I went to dinner with Noah Finz, our sports anchor, tonight. Somehow the conversation turned to Stevie Wonder and I got to tell a story that flashed back to me. It was about the day I interviewed Stevie.
I was working in Cleveland at WGAR radio. I was a disk jockey, working nights. Stevie Wonder was appearing, probably at the Blossom Music Center.
I watched the show, then headed backstage with my little tape recorder. It seemed to take forever for Stevie to appear and when he did he was escorted by two men with their hands under his arms. I assumed he was pretty stoned by the time we spoke. I’m not really sure why I thought that, except the long period of time between his performance and my interview.
There’s not much of the interview I remember today, except the one question I really wanted him to answer. It had to do with his first hit as Little Stevie Wonder, “Fingertips Part 2.”
Fingertips was recorded at a live show. Stevie finished singing and as the applause rose and an announcer gave his name, the band began to play him off. But Stevie didn’t leave the stage. Instead, he started playing the harmonica, breaking into another song. It is one of the most exciting live performances ever on record.
As Stevie begins moving into the second song, a voice is heard calling, “What key? What key?” Who was that… and why? That’s what I wanted to know.
As I remember him tell it, back then all the artists would play with a single large ‘house band.’ Because the show was long, players would take breaks from time-to-time, moving offstage to go to the men’s room or smoke a cigarette.
In this case, a horn player was returning to the stage. He was caught unaware Little Stevie was about to continue. He was ready to vamp and fake it with the rest of the group, but he didn’t know what key they were playing in!
I always wanted to know and I found out from Stevie Wonder himself about 35 years ago.