Stumbling “Little” Stevie Wonder

When I joined the Motown Engineering Department as a technician in fall of 1963, I had thought a job was something that you worked at steadily for 8 hours with a lunch hour sandwiched in. It wasn’t long before I realized that part of my job description was to engage in social chatter and the discussing of life philosophy with the boss and crew of the department. This activity accounted for at least one-quarter of the work time.

The “stars” of Motown were very ordinary people and many had jobs in the day-to-day running of the company. When the Contours went out for a series of shows, it seemed as though we lost our shipping department.

Every week or two, 13 year old Stevie Wonder would wander in to the department and visit for about a half-hour. He would always be greeted by the boss or the shop foreman saying, “Are you getting any yet Stevie?” At the tender age of 17 I didn’t know what they meant by this but I did know it was the signal to take a “socializing break” and join in the chatter. Stevie’s purpose apparently was to keep informed about what was happening in the department, using his gift of chatter rather than his absent gift of eyesight. I do know that we managed to “jive-around” and have no significant dialog during the visits.

Stevie was a comical and steady victim of Motown’s expansion. “Pop’s” Gordy and his assistant constantly changed the floor-plan of 3 houses on West Grand Blvd. Attempting to continually add more work areas to the same square-footage. This building-maintenance crew changed the location of walls and doors at least twice a month. Stevie’s favorite trick was to give the slip to his assigned guide (“handler”) and go off on his own to discover the changes. You would regularly see him walk into walls where doors had been a month ago. After finally finding his way in to an area, he would ask “So what’s in here now?”

Today, Stevie remains very much like that 13-year-old kid. Several times I have run into him on the display floor of the Audio Engineering Society checking things out, alone. When greeted, he seems genuinely happy to “see you” and chat for a few.