Babyface, often heard, rarely seen, steps into performer's spotlight

January 06, 1995|By Michael Saunders | Michael Saunders,Boston Globe

It's a shock that the stunningly beautiful man known as Babyface, the writer of so many soft and airy ballads, has a voice like polished granite. His words, when spoken as Kenneth Edmonds, are cool, smooth and undeniably strong.

It's only the songs that seem helium-filled, hovering on sweet melodies that have made Babyface one of the most successful pop songwriters ever. Mr. Edmonds, 36, produces a song with the diligence of a palace chef creating a meal for a king, as if his life depended on the outcome. Preparation and attention to detail have made him, and former business partner L. A. Reid, consistent hit makers in a fickle and fiercely competitive field.

Much of Mr. Edmonds' work is done quietly, in the background, with a subtle strength that has become his hallmark. His 1993 release "For the Cool in You," his third solo CD, has sold more than 2 million copies, yet he has kept behind the studio soundboards instead of on the stage.

Now, sharing top billing on a tour with Boyz II Men, the singer and producer will finally become a performer.

"This is my first solo tour ever," Mr. Edmonds said, reached by telephone during a lull in his production schedule. It was Boyz II Men who contacted Mr. Edmonds to ask whether he would consider co-headlining with them in a national tour.

"Normally I'm not that way. I like to have lots of preparation and it has to be the right situation. But this is something I wanted to do for a while and feel right about it."

A few fans might remember his only other appearance, during a Pebbles tour -- remember her? -- in 1989. "I came out and did one song back then."

Babyface has been far from the stage over the past five years, but he has valid excuses in the songwriting and production awards that litter his home and office.

There are the Grammy awards for a little ditty he co-wrote with L. A. Reid and Daryl Simmons; perhaps you've heard of it: "End of the Road" by Boyz II Men, one of the most popular songs of the 20th century.

There's also the Grammy for his production work on another album that enjoyed a bit of attention: the soundtrack of "The Bodyguard."

He and Mr. Reid have also written songs for Bobby Brown ("Humpin' Around," "Every Little Step"), for Johnny Gill ("My, My, My"), for TLC ("Baby, Baby, Baby") and dozens of others.

"My own work is a break from doing things for other people. . . . I'm not the type of artist who is so into my own career that I'm thinking 'Me, me, me,' " Mr. Edmonds said. "My gut feeling is that I don't feel my success would be the same. I think I would be a different person."

It's not that Babyface felt that he never needed to tour before, "I just didn't have the time," he said.

With their Atlanta-based label, LaFace Records, Mr. Edmonds and Mr. Reid helped divert the pop spotlight away from Los Angeles and New York. The partnership dissolved in 1993, but Mr. Reid and Mr. Edmonds are still the co-owners guiding LaFace.

The success of LaFace, the rack full of million-selling songs and albums, "just kind of happened," Mr. Edmonds said with characteristic self-effacement. "If it didn't happen, I wouldn't have been surprised. The only time you, as a producer, should be surprised is when you don't put any work on a record and it goes through the roof.

"Atlanta certainly has been a very good place for us to be based. A lot of talent comes from Atlanta, and a lot of talent goes there to get attention."

The singers who summon Babyface are usually established performers who hope the magic can work for them. Madonna has used the services of Babyface, as has Michael Jackson. Madonna visited his studio in his Beverly Hills home; Mr. Jackson summoned him to New York.

Both wanted nearly the same thing, to have a bit of Babyface infused into their songs.

"There are extremely special writers out there," Mr. Edmonds said. He's right, of course. There are the one-in-a-million people who can transform songs into things that nearly begin to breathe on their own. "There are those who are consistent, and do a good job," he said, "but then you run into a Paul McCartney and a John Lennon or a Lionel Ritchie or a Stevie Wonder. Those who come up with something new are very special and you don't get special things all the time."

A lush laugh was Babyface's only answer when asked if he believed he was special.

Babyface's 'Cool'

To hear selections from Babyface's "For the Cool in You," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6135 after you hear the greeting.

Babyface, Boyz II Men and Brandy

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12

Where: USAir Arena

Tickets: $35

Call: (410) 481-SEAT

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.