Cousin Stevie’s Memories – Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” in Boston

Cousin Stevie’s Memories – Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” in Boston

Stevie Wonder is taking “Songs in the Key of Life” on the road!  He initially announced the tour about a year ago, but dates for the road trip, hit the Internet just last month.  I got the news via http://insideplaya.wordpress.com about a week or so ago!  I didn’t recall having heard about it before –  then I spoke to a fellow Wonder lovers, and they too said they hadn’t heard yet either.  I am generally the one to hear about major music events among my immediate family and friends — then our cousin Stevie told us that he wanted to write something for The Museum of UnCut Funk.  His inspiration, to talk about his memories connected to the album, made me begin to think of mine…

Stevie Today“I think I’d have a hole in my soul if I didn’t see Stevie every six or seven years,” Gary Harris said to me, that followed with him remembering the years he had seen him perform. By now every bonafide fan or friend is aware of the 11 dates throughout the country, but perhaps not every admirer of his music. Stevie Wonder continues to garner new devotees to his sonic message.  About the performance of his classic album that’s 38 years old, he says”It’s not going to be exactly like the album, but it will work perfectly well for how it feels best live,” he said at a press conference, “the songs will be presented in a different order,” according to www.hallels.com.  On his forthcoming music, told okayplayer: “Obviously the good, the bad and the ugly, I’ve seen it all.  I check out all of it.  I am always challenged (by) anything that’s negative to write something like … how can we take it from that wrong place to getting it back to the right place?” Unfortunately we’re living in a time of disposable love and we’ve got to get it from that place to really valuing life, valuing love and valuing each other.”

As the news continues to spread, LIVE Nation has a countdown to the kick-off of the event http://www.livenation.com/events/390491-oct-11-2014-the-consortium-mmt-the-epitome-of-soul-award-honoring-stevie-wonder.  It all starts with him being honored by the Consortium MMT for their annual fundraiser on October 11th, at the Cannon Center in Downtown Memphis.  This year’s honoree of “The Epitome Of Soul Award,” Wonder along with India.Arie, Jordin Sparks, Ledisi and Sharon Jones will perform, as the ladies pay tribute to Stevie.Stevie Wonder Awards Show Ad 2014  Read more: http://www.myv101.com/calendar/october-11-2014/stevie-wonder-400290/#ixzz3FT74iidE.  The tour begins at Madison Square Garden in New York on November 6th, closing on December 5th in Oakland, California.

My buddy Brian Ives wrote a tribute and awareness piece on the classic Wonder album “Innervisions” upon it’s 40th anniversary http://museumofuncutfunk.com/2013/08/03/40-funky-years-of-living-for-the-city/.  As “Songs in the Key of Life” is but two years away from the same landmark, inspired by my own cousin Stevie, I can remember my aunt Paulette’s excitement about the record.  One of the all-time classic gate-fold releases, it also featured an additional 45 with four more songs — an EP.  A two-record set AND a two-song per side additional disc!  This was a first, and now that I think about it, never repeated.  Already a favorite artist of mine, among the likes of James Brown, Gladys Knight and Parliament, I was thoroughly impressed.  Playing new albums when they were released used to be an event among family and friends.  People would get together and talk about the music as they listened.  Does that still happen?  For the most part I think at best a friend will give another a heads up on Facebook — i.e.: my sister Khristina re: U2’s latest; me telling her about Barbara Streisand’s “Partners”; and my brother Jeff’s heads up on the new Phish record.  It was the year I moved from the “Brick City” of Newark, NJ, birthplace of Queen Latifah and Shaquille O’Neal, to the home of Martha Stewart that is Nutley, NJ.  A transition my mother made for the betterment of my sister Charis and I, it was the year I encountered the most racism I would ever experience.  That experience was proof to me that racism is spawned by ignorance, as the more people I got to know in my new town, the less racism I was confronted with.  Having said that, it could have been because less racist people felt comfortable being themselves around me — in any case I encountered it less.  It helped shape me as I was “coming of age,” and enabled me to embrace the stupidity of it, rather than being consumed by it.   Although “Songs in the Key of Life” isn’t one of Wonder’s LPs that “race relations” is a primary focal point, it remains a constant in his music, ala “Pastime Paradise” and “Black Man” on ‘Songs.’  I can remember although it was a challenging time in my life, it would be the foundation for better things to come.

