When Stevie Wonder met Jeff Beck in 1972, he had an artistic wind at his back, full of creative energy and striving for new musical heights.
Their meeting in the New York studio soon became a young Motown prodigy and British guitar hero.
Wonder said Wednesday night he was saddened by the news that Beck had died of bacterial meningitis in a hospital near his home in England.
“He was a great soul playing great music,” Wonder told the Detroit Free Press. “I am happy to meet him and to have him in my life and to give my music a part of his gift.”
Wonder and Beck were introduced to each other by producers Robert Malguref and Malcolm Cecil, who had worked with Wonder on 1972’s groundbreaking “Music of My Mind,” now in its follow-up, “Talking Book.” I was involved with the album.
“I really didn’t know much about him,” Wonder said of Beck. “But I heard him play in New York. What?” he said. He thought it would be great. He put one part, then another, then another. It was great. ”
That song was a rippling number that showcased Wonder’s growing fascination with keyboard sounds, augmented by Beck’s supple guitar solo to complete Wonder’s “Go for it, Jeff!” captured on tape.
“It’s been great. The whole deal,” Wonder said. “He gave it a sort of bluesy jazzy feel with a chord structure that was taken from what I did. Good. He touched it. It was really cool.”
Born out of London’s fertile blues-rock scene in the ’60s, Beck made his first big mark with the gritty psychedelic rock of The Yardbirds. But he was jazzy, melodic, sophisticated and with a broad musical vocabulary, right down the alley of Wonder.
Like many of his peers, the British guitarist fell in love with Motown and in 1970 headed to Detroit to record a track in Hitsville, USA with members of the Funk Brothers. (That material remains unpublished, and Beck told Rolling His Stone magazine in 2010 that the tape could be lost forever.)
In 1972 in New York, Wonder was thrilled with Beck’s production of “Pure Love.” He and Cecil invited the guitarist to record a version of “Superstition”, a new, unreleased song recently written and tracked by Wonder.
Beck thought it was a gift from Wonder.
Details are sometimes clouded or lost over time when it comes to the origin story of songs from that era. It is often reported to have originated from improvised jams by artists. But Wonder revealed Wednesday that the rough track of the song had already been completed when he first played it for Beck in the studio.
Wonder’s own final version of “Superstition” was a dazzling display of chunky funk, featuring one of the most memorable drum openings in pop music history.
“The first thing we played on the recording of ‘Superstition’ was the drums that carried the melody and all the necessary breaks in our heads,” says Wonder. “Then a clavinet, a second clavinet, and he put on a Moog[for bass].”
Trumpeter Steve Madaio and saxophonist Trevor Lawrence contributed the track’s horn punch.
Wonder’s friend, singer-songwriter Lee Garrett, put an unexpected exclamation mark on the song’s bridge.
“He was hanging out in front of the control room and kept going. “Oh!”‘ Wonder recalled. “I said, ‘Shut up, Lee! Loud! Look, do you want to be on the record? Alright, here you go.’ That was all Lee.”
Wonder’s “Superstition” track, complete with late additions “Aaaaaaa!” Scream, heading to Side 2 of his “Talking Book” LP.
Beck, on the other hand, had his own design for the song “Superstition”, which Wonder encouraged him to embrace. The guitarist was keen to record with his new rock trio, Beck, Bogart and Appice, and their heavy, muscular versions eventually made it to the group’s 1973 Epic off his record. self was to appear in his titled debut.
However, Wonder’s “Superstition”, released in October 1972, was released as the lead single at Motown’s insistence to steal thunder.
“I told Motown, ‘Listen, I did this for Jeff Beck. He likes that song,'” said Wonder. He said, “I thought ‘Sunshine of My Life’ should be the first single (from the ‘Talking Book’ album). They said, ‘No, no, no, no.’ The first single is “Superstition”. So I went back to Jeff and had that discussion.
Wonder’s single climbed the US pop and R&B charts. 50 years ago this month, it took the top spot. That’s when Beck and his company finished recording sessions for the album. Wonder earned her double Grammy Award with “Superstition,” which ranked her No. 12 on Rolling Stone’s latest 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.
Beck recorded another Wonder original song, “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” and “Thelonius”, for 1975’s “Blow by Blow”.
Wonder downplayed the notion that “Superstition”‘s release status caused a deep rift between the two artists (“We were always cool”), arguing for their performance at the 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert. He said he looked back on the performance fondly. They linked up for a sizzling, eye-popping rendition of the song.
Wonder said Wednesday that he is continuing to write and record songs for his next album, which will be released on So What The Hus Music, a label he launched with Republic Records in 2020.
He also works with his 17-year-old son, Mandla, to re-listen to old works, analyze tracks and reflect on music.
One of the songs played at his home Wednesday after news broke of Beck’s passing was “Lookin’ for Another Pure Love,” which features Beck’s signature solo.
“When I heard it today, I was blown away because it reminded me of that moment,” Wonder said. “There’s something about music. As a fan, I know that songs take you back in time space—you’re right there. The same for us as writers and singers.” will happen.”
72-year-old Wonder has gotten used to losing fellow artists, friends and associates. But he finds comfort in his faith in God and his conviction that the spirit transcends death.
“As long as you talk about people, people will live on,” he said, quoting an African proverb. “You keep their spirits alive.”
And the artist’s musical legacy is part of that conversation, Wonder said.
“As long as we can have all the music that motivates people to move forward and do better, we get the chance to hear and feel that spirit.”
Brian McCollum, Music Writer for the Detroit Free Press: 313-223-4450 or contact email@example.com.