Stevie The Great
It actually was a wonder when Steveland Hardaway Morris, a blind-since-birth 11-year-old signed a contract with Motown records. Once hitting the stage with his newly ascribed name of Stevie Wonder, this young and deeply talented musician stole every show. He would open for such famous Motown acts as James Brown, walk out onto the stage wearing a white tuxedo with a red shirt and launch off into his own stylized version of “Fingertips” playing a chromatic harmonica.
A Lot to Admire
For a half-century, Wonder has developed a litany of achievements and accolades and has been acclaimed as one of the all-time greatest musical geniuses. He is not only an accomplished and talented singer, songwriter but plays van orchestra-full complement of instruments – including the harmonica.
He is responsible for penning dozens of hits that are now classic songs, many where his harmonica playing is a key focus and with hearing but a few notes, an avid listener knows it’s Wonder playing. His style has been referred to as the musical version of a smile that produces utmost joy as “bright as a cloudless spring day.”
Established Style Since Early On
Wonder had already perfected his signature style when recording “Fingertips – Pt 2” at the age of 12 for his well-titled album – “The 12-Year-Old Genius.” He was soon thereafter sought by many megastars of the music world for “guest” album appearances playing harmonica including the Eurythmics, Elton John, Sting, Chaka Khan and many others.
Part of the reason that Wonder has developed his own style is due to his primary choice for harmonica being a chromatic, rather than a diatonic is typically employed for blues music.
A chromatic harmonica can be quite harder to master and play. It has 16 holes added to the mix of manipulating as opposed to 10 holes found on a diatonic harmonica. He also plays different solos in different keys all over the alphabet, for example:
- Fingertips – D
- Isn’t She Lovely – E
- Creepin’ – F
- Please Don’t Go – G
- For Once in My Life – F#
- Gotta Spend a Little More Time With You (James Taylor’s Hourglass) – C
Harmonica players will also understand what makes Wonder a distinct player in that he uses the slide on the harmonica that several musicians have attempted over the years to imitate.
Blowing at Age Five
Wonder was placed in an incubator when born receiving too much oxygen, leaving him blinded. His parents sought activities he could handle at an early age and he became self-taught on the harmonica at age five.
By the time he hit his teens, Wonder was putting out tunes such as 1964’s “Hey, Harmonica Man.” Throughout the years Wonder has leant his playing prowess to other artists. Some non-Wonder harmonica songs include:
- Will It Go Round in Circles (Billy Preston)
- I Feel For You (Chaka Khan)
- That’s What Friends Are For (Dionne Warwick)
- Alfie (Eivets Rednow)
- I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues (Elton John)