Once again it’s been like 2 weeks or so since last post, maybe i gotta try do it more often…anyway today’s artist is definetely a living legend. I’m aware that lable someone a “living legend” can be misused and used on anyone but this time i assure i got coverage for it. Stevie Wonder is indeed a living legend and one of the greatest musical genius’ to ever walk on this planet! We should be really greatful that he wishes to share his gifts with us! So what can be said about Stevie that hasn’t already been told? Good question, got another one?! Not gonna write about everything he has done, that would take the whole night and i don’t have that time, gotta go sleeping eventually you know lol!
Still gonna tell you about some facts regarding Stevie. It was on May 13 1950 he took his first breath. He was born Steveland Hardaway Morris in Saginaw, Michigan as the third child of six. He was born six weeks premature, which, along with the oxygen-rich atmosphere in the hospital incubator, resulted in retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a condition in which the growth of the eyes is aborted and causes the retains to detach; so he became blind. At the age of 4 his mother took the kids and moved to Detroit. Stevie began playing instruments at early age. In 1961 when he was eleven he sang his own composition to a member of Motown songgroup Miracles, Ronny White.
Now White got so impressed he introduced Stevie to Motown founder/CEO Berry Gordy for which Stevie auditoned and later signed with Tamla Motown. Before signing he got the like artist name Little Stevie Wonder by Motown producer Clarence Paul due to his age. That’s pretty much how his career got started. In the beginning he sang mostly covers but later on he would, along with label mate Marvin Gaye, become the only ones who would get free hands of doing their own thing at Motown.
The legendary Motown studio in Detroit, Michingan.
This might not seem strange to some but remember this. Motown was a huge, i mean really huge music factory run and controlled by Berry Gordy. Countless of artists passed by Hitsville in Detroit and the band did their job then add the vocals. Next artist in line and so on. Think of this when only Marvin and Stevie were the ones who didn’t “had a leach” eventually. As many labels/studios they have their own sound and session players. Motown was no exception and they’re band were called The Funk Brothers. Each one of them were handpicked by Berry Gordy.
A few of those who were the main core of The Funk Brothers. Left to right: Robert White, Danny Turner, Earl “The Chunk of Funk” Van Dyke, Uriel Jones, James Jamerson.
In a documentary called Standing in the Shadows of Motown one of the members of Funk Brothers, pianist Joe Hunter says that Stevie always used to hang out with them and always listen very careful what they played. One time Stevie was very impressed of what Joe had played on one track so Joe brought him to the piano took his hand and showed him that way how he played. Stevie began to take lessons from Joe. Then one year later Joe said all of sudden his services were no longer required! One of their drummers, Benny “Papa Zita” Benjamin, taught Stevie to play the drums and Joe again assumed it was the same for Benny as it was for him meaning he learned more than the teacher!
Stevie and The Funk Brothers in action. On the far left, almost out of the picture, Stevie’s piano teacher Joe Hunter is seen and behind the drum kit Benny “Papa Zita” Benjamin, Stevie’s drum teacher, is seen.
As we all know Stevie eventually dropped “little” and become the Stevie Wonder we know today. His first albums are quite simple with some catchy songs but as he grow as a person and musician he heard other stuff in his head. This has given him more than 30 top ten U.S. hits and 25 Grammy Awards! Someone said genius?! Bassist extraordinary, in the words of Ramsey Lewis, Marcus Miller writes in the liner notes on his album “Silver Rain” that the Stevie tune Boogie On a Reggae Woman has one of the sickest basslines he ever heard!! Ok let me explain a little here, the stuff Marcus Miller can’t do/play on a bass pretty much can’t be done/played so now you know what he says! Further he writes “Stevie played the original bassline one the synthesizer, that’s tricky and then play it on a bass is even trickier!!”
Stevie and a very young superstar to become, The Prince of Pop Michael Jackson.
Just like Stevie when he was young he loved hanging out with The Funk Brothers and always tried to adapt what they played and later how to produce. Stevie said that Michael often used to come to the studio and hang out to see how to record and produce. You gotta learn from the masters, both Stevie and Michael were very keen to learn everything about playing, recording, producing. Stevie has performed and played, coworked with a whole lot of different artists, no worries ain’t gonna mention them all. I guess one of the more famous duets, at least from the 1980:s, is “Ebony & Ivory” with Sir Paul McCartney. It can be found on Paul’s album Tug of War from 1982.
A snapshot from the “Ebony & Ivory” video with Stevie and Sir Paul McCartney.
A popular host for a radio show in Sweden called Soul writes in a soul compilation, a double cd, he has put together about Stevie “when all of hope is gone, when you have lost faith in longlasting relations, when everything feels meaningless, when the dripping sensualism of Marvin (Gaye) only feels bothersome – then you turn to the pure, genuine love of Steveland Morris. The chance is big that you’ll see the light in the tunnel. Stevie’s song makes you start believing in mankind again. Not everything is a lie. No shortcuts – straight to the heart. That’s Stevie”. Very beautiful words about Stevie but they are so true. As you know he has made a lot of albums but if i’m gonna mention some i’d would recommend pretty much every album between 1970-80! But if i must pic one i’d say Songs In the Key of Life from 1976, a true masterpiece with classics like “Isn’t She Lovely”, written about his then newborn daughter Aisha, “Sir Duke”, “As”, “I Wish”. This album was the first by an American artist to debut straight at No. 1 in the Billboard Charts. Consider that this was a double album back in 1976. it’s regarded by many as Wonder’s crowning achievement and one of the most recognizable and accomplished albums in pop music history.
Stevie has been married twice, first to singer/songwriter and frequent collaborator Syreeta Wright from 1970-72. Second to fashion designer Kai Millard between 2001 – 2012. He has had other women between his two wifes but obviously not been married to all of them. His ninth child and the second with his partner Tomeeka Robyn Bracy came in December 2014. It was a daughter who was given the name Nia.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the funk band Rufus & Chaka Khan, they were kinda struggling but didn’t really get any bigger attention with their music. This was early 1970:s. So what to do when you want a break through but ain’t getting one? In this case you simply ask Stevie! He not only wrote but also produced what would become the band’s perhaps most famous song Tell Me Something Good from 1974. It did became the break through hit for Rufus and is considered beeing a soul/funk classic today.
Chaka Khan and the group she started with, Rufus.
No one can argue about Stevie’s legacy and iconic and legendary status, just ask Rufus and Chaka Khan. Not to mention all the dozens of artists he has inspired and still inspires! His albums contains influences from rock, reggae, soul, fusion-jazz, swing/big band jazz, jazz, funk, hip hop. This might sound weird to some but Stevie handles all these genres perfectly. I could add dozens of bonus videos of Stevie jamming but ain’t gonna. Search Youtube for yourself you won’t be dissapointed i promise! So finally today’s song is taken from the Orginial Musiquarium 1 from 1982. Thou it’s basically a compilation of his 70:s stuff but with a few new extra add tracks like today’s “Do i Do”. I’ve choosed the 12 inch version since it’s longer and better plus in the middle of the song Stevie introduces trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie, how cool is that?!
Enjoy your listening!!
Tags: #worldofslickmusic #steviewonder #ronnywhite #themiracles #berrygordy #tamlamotown #clarencepaul #marvingaye #thefunkbrothers #robertwhite #dannyturner #earlvandyke #urieljones #jamesjamerson #joehunter #bennybenjamin #michaeljackson #sirpaulmccartney #rufus #chakakhan #dizzygillespie