"I'M READY for it," says Bobby Brown, "it" being his first concert tour since the grueling "Don't Be Cruel" world tour that ended in Japan three years ago and left Brown fiscally sound but physically spent.
"I'm back into the swing of it," says the king of New Jack Swing, calling from rehearsals in Atlanta. "I've been working out, working with my dancers, working with the band, so I'm ready to do it. And people are going to see the same Bobby Brown they've always seen -- the energetic crazy man on stage. Anybody who's been to my concerts knows how I perform and those who don't will just have to come and see, and have some fun. It's going to be a great new year."
And a great New Year's Eve show at Capital Centre, where Brown headlines a show featuring three other acts who are hot, hot, hot: Mary J. Blige, TLC and Shabba Ranks. Two days earlier the package unwraps itself in Charleston, West Va., the first of 50 dates (including Hampton, Va., on Jan. 22 and Baltimore on Jan. 27) that Brown will do before taking the month of March off to be with his wife, who is expecting a baby then.
Maybe you didn't hear: Brown married Whitney Houston in July. Call it their platinum wedding: Between the two of them, Brown and Houston have sold 25 million albums. It was one of the biggest media wedding's since perennial big wedding winner Liz Taylor and her handyman.
Brown and Houston met, appropriately, at the Soul Train Music Awards show three years ago and the celebrity-saturated wedding (held at her New Jersey mansion) was probably the most publicized ever between two pop stars. Of course, both Houston and Brown have been subjects of tabloid speculations over the years and Brown says, more wearily than angrily, "you can't pay attention to all the things people say about you. That's our personal lives and to tell you the truth, I wish everybody would leave us the hell alone."
For reference, check the song "Get Away" on his new "Bobby" album; it's his version of Michael Jackson's "Leave Me Alone."
As for the March break, "I know my child is coming so I took the time off, but it's not going to conflict with what I have to do as far as my business is concerned."
When the tour resumes, it will run into 1994 making its way around the world, though it's doubtful it will be stopping in Columbus, Ga. That's where Brown, known for his electrifying, hyperkinetic dancing, was arrested in 1989 and fined $600 for contravening city ordinances on "lewd" performances after demonstrating his seduction techniques on stage.
"I don't think they're going to let me back in there," laughs the man whose comeback single was "Humpin' Around." When "Bobby" came out a few months back, some people wondered whether Brown, 23, should have come back earlier. After all, his 1988 album," Don't Be Cruel," had sold more than eight million copies and spawned not only a monster tour and three Top 5 singles, but heralded the arrival of New Jack Swing, the most imitated sound of the late '80s and early '90s. Concocted by Teddy Riley and Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenny "Babyface" Edmunds, New Jack took traditional R&B and infused it with hip-hop energy, modern funk that was fresh in 1988 but some felt had been played out by 1992.
"I took the time off for myself, to spend time with my family, to fall in love, to get my mind together as far as being ready to come back out," says Brown. "I think I did the right thing."
He's had some experience in that department. Brown was just 14 when he and Roxbury, Mass., pals Ralph Tresvant, Michael Bivins, Ricky Bell and Ronnie DeVoe came together as New Edition, sweet bubblegum soulsters who were seen as the New Jackson 5. Starting with "Cool It Now," they had a series of hits, including "Count Me Out," which is what Brown said in 1986. The decision to go solo was surprising -- he wasn't the lead singer -- and his first album, "King of Stage," was not a major success. Then came "Don't Be Cruel," which made Brown only the fourth teenager to have a chart-topping album (the others are Ricky Nelson, Stevie Wonder and Tiffany).
These days, of course, all the Roxbury crew is doing well on the solo front, including Brown's replacement, Johnny Gill. That's why industry insiders are taking reunion rumors with a grain of salt, though Brown insists "New Edition will be doing another album together and we're thinking about doing a life story of the group. It's in the near future, but right now we're concentrating basically on our solo albums and I'm concentrating on this tour."
Would it be hard to regroup, given individual successes? "We're a lot closer now than we were before," says Brown, attributing that to "just growing up, becoming men. You learn to deal with each other a lot better and it's cool . . . We know each other, and we know what we want to do. It's just about putting it together. We're all businessmen now."
And perhaps friendly competitors. Michael Bivins has done mighty well as producer and manager of Boyz II Men, ABC and others; now Brown is set to launch BBB Records, his own label for material recorded at his own Atlanta studio, Bosstown, sometimes by his own sisters, rapper Coop-B and singer LeLe.
"It's a lot closer than people think," says the Boss. "In fact, we just shot the video for the first single, 'Closer Together,' that introduces all the groups on the label. Biv does his thing, I do my thing my way. People will just have to wait and see what I can do as far as my business mind is concerned."
Site-wise, Brown's is a tale of two cities. A few years ago he moved to Atlanta ("I don't like earthquakes") and the city has become a musical hotbed: LA Reid and Babyface built a studio there, and just this years, Kriss Kross, TLC and Arrested Development have put Atlanta on the "happening" map.
"Atlanta's pretty cool," says Brown. "It's come a long way and there's a lot more people moving down here. It's a change for me. Basically, me and my wife move back and forth from here to New Jersey, so it's cool."
Incidentally, Brown credits Houston for his new, improved vocal skills. "That's who helped me out . . . and I think I had one of the best teachers out there. I've worked on it for the past four years, trying to become a more powerful singer and I think the work is paying off."
And though Brown and Houston sang a duet on "Bobby" ("We've Got Something in Common"), he suggests that was just a one-time treat for the fans: don't expect them to be the new Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald, at least in public. Do they sing around the house?
"Of course we do," says Brown. "We sing a lot together." But in terms of an album of duets, he says, "I don't think so."
As for labelmate Mary J. Blige, whom many critics have called the female Bobby Brown and who is one of this year's hottest newcomers, they haven't got anything planned for this tour. But, Brown says mischievously, "who knows what'll happen on New Year's Eve!"
BOBBY BROWN -- Appearing Thursday with Mary J. Blige, TLC and Shabba Ranks at Capital Centre. Call 202/432-7328. To hear a Sound Bite from "Bobby," call 202/334-9000 and press 8121.