Born Steveland Hardaway Judkins in 1950, the man we know as Stevie Wonder has lived his life sightless. And has created some of the most intensely colorful music in the world. He grew up in Detroit and at age 11 was noticed by The Miracles Ronny White who took him to the label Motown. Motown owner Barry Gordy signed the young kid immediately and put out his first 2 records in 1962. The next year, Stevie recorded and released the live LP 12-year-old Genius, bringing the label Motown its first chart-topping album. In 1964, Stevie penned and sang “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”. It became number one on the R&B and pop charts. The live 1965 performance video of this song is evidence that some people are given a musical gift at birth. In Stevie’s case a very large gift.
Recently, while researching the history of Funk music. I watched the film documentary Soul Deep. In it was an account of Stevie’s work with synthesizers in the 1970’s. At age 21, Stevie hooked up with a couple engineers who were also electronic musicians, Bob Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil. And they would turn the knobs until Stevie liked the sound. The three of them worked day and night for months. Holidays. Weekends. And at one point the engineers knew Stevie so well that they taunted him into singing the best vocal performances of his life. It was difficult, they said, because Stevie Wonder was a very calm person. It took a lot to get him mad enough to play his very best. Getting in the can some of the best recordings of Stevie’s career. “Living for the City” and “Superstitious”.
Stevie Wonder still performs today. And he’s one of those artists I must see before I die. How did I miss his concert here in Seattle last August?! He plays very few concerts these days. But he’s always on my phone in my music collection. Right next to LCD Soundsystem, The Roots, Vampire Weekend and Girl Talk. My favorite songs are the ones above, but also “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”, “Higher Ground”, “You Haven’t Done Nothin” and “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” Cause after all these years, there’s still not anyone like him…
Michele Myers spins every Saturday on KEXP from 3-6pm. Every week she brings you a featured Saturday Afternoon Artist and plays several songs in-a-row from them. She also is the producer/creator of KEXP Documentaries.