The Wild Stevie Wonder: Rolling Stone's 1973 Interview

'I've flown a plane before. A Cessna or something, from Chicago to New York. Scared the hell out of everybody'

May 13, 2011 12:00 PM ET
The Wild Stevie Wonder: Rolling Stone's 1973 Interview

"I remember one time we were in Puerto Rico, and it was a sunshiney day," said Ira Tucker. "And Stevie was saying it was gonna rain. He said he could smell the moisture in the air, and we were all laughing at him. Three hours later, sure enough, it came. A hailstorm!"

What Tucker — an assistant to Stevie Wonder for five years now — was saying was that Wonder wasn't handicapped. Born blind, yes. Hampered, no.

This article appeared in the April 26, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available in the online archive.

"He can hear," Ira continued, here in his Holiday Inn room across a concrete bridge from Chinatown, San Francisco. "Like when I get stoned and listen to the radio and then I can pick up things. He's there all the time." Tucker sat back in a yellow T-shirt named after Wonder's latest single, "You Are the Sunshine of My Life."

"He even turns the lights on and off when he goes to the bathroom," said Ira. "What for? I don't know. He said it's 'cause he hears everybody else do it. Click, you go in, click, you're out. So he does it, too. But he goes to the movies, runs from place to place, going out to airports by himself. And on planes people think he's a junkie, 'cause he sits there with these glasses on, and his head goes back and forth, side to side when he feels good...."

Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder entered the synagogue for a post-concert party Motown was throwing for him. Half a year after the tour with the Stones, he was completing his show of new strength. He had conquered New York a month ago; here, he was headlining two shows, at Winterland and at the Berkeley Community Theater. He sold out both shows and won over both audiences. For the wider, whiter crowds he now draws, Wonder mixes together an Afro consciousness, a jazz/soul/rock/synthesized-up music, medleys of old hits and bits of other people's hits, and, in one quick exercise in excess, a shot of one-man-band razzmatazz, as he moves from drums to electric piano to ARP-wired clavinet to guitar to harmonica. What he cannot achieve through eye contact is reached by output of energy, by a music that is by turns loving and lusty, that tells how Stevie Wonder cherishes freedom, and how he uses it. And the music, sure enough, reflects the man.

Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Stevie Wonder's 'Innervisions'

For the party, Wonder put aside his Afro gown and shark's tooth necklace and dressed up in a champagne-gold suit, matched by a plaid bow tie and metallic-copper platforms stacked four inches high. He plopped down onto the floor to talk with people; he played the harmonica; with Coco, his most constant companion since his divorce last year from Syreeta Wright, he explored the building. Upstairs is the old synagogue, complete with balconies and pews enough to hold 1000 worshippers, fixed up with red carpeting, showboat lighting, and stained-glass windows all shaped into colored Stars of David. Stevie and Coco and their entourage sat in a pew, feeling the airiness of the room, listening to the music coming off the speakers on the stage, where the altar used to be. Suddenly, the synagogue was filled with "Superstition." The disk jockey at KSAN had been alerted and she was putting together a string of Wonder hits. Stevie's head snapped up, started to go from side to side...You would've thought he was a junkie...

Photos: Grammy's Memorable Moments, 1975 to 2009 - Bette Midler and Stevie Wonder

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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