Stevie Wonder is a ray of light in the dark, twisted halls of music history.
It’s not just the amazing array of styles this man can play (pop, funk, soul, rock, R&B, gospel) and his otherworldly skills on keys and vocals, but it’s also his bouyant personality.
Born in 1950, Steveland Hardaway Judkins grew up sightless yet was so musically talented he was noticed at the age of eleven by fellow Detroit artist Ronny White.
White took Steview to Barry Gordy, head honcho at the Motown label who helped Stevie put out his first live record 12-year-old Genius in ’63.
A few years later “Little Stevie Wonder” would be a household name.
At the age of 14 Stevie co-wrote this song “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”. It hit number one in the R&B and pop charts.
The other thing that fascinates me about Stevie Wonder is that, although he’s blind, he writes a lot about seeing. In this song “Boogie On Reggae Woman” it’s hard not to believe him.
In the film documentary Soul Deep you can follow Stevie’s work with synthesizers in the 1970′s.
The brilliant multi-instrumentalist was only 21 when he hooked up with a couple engineers who were experimenting with electronic music, Bob Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil.
Bob and Macolm put Stevie in a small recording room and enjoyed trying to get him mad (they thought he played best that way).
Stevie’d jam on the keys while they turned the knobs.
When Stevie liked the sound he’d signal for them to use that setting.
Together these three worked full days, holidays and weekends.
The engineers knew Stevie so well that they taunted him into singing some of the best vocal performances of his life.
On “Superstition,” Stevie played on the clavinet keyboard. The result is one of the funkiest dance songs of all time. If there’s a song better than this one, I’d like to know what it is.
Other Stevie Wonder songs to have for your collection are “Living for The City”, “Higher Ground”, “You Haven’t Done Nuthin” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”
Tune in to DJ Michele Myers Friday nights at 9pm on KEXP 90.3FM Seattle, kexp.org. Music historian and producer, Michele’s made over 200 radio stories for KEXP Documentaries. She’s also written scripts, lesson plans and features forThe Smithsonian, Experience Music Project, the University of Washington and NPR.