The Jackson 5 caught the attention of America and during the ’70s and the early ’80s—and there was no group even remotely similar.
That is, there was no group even remotely similar until New Edition popped up in Boston in 1982. The group will be appearing at Fantasy Springs this Friday, Aug. 21.
New Edition was one of the first “boy bands,” and paved the way for groups such as Boyz II Men, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. The original lineup was Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant and Ronnie DeVoe.
Of course, the band and its members have been through rough times. Bobby Brown was dismissed from the group in 1985 due to behavior issues, and the band broke up in 1990. The group made a thwarted comeback attempt in 1996-1997; in 2002, the band again reunited, only to have issues with Bad Boy Records after the release of the 2004 album One Love. Nonetheless, the group continued on.
During a recent phone interview, Ricky Bell said he’s honored to have been a musical trailblazer, of sorts.
“What comes to mind is when we first got started, we were just kids having fun, and as far as our dreams went as to what we wanted to do, it was really just about performing,” Bell said. “Back then, a record deal would be the ultimate prize, but we really didn’t know how to go about getting that. We thought, ‘There’s a talent show; let’s join it; let’s win a little bit of money, and go from there.’
“Once we came out, we were getting compared to the Jacksons and the Temptations, and I just remember thinking, ‘One day, they’re going to start comparing other artists to us’—and that happened. It’s an honor, and we’re just truly grateful for it. We admire those artists who came out after us as well, because they keep that five-man or four-man group going.”
A few years later, New Kids on the Block also came out of Boston. “They were actually discovered by the same producer, Maurice Starr,” Bell said. “They were kids just like we were who had a dream, put a lot of hard work into it, and became very successful.”
After New Edition’s first major concert tour, following the release of debut album Candy Girl, the members realized their management was not looking out for their best interests—when they returned home to Boston and were given checks for $1.87 apiece. They eventually left Maurice Starr and Streetwise Records, and later battled MCA Records.
“During those times, everything was moving so fast,” Bell remembered. “We were always on tour, always in an interview, and always doing something. We were so busy that we didn’t really have time to think about what was missing or what wasn’t right. It wasn’t until things started to slow down that we found out more about the business and how things were supposed to work.
“Our fans, the people who did support us, they were there for us, no matter what. If we had a current record on the radio, whether it was a hit or a miss, we always had that audience who stuck with us. We didn’t take that part of it for granted, and even today, we don’t look at ourselves as victims or have any resentments, because our experiences have taught us a lot. Now we’re able to put all of that experience to work for us. We’ve also been able to mentor other artists and other kids coming up, so we’re grateful for that, because we get to continue and move on. A lot of artists we started out with who used to open up for us aren’t around any more, so we have nothing to complain about.”
Bell said he thinks two albums define the group musically.
“The first one, Candy Girl. Then I would say (the album) that transcended us from bubble gum soul to young adulthood was Heart Break.”
Heart Break, released in 1988, was the first album to be released without Bobby Brown, and with Johnny Gill, who is still with the group today.
“We recorded it in Minneapolis, and it was a very cold, very long winter, and the process they took us through was a lot different,” Bell said. “They allowed us to input into the project our personalities, our styles as to how we liked to perform on stage, and what we liked to sing about and talk about.”
Bell said it wasn’t hard to recapture the magic when the group reunited.
“We haven’t been in the studio for a while, but we’re still able to tour continuously year after year, and the fans continue to show up for us,” Bell said. “It’s more of the same, and today we’re older, so we can be ourselves. No matter what we do, as long as we remain ourselves, we can do the style of music where people relate as far as relationships go, and they sing along and dance along to what we’re giving them, so it’s a no-brainer for us.”
Moms and dads are now taking their kids to New Edition shows, Bell noted.
“I think most of our fans are the fans who have grown up with us, and we’ve been able to tap into that new generation because of their parents,” he said. “We see all ages at our shows. I’ve seen babies all the way to 70-year-olds dancing, and the music takes them back to an era in their lives, whether it was losing their virginity, or finishing high school or college, and you can actually see that look in their eyes to where they flashback. We have kids coming up to us today, saying, ‘My mom listened to you guys and plays your music around the house, and I know who you are.’ It’s like, ‘Wow, I’m getting kind of old.’”
A BET miniseries focusing on the band is now being created with New Edition’s involvement, and Bell said the group would like to record a new album. While Bobby Brown has appeared with New Edition off and on in recent years, he will not be on their current tour.
“You can expect us to do all of the hits you’ve grown to know us by and love, and expect us to do a few surprises—those songs on the albums that weren’t singles but favorites,” Bell said.
New Edition will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 21, at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, in Indio. Tickets are $49 to $79. For tickets or more information, call 760-342-5000, or visit www.fantasyspringsresort.com.