The idea for this blog was suggested to me by my mate Dave. ‘You’ve got to do Stevie aintcha? It’s a stick on Bax.’
Please notice that Dave didn’t use a surname there. I mean he could have been talking about any of the Stevie musical greats, couldn’t he? The Marriott perhaps or the Winwood. Only I have known Dave for many a year and our shared love of Mr Wonder is well just there.
Only trouble is, how do you tell a story like Stevie, in the 500 words or so I allow myself for this blog? After all, he has written and sung some of the greatest and most glorious tunes of all time.
I mean everyone has a favourite Wonder track don’t they? Well, anyone with a decent taste in music.
Enough of the waffling let’s cut to the chase.
He was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins in May 1950 in Saginaw, Michigan. Six weeks premature, he was born with sight, but he was blinded by a combination of the early birth and excessive oxygen in his incubator. His mum and dad divorced when he was four and mum changed his surname to Morris, which he retains as his legal name to this day.
By the age of 10, he displayed a natural ability to play the piano, harmonica and drums. He also sang on street corners and at his local Baptist Church.
He signed to the Motown record label aged just 11 and adopted the stage name Little Stevie Wonder. Early mentor and songwriter Clarence Paul came up with the surname saying ‘we can’t just keep introducing him as ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World.’
His first album was ‘The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie’ in 1962, closely followed by ‘A Tribute to Uncle Ray’ – his homage to Ray Charles. All his earnings from this time were held in a trust until he reached the age of 21. The song ‘Fingertips Part 2’ with Wonder on vocals, bongos and harmonica, and a young Marvin Gaye on drums was a huge hit for him aged just 13 and topping the Billboard charts, making him the youngest ever to attain that position.
With his voice in the process of changing to a fine tenor as he grew, it was a few years until he hit the top of the charts again, and in the meantime, he joined the songwriting team at Motown helping to compose ‘Tears of a Clown’ with Smokey Robinson at 17.
Having dropped the ‘Little’ from his name, he and Sylvia Moy created ‘Uptight (Everything’s Alright) when he was 19. It was first in the line of some marvellous tunes. A few more from those early days would include – ‘For Once in My Life’ ‘I Was Made to Love Her’ ‘My Cherie Amour’ and ‘Signed Sealed Delivered.’
Never one to rest on his laurels he also studied classical piano at this time.
He married Syreeta Wright in 1970, aged 20. His Motown contract ended when he reached 21, and he would later re-sign with them on a much healthier royalty rate. He also set up his own publishing company, Black Bull Music.
‘Music on My Mind’ was released in 1972 and is acknowledged as his ‘grown-up record’ dealing as it did with the prevailing social and political themes of the day, as well as being sprinkled with the usual classic love songs. Stevie played most of the parts himself to boot as he explored electronic and synthesised sounds, working with Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff of ‘Tonto’s Expanding Headband’.
Next up ‘Talking Book ‘ which not only gifted us ‘Superstition’ and ‘You Are The Sunshine of My Life’ but also ‘Lookin’ For Another Pure Love’ which is a personal favourite of mine. The album picked up three Grammy awards as he then went on tour with The Rolling Stones and topped the charts on a very regular basis.
‘Innervisions’ is just stacked with marvellous song after marvellous song. ‘Golden Lady’ ‘Higher Ground’ ‘Living For the City” as well as ‘Too High’ and ‘Don’t’ Worry ’bout a Thing.’
Thinking about it, I could write a blog on just that one album.
He then survived a serious car crash in 1973.
‘It was significant, but I was blessed to come out of it. God gave me life to continue to do things that I would never have done.’
He was soon back on the road in Europe during 1974, a year which also saw the appearance of ‘You Haven’t Done Nuthin’ and ‘Creepin’ from ‘Fullingness First Finale’, again picking up 3 Grammy awards.
Having reached the grand old age of 26, Wonder drops the double album ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ which has ‘I Wish’ ‘As’ AND ‘Village Ghetto Land’ to name just three reasons to buy this if you haven’t already got a copy…
It’s been said that this was the last solid period of Wonder’s career. It appears that it was more about singles than albums from this point, but without a doubt, he could still turn a tune around.
1980 saw him write and produce ‘Let’s Get Serious’ for Jermaine Jackson and serve up ‘Happy Birthday’ ‘Lately’ and ‘Master Blaster’ (Jammin’) came from the ‘Hotter Than July ‘ album.
He delivered ‘Do I Do’ in 1982 which has jazz great Dizzy Gillespie puffing out his considerable cheeks on it. Then it all went a bit schmalzty for my taste with ‘Ebony and Ivory’ with Sir Macca and “I Just Called to Say I Loved You’ (and even that won the ‘Best Original Song’ Oscar. )
His faultless harmonica playing turned up on the classic ‘I Feel for You’ by Chaka Kahn from ‘84 and ‘There Must Be Angel’ by The Eurythmics a year later.
Stevie Wonder continues to perform live and with a body of work like that, with over 150 million albums sold, you would wouldn’t you?
‘I’m not trying to compete with what’s out there now. I’m really trying to compete with Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life. It sounds musically blasphemous to say something like that, but why not set that as your bar?’ – Kayne West.
No one can be surprised to read that. Stevie’s influence, especially during that golden 1972 -1976 period is there for all to see and hear.
It just cannot be denied
As the man himself says ‘Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision’
Amen to that.
The Mumper of SE5