Boyz II Men not say­ing good­bye at all to yes­ter­day

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - Showtime - Palm Beach - - MUSIC - By Steve Knop­per

As the clas­sic ori­gin story goes, the five teenage singers in Philadel­phia’s Boyz II Men snuck into a Bell Biv Devoe con­cert to meet the fa­mous R&B group’s Michael Bivins. They sang for him on the spot; other per­form­ers on the bill such as Paula Ab­dul and Will Smith stopped to pay at­ten­tion; and Bivins later signed Boyz to a man­age­ment deal. By early 1992, they’d sold 3 mil­lion copies of their de­but “Coo­ley­high­har­mony.”

Mor­ris, Wanya Mor­ris and Shawn Stock­man are the three re­main­ing singers in Boyz II Men, whose mas­sive early-’90s hits “Mo­town­philly,” “End of the Road” and “It’s So Hard to Say Good­bye to Yes­ter­day” helped turn them into the best-sell­ing R&B group ever. The band’s per­fectly in­ter­lock­ing har­monies came along when Whit­ney Hous­ton, Mariah Carey and, yes, BBD were de­liv­er­ing im­mac­u­late singing to the pop charts. They were part of the elec­tronic, heav­ily pro­duced new­jack-swing move­ment, but as their hit cover of the Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Nite” showed, they had doo-wop at their core.

Boyz II Men be­gan with Nathan Mor­ris and Marc Nel­son, a friend from High School of the Cre­ative and Per­form­ing Arts in Philly. They brought on Wanya Mor­ris, Stock­man and Michael McCary, who would pro­vide the group’s dis­tinc­tive, deep-voiced, spo­ken-word asides. Af­ter the fate­ful con­ven­tion cen­ter con­cert, Bivins called with a deal, and by 1991 they were pos­ing in shear­ling coats on the cover of “Coo­ley­high­har­mony” and dom­i­nat­ing just about ev­ery ra­dio sta­tion.

“Shawn and I were ac­tu­ally in a car driv­ing back to my house, and we just turned on the ra­dio and hap­pened to hear (‘Mo­town­philly’) on the ra­dio. Things pretty much changed overnight,” Nathan Mor­ris says. “We jumped on the road and started a pro­mo­tional tour that was 10 months long. We drove across the coun­try in a 14-pas­sen­ger van for two months. Once we came back, and that new year kicked in, it was a whole new thing.”

For the first al­bum, Boyz wrote or co-wrote more than half of the songs, with Bivins as one of the ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers. Af­ter “Coo­ley­high­har­mony” be­came such a force, Mor­ris says, ex­ec­u­tives from the group’s la­bel, Mo­town, be­gan to pay much closer at­ten­tion, hir­ing big-name pro­duc­ers such as Baby­face and Jimmy Jam and pay­ing for more ex­pen­sive record­ing ses­sions.

“They wanted to con­trol ev­ery­thing and write the songs and have these checks come out of the bud­get,” Mor­ris says. “It be­came pretty ab­surd. I was more on the busi­ness side — I lost a lot of the bat­tles that we should have won.

The fol­low-up, 1994’s “II,” was just as huge. “The fluffy stuff, it looks like we won,” he con­tin­ues, “but on the back end, in the busi­ness sense, we didn’t win, be­cause it was lit­tle old me fight­ing against (thenPres­i­dent and CEO) Jh­eryl Busby and Mo­town.”

Boyz’s reign on the charts dwin­dled through­out the ’90s, un­til the band went the way of other ven­er­a­ble boy bands, and evolved into a re­li­able oldies act. Their five-year Las Ve­gas res­i­dency con­tin­ues through April, and they put out the doo-wop cov­ers al­bum “Un­der the Street­light” last year.

“We found some dif­fer­ent har­mony struc­tures and chords and stuff we’d never quite heard be­fore, be­cause we’d never lis­tened so in­ten­tion­ally to it,” Mor­ris says. Steve Knop­per is a free­lance writer.

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