Wondrous Stevie

Several readers wrote in response to my note on Stevie Wonder’s birthday yesterday. The first wave of messages responded to my query regarding favorite Stevie Wonder songs. Allen Light tersely wrote, “Ribbon in the Sky.” Steve Baker similarly noted, “I Was Made to Love Her,” adding “The arrangement fit his voice so perfectly (also liked the made/made play).” Other readers were more effusive. Graham Clarke wrote:

Hard to pick just one favorite Stevie Wonder song. He was one of the first guys I listened to and Hotter Than July was one of the first albums I ever bought (I couldn’t afford Songs In The Key of Life). My favorite songs would have to be “Superstition,” “All I Do,” “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” and fifty more tied for second place. Reading that post reminded me of my teen and college years, when Stevie’s music pretty much served as a soundtrack for my life. Thanks for sharing. Happy Birthday, Stevie!

Steve Tefft wrote from Cape Cod:

Great piece, Trunk. The Wonder Man was a big part of the sound track of my teen years. Favorites:
1) “Golden Lady.” A teenage makeout song to end all teenage makeout songs.
2) “Superwoman” — specifically, the little-played second part of it(Where Were You When I Needed You?). Sublime musical genius.
3) “If It’s Magic.” Simple song, with just a harp accompaniment…perfection.
4) “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing.” Infectious salsa that renders a
listener unable to keep still.
5) “You’ve Got It Bad, Girl.” A smooth musical taunt.
Those are just a few. I could go on forever.

Thomas Goodwin wrote:

I doubt if you and I share many musical enthusiasms (a generational thing, no doubt), so you may not know that Stevie Wonder appears on two tracks of a Herbie Hancock album, Gershwin’s World (Verve 314 557 787-2), playing harmonica and vocalizing on “St. Louis Blues” and just playing harmonica (with the great Wayne Shorter on soprano saxophone) on “Summertime.” There is also a fine quotation from Duke Ellington in the liner notes: “It is becoming increasingly difficult to decide where jazz starts or where it stops, where Tin Pan Alley begins and jazz ends, or even where the borderline lies between classical music and jazz. I feel there is no boundary line.” A great multiculturalist, that Duke. I’ve appreciated your occasional notes about musicians off the beaten (for me) track.

British expat (“and proud American”) and former music industry insider Julian Biggs wrote to share a memory:

I met Little Stevie in the early 1980’s. A pop group I managed was resident in one of only two 3M digital recording studios in England when, one evening, Stevie’s road manager called and asked if Stevie — on tour in the UK at the time — could use the studio for a few hours during the night. it took us less then a nanosecond to say “yes.”
After Stevie played his customary 3-hour set, they drove a couple of hours and arrived before arriving at the studio in the dead of night. By then, we had done our best to prep the studio to accommodate a blind man (lots of stuff to trip over in a studio) and then sort-of slept.
After Stevie had finished recording his material, he asked to meet us and hear what we were working on. We were in awe of course. I can still remember running my fingers over the braille instructions on his electronic keyboards and trying my best to think of something to say that didn’t make me sound like an 8-year old. (Perhaps that’s why they call them the Wonder years?) Anyway, the song we were working on needed a bridge, so Stevie wrote one on the spot and then coached his backing singers, “Wonderlove,” to sing it on the track. It was pure Stevie. But then, after a 3-hour concert, a 2-hour freeway drive, and a few hours of recording, Stevie was so caught up in the joy of making good music that he grabbed his harminica and laid down a killer harp track throughout the song. That was pure vintage Stevie.
Naturally, when we released the record, the suits had a conniption trying to figure out who owned what etc. But I can tell you, neither Stevie nor any of us in that studio gave a damn.

I asked Julian if he could tell us the group/recording he was referring to in his message. He wrote:

Sure, although the group never made it, so I’m sure it won’t mean anything to anyone. They were called Feelabeelia, and the record was called “Feel It.” It really was pretty damn good, and went into the top 100 in the UK with a bullet. However, the record company screwed things up by going into dispute with their distributor and everything fizzled from there.
Ah well, as the Fwench say: “That’s life.” ;o)

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