R&B crooner Johnny Gill, 45, has been in the music business for 30 years, which makes him an industry sage. Among his many accomplishments spanning from the early ’80s till now, he’s been part of iconic boy band, New Edition, in its various incarnations and he performed with Keith Sweat and the late Gerald Levert under the name LSG. But it was his solo work that solidified his voice as “one to remember” in black music, and he’s still at it — Still Winning.
Rolling out sat down with Gill to discuss his upcoming new album, along with a range of topics that reveal the wise man behind that big voice.
With such a long career, what were your highest and lowest points?
It’s been an incredible journey. I think one of the greatest rewards that I’ve gotten out of this business is looking at my hero, Stevie Wonder, who’s been a great supporter and a great friend and I’ve watched as a kid growing up and that I truly idolize to be a part of my life. My highest point, I would have to say second, would be the day that I got the call that I had my first platinum record … it was such a major accomplishment … that’s what we strive for.
The lowest point [is] dealing with the reality of haters in this business. No matter who you are and what you do, everybody wants to be loved and respected for what they do and the hardest thing to do in this life or in this business is when you wake up and read and hear things that are not true. It’s not like it’s just being put out there to a neighborhood of people, it goes to millions of people and the perception of who people think you are that don’t know you. But also my lowest point in my career was losing my great friend and my brother, Gerald Levert. To this day, I’m still not at the point of listening to his music. He was my brother, my friend and my soldier.
How do you cope with pain and disappointment?
I kind of look at like like when things get tough, we all bounce back. The greatest ability I think man has as a human being is the ability to adapt. To be able to move forward with life, can we do so, yes, but the biggest question is how do we handle dealing with healing because that becomes the most important thing in life because if you get injured and you break an arm or leg or finger or something and you don’t go to the doctor to tend to the wound properly, it won’t heal properly and I think that’s the same thing I look at when you talk about life … if we don’t deal with those things properly, we don’t heal properly and we carry those things with us and those scars for life. But learning how to get past those things and learning how to accept those things we can’t change in life are our challenges for all of us.
Word is your getting married soon. True?
Yes, it is true. We haven’t set a date yet, but it’s been almost four years … I’m looking forward to it. Life brings on changes and I think that everything and anything you do if you go into it with a great and positive attitude, I believe truly that you’re gonna get a great and positive outcome. I have a 5-year-old son that I want to show that this is the way life is supposed to be. The family is the structure and the foundation for everything and I want to lead by example.
Any special lessons you’re teaching your 5-year-old?
My son has his piggy bank, my son’s mother and I discussed, he’s now at the age of five and he has to go to the bank and has to be able to put his own money in the bank and these are the things you want to start to teach kids … he’s constantly absorbing and learning and we underestimate kids. But if you start them out early to understanding the value of a dollar, I think that you’re gonna find that you’re gonna give him a greater shot or her a greater shot at learning how to take care of the money that will later be able to take care of them.
Is that what you learned as a child?
We never understood what the value of the dollar was, because I didn’t grow up rich, I didn’t grow up poor, I grew up middle class. As I got older, I started taking care of my family at 14, 15 years old. That’s when I grew up, that’s when I began to understand what the value of a dollar was. It was because it was a mother and four kids, my mom worked two jobs, and I felt it was somewhat my responsibility to help and I took on that level of responsibility.
It’s been 16 ears since I’ve recorded my last solo project, and I was really contemplating on changing the title because of the Charlie Sheen shenanigans. I had this way before that happened, but you can only understand when all that stuff started going on, how I thought people would be thinking that it came from that, but you know someone put it all into perspective and said this is my vision, the reason why I used that title is because it was part of my vision and what I was doing with my new CD and I’ve been around for many years, been touring for 16 years … all over, from Russia to Japan to Australia to South Africa to London to all over the place and [people would ask] “so, are you still singing or still performing?” Whatever happened to …
I look back and have the opportunity to put out new music today and give people something to talk about and to hear something new from where I am today, it’s a blessing. At the same time I’ve heard a lot of great things and I’ve heard a lot of negative things and most importantly, with the blessings that God has given me and allowed me to be able to sing and perform and do what I’ve been doing for 30 years and to be able to step back into the ring with new music, it’s truly a blessing, so no matter what has been said about me, to me I can look at anybody and say, I’m still here, I’m still winning, I’m still in the game.
With my new CD, I went in to record and sing and to create, but to do things that made me feel comfortable, do things that felt right to me. I love all types of music and I enjoy creating different types of music and I never try to be anyone but just Johnny, and my goal with this CD was to make good songs and let the chips fall where they may.
There’s just great songs, songs for everybody. It’s grown folks music and I’m pleased with it. I’m beyond pleased.
Words you live by?
Do unto others as you would have others to do unto you rings so true in my life every day … I try to hold people accountable, because I want to be held accountable.
Still Winning (Notifi) is in stores Oct. 11.