There were so many songs!  An album with that many songs was unprecedented then and now.  It was, and still is a record you can play from start to finish; a CD you have no desire to skip tracks on — although you may — it’s a “press play” kinda record.  I loved the whole album, but fell in love with the songs “I Wish,” “Sir Duke,” “Past Time Paradise,” and “Love’s in Need of Love Today.”  The more I listened the more I grew in love with the entire album, embracing the essence of “Knocks Me Off My Feet” and “Summer Soft”; Understanding the agony of “Ordinary Pain” and “Village Ghetto Land”; Appreciating the imagination of “If It’s Magic” and “As”; and Relating to the Sentiment of “Another Star” and “Joy Inside My Tears.”  Stevie Wonder 70sA record released during the nations “Bicentennial,” dynamics of U.S. propaganda and free speech were in full swing, amidst movies and advertising.  The U.S. government’s fear-mongering with the swine flu outbreak and practical insistence of mass vaccination was all in the media — there was only one recorded death of swine flu that year.  It was the year “All The President’s Men”, “The Man Who Fell to Earth,”Taxi Driver,”Rocky,” and “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings” were released.  The CIA had just begun to back South African rebels fighting against Marxist Angola.  The “MacNeil-Lehrer Report” premiered on PBS; the “Rich Man, Poor Man” mini-series, “Wonder Woman” and “Charlie’s Angels” starring Farrah Fawcett debuted on ABC; and “Bubbling Brown Sugar” opened at ANTA Theater in NYC for 766 performances.  George Foreman knocked out Ron Lyle in 5th round of their boxing match and Muhammad Ali beat both Jimmy Young and Ken Norton, in 15 for heavyweight boxing titles.  The ABA — Nets, Pacers, Nuggets & Spurs — merged into the NBA; Hank Aaron hit his 755th and last home run off Angels Dick Drago; Buffalo Bill OJ Simpson rushes 203 yards; and “Dr. J’ goes from the NY Nets to the Philadelphia 76’ers.  The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys at Super Bowl X; The Phoenix Suns succumbed to the skills of the Boston Celtics on the NBA Finals; and the Cincinnati Reds topple the New York Yankees 4 to 0 in the World Series.  As for aspects of government policy, the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty as not inherently cruel or unusual.  The Soweto riots of 1976 were the most brutal and violent riots that had taken place against the South African apartheid administration.  The Sex Pistols signed with EMI and Wings’ releases albums “Wings at the Speed of Sound” & triple album “Wings Over America”; Ringo Starr’s “A Dose of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Parliament’s “The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein,” The Eagle’s “Hotel California,” Peter Frampton’s “Frampton Comes Alive!” and Bob Marley’s “Rastaman Vibration” were also released that year.  Other albums that dropped included The Ramones and Joan Armatrading self-titled albums, and new discs from KISS, Boston and the Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle.”

Stevie Wonder w/ mustacheUnlike my brother Gary, I’ve only had the fortune to see Stevie twice.  The more memorable of the two occasions, was the night Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday was declared a national holiday, at Radio City Music Hall.  My cousin Stevie is a few years older than me.  During his stint in the Air Force, I slept in his room at my Aunt Dorothy and Uncle James’ Bronx apartment.  It was in that room that I discovered, that a lot of songs I loved, were hits by the bands Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire.  I can recall he and other cousins my senior, laughing at Stevie’s intro on his song “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing.”  Wonder is rapping to a young lady, speaking his own version of Spanish, when the girl responds to his query if she understands what he’s saying, she replies no.  Stevie then says, “Well I don’t know why you can’t, I speak very very fluent Spanish,” and proceeds to sing.  My cousin Steven Daniels says for him “Songs in the Key of Life,” “is his most innovative, creative and emotionally stimulating albums ever recorded, ‘SONGS in the Keys of Life’ (SITKOL).  When released in Sept. /’76 it became the first album by an American artist to debut at #1, where it remained for 14 weeks.  This immense project was formulated after the signing of a new contract with MOTOWN in’75.  Which gave Stevie Wonder a 7yr.-7lp deal, valued at 37 million dollars, with full artistic control.  Making it the largest and most lucrative up to that point.  This present tour will coincide with the aforementioned release date.  All through his blessed career S.W.’s message has been one of spirituality, unity and especially love.  Pick up any album by him and you will see what I mean.  But this message was explicitly inspired by ‘SITKOL.’  I will end by saying this mans’ message & music was valid then, and is even more so now.”  For my cousin Stevie’s entire blog, go here http://museumofuncutfunk.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=33926&action=edit&message=1

