2 minute read

Got Rhythm—and Blues

Studio Sound

In the 1950s and 1960s, each record company hired musicians that played a similar kind of music. Hitsville USA had recording contracts with groups that played a smooth, upbeat rhythm and blues. Most of the songs produced by Hitsville USA were about love and had a good beat. Kids listening to the radio and buying albums and singles could dance to this kind of music. Berry Gordy wanted Steveland Morris to write and record these kinds of songs.

When Stevie began to work on his music at Hitsville USA, he played all different kinds of instruments. The instruments he hadn't learned in his neighborhood were quickly mastered in the studio. He learned the saxophone and trumpet. He played around with flutes and clarinets. He also learned to play the organ. All these instruments helped Stevie create his own sound and musical style.

Stevie had borrowed a lot from other musicians' music styles. But Stevie was his own musician. Even at the young age of twelve, he wasn't simply going to roll over and do what the record producers wanted. Instead, he developed his own style while he listened to what the producers had to say. They gave him plenty of advice on how to write and what to write about. They also had many suggestions about Stevie's musical arrangements. Stevie would listen and smile, and he'd thank the producers for their suggestions. He learned their style, but also made that style into his own. Stevie never wanted to imitate what the other artists were recording. In fact, the first two songs he wrote while working at Hitsville USA were concertos. Stevie liked concertos because the music was played around a soloist. Of course, Stevie always saw himself as the soloist, accompanied by an orchestra behind him.

Within a year, Stevie had perfected his own sound. It was a Hitsville USA sound, but he had to begin somewhere. “When we first started out we did a lot of standard tunes,” Stevie remembered. “[They] were never released because [Hitsville USA] wanted a single.” Almost all of those early recordings are lost to us today. They caught Stevie when he was raw and trying all different kinds of musical arrangements. “The first thing I ever recorded was [a song] called ‘Mother, Thank You,’” Stevie recalled, “which originally was called ‘You Made a Vow.’ They felt that ‘You Made a Vow’ was too much a love song for me and they decided to change it.”

“Mother, Thank You” was released but sold very few copies. Stevie didn't mind. He was happy that something of his was recorded. His next recording was “I Call It Pretty Music” in August 1962. Again, the single sold few copies, but it showed Stevie's talent and potential. Stevie's voice and music were out there. His time was going to come.

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Musician BiographiesStevie WonderGot Rhythm—and Blues - Studio Sound, Wonder Boy, A Chart Topper