is. I just listen to it and find a way to connect with it. My greatest fear is getting too complacent and narrowing my thinking in terms of music.
How did you arrive at ‘Still Winning’ as the title for your new album?
This is my way of telling everyone out there that “I’m still here”. After all these years and all the mistakes and good and bad things I’ve experienced, I’m still standing tall and moving forward. This is my way of saying to all the haters out there “take your ‘haterade’, drink it and take a nap or something”.
This being your inaugural performance in Kenya, what were your expectations?
I wanted to be able to connect with my fans in Kenya and basically just have a great time and make sure they understand we share the same things, same experiences, same up’s and down’s in our lives and relationships. I’m grateful to Tusker Lite for creating this opportunity.