Last week, I was reading this post by me (yes in lowercase, but not myself) at this blog, where she shares how she is trying to give her oldest son his joy and freedom back in playing music. In the middle of the post, they have a discussion about a Stevie Wonder song. The son, having seen the movie Sing, heard “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” as done by Tori Kelly. Mama found Stevie Wonder’s version and showed it to her son. He was very impressed that Stevie could play the piano; at eight years of age, it’s very likely he hadn’t even heard of Stevie Wonder.
So in the comments of the post, I mentioned that if she really wanted to impress her son, she should know that Stevie can play the drums as well. She agreed, and set out to find something on YouTube to get proof of Wonder behind the drum kit. I remembered when I first saw him do it: it was in a video about Wonder’s classic album Songs In The Key Of Life. They showed him playing the drums on “I Wish,” one of the many classics found on that album.
So that got me to thinking: what funky song could I find that Stevie Wonder also played drums on? I could have used “I Wish,” but instead I preferred this one:
That’s right. “Superstition,” lead single from the classic Talking Book, is today’s Funky Friday jam.
Forty-five years later, it’s still one of the funkiest pieces in the Wonder catalog. The opening drum beat that sets it off. That badass clavinet riff that powers the song straight through. The synth bass that helps form the bottom. The horns of Steve Madaio (trumpet) and Trevor Lawrence (tenor sax) that punctuate throughout. Fact of it is, that is Stevie on all instruments, except the horns. And to think, it should have been guitarist Jeff Beck’s song.
One story goes that Beck agreed to work with Stevie on the Talking Book album in exchange for a song. Another says that while they were working on the album they came up with the basics for the song. Both versions say that Stevie gave “Superstition” to Beck. However, before Beck could record it and release it, Wonder did his own version of the song. Berry Gordy, the head of Motown Records, heard Wonder’s version and predicted it would be a huge hit. Stevie then released his version, which would be a #1 pop and R&B hit, a month before Beck’s version.
Apparently there was some bad blood between the two after that. But none here: for comparison’s sake, here is Beck’s version (recorded as part of a trio with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice):
Certainly the trio’s version is more rock-edged, but a badass riff is a badass riff. And that riff is pure funk.
Hope you enjoy “Superstition,” and here’s to a great Friday! As always, thanks for listening and reading.