As the New York set is nearly sold out, the music of Stevland Hardaway Judkins continues to inspire and act as the soundtrack to the lives of millions around the world.  ‘Songs in the Key’ is cited as a major influence by the likes of Elton John, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.  It includes the number-one hits, “Sir Duke” and “I Wish” and fan favorite “Isn’t She Lovely,” which he dedicated to his daughter Iesha.  Another stand-out from the classic LP is “Pastime Paradise,” which Coolio reworked into “Gangsta’s Paradise,” featuring vocalist LV.  Wonder joined the two newcomers at the podium when they won a Grammy Award for their remake of his hit.  Stevie’s new album, “Through The Eyes Of Wonder,” is slated for a February 2015 release.  In support of the tour, Stevie made a rare television appearance, taking the couch with Jimi Fallon, where he performed his hit “Sir Duke” with The Roots.stevieonfallon

“Songs in the Key of Life” Performance Dates according to Rolling Stone (Dates subject to change):

November 6 – New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden
November 9 – Washington, DC @ Verizon Center
November 11 – Boston, MA @ TD Garden
November 14 – Chicago, IL @ United Center
November 16 – Philadelphia, PA @ Wells Fargo Center
November 20 – Auburn Hills, MI @ The Palace of Auburn Hills
November 22 – Atlanta, GA @ Philips Arena
November 25 – Toronto, ON @ Air Canada Centre
November 29 – Las Vegas, NV @ MGM Grand Garden Arena
December 3 – Seattle, WA @ Key Arena
December 5 – Oakland, CA @ Oracle Arena

UPDATE 11/12/14: The Boston show was a religious experience last night!  Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” set was like going to church.  One of the best revivals I’ve ever been to, I’m sure my brothers and sisters in music that have gone can relate.  To my peeps that live where the show is coming, I encourage you to attend the spiritual happening.  In all it’s beauty, truth and spirituality, aspects of history and prophecy, are a travesty.  “As” observations and unfortunate circumstances expressed in the nearly 40 year old release, are prevalent today in society, Stevie spoke about how we still have an excess of “Village Ghetto Land” in our country.  The musical genius was joined by friends India Arie and Greg Phillinganes at Boston’s TD Garden.  He opened the show with “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” closing selections from the album with “Another Star,” ending the show with a bit of “Master Blaster – (Jammin’)” and a taste of “Do I Do,” wrapping it up with “Superstition.”  Arie lent vocals to the opening and joined him on the tunes “Saturn,” “Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing” and “Have a Talk with God.”  Stevie also brought his daughter Aisha to the front of the stage, just before performing his hit “Isn’t She Lovely,” which was dedicated to her when he recorded the LP.  Aisha also did background vocals for the concert.  In the midst of the show, he also did a little of “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” changing the lyrics to “I Just Came to Say I Love You,” giving a shout out to Veterans in lieu of it being Veterans Day.

Excerpts taken from my buddy Shelley Jefferson’s post on Facebook… “There were 2 drummers (Lil John Roberts and the killin’ Stanley Randolph. I’m now a fan!), 2 percussionists (one of which is Munyungo Jackson who used to play with Dianne Reeves when I was stalking her in the 90s! LOL), 4 keyboard players (of course one being Greg Phillinganes!), 3 guitarists, 1 bassist (who just happened to be Nathan Watts, who just happened to play acoustic guitar everyone once in a while too!), 6 horns (trombone, 2 trumpets, 3 saxes!  They were tight and looking good!  The only person missing up there was V. Jeffery Smith! Holla!), at least a 10 piece string section (conducted by: Greg Phillinganes!), 6 background singers (two of which were pregnant!! Love it!!! Talk about bringing in the babies. And one of the singers is Stevie’s daughter, who just happens to be the dag on baby crying and talking on “Isn’t She Lovely!” Come on! Whew!).  Then as if 6 BGs weren’t enough, there was a choir of 8 led by my man Marlon Saunders!! What?? … extra harmonica power on the set by Frédéric Yonnet (who I just happen to have met here in BK)?  Then who came on the set for like the last two songs out of nowhere like he lives in Boston or something?  Ray Parker Jr.!!!!  — Shelley aka Shelley Nicole’s blaKbüshe, is a brilliant performer originally from Boston, that lives in Brooklyn.  Shots from the show below…

SW2 SW1

 

 

Read more on the tour…  http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/stevie-wonder-to-take-songs-in-the-key-of-life-on-the-road-20140910#ixzz3FSmnap00

for the Eternal FUNKIN’ Love of Stevie Wonder

c-dub

Stevie @ TD GardenSW3

 

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  1. Stevie Wonder’s Grammy Honor – ‘Songs’ Back on the Road | The Museum Of UnCut Funk

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