- Genius (Definition of)
- 1. exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability.
- 2. an exceptionally intelligent person or one with exceptional skill in a particular area of activity.
- Source: Oxford English Dictionary
The noun ‘genius’ is often over used, especially in the narcissistic world of the music industry where opinions carrying little weight often reign supreme. Personally, I believe the definition describes an exceptionally gifted individual who is: as capable of creating a masterpiece, as they are of producing mediocrity, but without being able to consciously differentiate between the two extremes. If you need proof, sit ‘As’ next to ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ and then question how these could have possibly come from the same gifted source. Despite the odd faux pas, Stevie Wonder remains for me, a genius within his field as song-writer and multi-instrumentalist.
One of the most extraordinary skills Stevie has in his trick-bag, is the ability to play the drum set like no other human on the planet; much to the chagrin of some ‘real’ drummers who simply don’t ‘get it’. Personally, I love the way Stevie plays the drums as it is, so completely unique. Furthermore, I have yet to hear any one of Stevie’s hired-hand drummers come close to replicating the feel of the parts he played – and we’re not talking about some run-of-the-mill session players here; these guys are the cream of the crop. Not that I’m implying any criticism (who am I to cast aspersions on musicians who hold much coveted positions?), but it remains a fact that Stevie Wonder is a truly inimitable drummer, which, I was to find out for myself back in the early 1990’s.
Back in that decade, I took up with a pro covers band who played some pretty high-brow material for their target audiences, including a few of Stevie’s compositions. It was ‘I Wish’ in particular, that totally floored me on feel – and still does to this day. Back then, I wasn’t, shall we say, as ‘qualified’ as I am today when it comes to approaching the drum parts of Mr Wonder and I struggled with the groove. The same applied to ‘Superstition’, another favourite I still get to play on a regular basis. After nearly twenty years, I believe I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that Stevie Wonder is an impossible drummer to replicate and at best, I can only try and pay homage to his unique feel. One way to approach this is by attempting to forget that you are ‘a drummer’ when tackling his works; throw away the drummist baggage of striving for perfection and try to feel the song’s groove without inhibition. That’s a hard space to put any drummer’s head in – but it’s achievable.
Going back to ‘I Wish’, although drummer Raymond Pounds is officially credited for the track, I always felt that the pocket was a million miles away from what Pounds laid down on ‘Sir Duke’, raising my gut suspicions that it was actually Stevie himself who played uncredited drums. Finally, in 1997, what appears to be confirmation was provided on the ‘Classic Albums’ documentary covering the making of ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’…
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Being somewhat of a musical sponge, soaking up all that the Funk Brothers rhythm section could teach him during his teenage years, it’s no surprise that Stevie’s turned out to be a true musician’s drummer, rather than simply a drummer’s drummer. As mentioned earlier, I have been in the company of drummers who openly refuse to acknowledge his skills behind the kit, believing that drum tracks should be laid down by ‘proper’ drummers. Maybe there was a time in my life that I too would have subscribed to that train of thought; but that remains buried in a mass grave of the unenlightened. You either ‘get it’ or you don’t with accepting Stevie Wonder as a drummer and unashamedly, I get it. I’m not the only one either. If you need any more proof that Stevie’s drumming skills warrant accolade, then look no further than Death Metal drum supremo, Gene Hoglan, when being asked about favourite drummers:
“I also discovered Stevie Wonder years after I started playing, but he’ll forever be one of my favourites.”
Gene Hoglan, Modern Drummer, 2010