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Interview:
Stevie Wonder Talks Music, Politics After Meadow Brook Show
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

ROCHESTER HILLS -- Stevie Wonder had plenty to say Wednesday night (Sept. 12) at the Meadow Brook Music Festival. And it wasn't all on stage.

After peppering his two-hour and 40-minute concerts with memories about growing up around Detroit, commentaries about social and political issues, and a warm remembrance of his mother, Lula Mae Hardaway, whose 2005 death inspired his current A Wonder Summer's Night tour, Wonder met with reporters backstage for about 20 minutes. In the wide-ranging conversation, the Motown icon endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and talked about his future recording and touring plans.

And, of course, he spoke about performing at "home" for the first time since 2001.

"It's always nice coming to Detroit," said Wonder, 57, who was born Steveland Judkins Morris in Saginaw but was raised mostly in the Motor City, where he signed to Motown in 1961 and still remains on the label. "Y'know, we do a prayer every night, so...We just wanted to do our very best.

"For those of us (in the band) who are from Detroit, we gonna do it up for home. We did some extra songs...some things that we hadn't done before tonight. Coming here...was just incredibly great, being in Detroit, and (we) had a lot of fun."

Wonder and company did just that, playing all or part of more than 30 songs that ranged from almost every major hit you can imagine to a slew of more obscure gems from his catalog, such as "Too High," "Hey Love," Never Dreamed You'd Love in Summer" and "Visions." (See the review at www.goanddomichigan.com.) His musical director, bassist Nathan Watts, hails from Detroit, as did guest keyboardist Greg Phillinganes and trumpeter Dwight Adams.

It was clear Wonder is enjoying his first tour in more than a decade, and he said it could lead to more -- perhaps another leg of dates that he referred to as "A Wonder Autumn Night" or even a run to Australia.

"I want to go throughout the country and (to) some cities we haven't performed in yet," Wonder said. "I think I would like to probably do, when I do a bigger tour, to do some more visual thing as well. I have ideas that I'd like to see come to fruition." Those, he said, include performing with symphony orchestras or incorporating dance companies into his shows.

"Dancing is meant to be done with music and music is meant to be done with dancing," he noted, "so it'd kind of be a good thing."

Definitely on Wonder's docket, however, is a new album called "The Gospel Inspired By Lula," a tribute to his mother that he said "I've been working on...in my mind and in my hotel room." He said he has "a lot of material already" for the project, "songs of celebration" that include favorites of his mother's, songs she taught him and original compositions.

"It's not the traditional gospel -- at least not all of it is like that," Wonder said. "It's gonna have a wide spectrum, I can tell you that much. I might do a song in Arabic. I might do one in Hebrew. I might do one in Zulu. I might do one that sort of has an East Indian feel to it."

But it remains to be seen whether Wonder will be able to get it out by his Jan. 11 target -- what would be his mother's 77th birthday. After all, his Grammy-winning 2005 album "A Time 2 Love" was Wonder's first in 10 years, and it's been nearly three decades since he delivered two albums that close together.

"I'm inspired, yes, by it," Wonder said. "It's just a matter of working it out and getting to a point where I feel comfortable with it. Obviously I want it to be out by my mother's birthday, but if it's not good enough, I might not put it out. You know how we roll."

On the political tip, Wonder -- who during the concert criticized the U.S. military actions in Iraq and leaders who use faith as a rationale to kill -- came out clearly for Illinois senator Obama.

"What I like about Obama is it's a change. It's different," explained Wonder, who will perform at Tuesday's Dream Concert in New York City to raise money for a Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial in Washington, D.C. "When I've seen him speak, I've seen him have a kind of universal feel. Being from an interracial family, he seems to have had a sense of being in a black and white world.

"So I like what he's talking about...It's a new place, and I think that as American citizens of different ethnicities we have to find a place to work it out."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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