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Music

The time Stevie Wonder toured with The Rolling Stones

In 1972, The Rolling Stones had worked prolifically for ten solid years, earmarking a longevity that left The Beatles behind in their wake. By then, keyboardist Stevie Wonder was rising on the pop scene, and the two titans joined together to work on a joint tour. Given that it included Keith Richards, he probably enjoyed the joint tour.

Wonder opened the concerts, but the tour was notable as it was The Rolling Stones’ American tour since their performance at Altamont Speedway in 1969. They were hungry for success, driven by Mick Jagger’s disembodied yelps, and Mick Taylor‘s barrelling guitar performances. Clearly, they saw Wonder as both a peer and potential competition.

“That’s when Stevie was really young and full of energy, jumping up and down on stage,” recalled Marshall Chess, the Stones’ executive manager. “He and Mick were dancing on stage together, then somebody came out and put a whipped cream pie in Mick’s face. It was crazy. The building was actually vibrating. You could feel it in the concrete.”

Clearly, the feeling was mutual, and Wonder began introducing songs into his set that were longer, and infinitely more coated in the trappings of funk. It was getting harder to track concerts, as the band found themselves playing at supper clubs, as well as playing at the stadiums and clubs that had long been their bread and butter. Wonder was enjoying the process, attention and productivity, perhaps bolstered by the presence of Jagger.

“Motown was trying to break Stevie bigger than he’d ever been,” said Chess. “It was a great thing for the Stones because Mick and Keith just loved Stevie. It was a great thing for Stevie because it showed him to this whole other white audience, the Stones’ audience.”

The Stones had accrued an audience that was predominantly white, although their personal well – like many other bands from the 1960s – stemmed from black music. It was fitting, therefore, that a singer of colour should perform before an audience of caucasian members as if re-focusing the attention on the origins of the band’s celebrated work.

The performances stood as a commentary on international relations between people all over the world, as the shows presented a collection of bandmates who were English and American. Wonder had spent 12 years playing to Motown package crowds, feathering hits that were known to fans of The Temptations and The Supremes.

The STP tour was said to be a triumph, and the acts considered releasing a live album that showcased Wonder’s talents and the band’s. It didn’t materialise, but the memories certainly lingered among those who watched the superstars.

Wonder benefitted from the concerts, as was evident from the recordings that followed, but some of his pop DNA slipped into Jagger’s songwriting. Indeed, it’s possible to discern from ‘Time Waits for No One’ a whimsical quality that was often heard in Wonder’s work, as it is possible to hear a jauntiness on ‘Start Me Up’ that likely stemmed from Music Of My Mind.

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Jagger’s antenna was growing wider by the day, and the band started engaging in such far-flung genres as reggae, jazz, blues and folk tinted rock.
Richards was arrested for assaulting a journalist, leading Wonder to play both sets in Boston in an effort to calm an angry audience who were growing impatient for The Stones to appear.

Wonder and Wonderlove – as his backing band were known – managed to calm them down with a series of blindingly funky licks that demonstrated the muscle, acumen and technical skill of the band. By the time the tour was finished, everyone walked away, fresher from the experience.

Wonder espoused the virtues of the tour in an interview with The New York Times. The good times, he said, overshadowed the bad ones, and the sets gave him the chance to play his own material as he saw fit. He was the master of his own destination.

Music, Wonder felt, was similar to a religious mosaic, and the ambitions of music were designed to bring the spiritual practices in place. He performs ‘Uptight’, which later formed the basis for Oasis highlight ‘Step Out’, and The Stones continue to perform ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, two songs the artists performed to celebrate Mick Jagger’s 29th birthday.

More recently, The Rolling Stones experienced a personal tragedy, having lost drummer and mainstay Charlie Watts. It remains to be seen how their new drummer will change the flow and the groove of their work, but that’s not to say that the band’s performances in 1972 weren’t funky in their precision and attack.

50 years on, both Wonder and Jagger are still singing to their hearts’ content, and although they might not have the commitment or grit that they once had, the artists are carrying the flag for future bands to live up to.