The Day I Met Stevie Wonder

my cherie amourIn the summer of 1969, Stevie Wonder released ‘My Cherie Amour” on August 29, my birthday. He was already my hero and this just solidified it more. I was in New York City one day with my friend Brad Johannsen, a well-known artist (his book of pictures is called ‘High Tide’). Brad knew his way around the city, where I was always lost. We went on a subway that day and got off on a dreary looking street with old, single story buildings. Brad pointed across the cobblestone street to a drab looking building and said Stevie Wonder is playing there tonight. It was the Copacabana Nightclub. It was around noon and I said, ‘Let’s check it out”. We walked across the street and found ourselves standing in front of two large doors. Out of curiosity I pulled on the doors and they swung open. We walked in and it was beautiful red velvet carpet everywhere. There was another door. We opened it and there was a spiral staircase going down. I heard music- “My Cherie Amour, lovely as a summer day…”.” Brad”, I said,” It’s him! It’s Stevie Wonder!”  We ran down the stairs and came to yet another door. We opened it and there he was, Stevie Wonder, standing before us with a 12 piece band practicing for the gig. He looked at us (hearing and smelling us probably) and stopped playing immediately. Brad said, “Go say something to him”. I went to him and gave him a soul shake that lasted about forever as I (in one breath) praised his greatness with a non-stop barrage of accolades. When I was done he said to me,(very seriously) “Thank-you”. He referred to me as his friend from then on.

I stayed and watched him practice for quite a while, sitting on the floor next to him and his Fender Rhodes. He then jumped on the drums and started going crazy. I jumped on a big grand piano next to him and the bass player joined in. We were the only teens there- the bass player maybe 17, me 18 and Stevie 19. We got into a John Coltrane type free-style thing. We were abruptly stopped by his manager, who looked about 60. The manager told Stevie it was time to go. Stevie told them-“Tom is going to my show tonight, as my guest”. They reverently said, ‘No problem Stevie’.  I wasn’t exactly well-groomed (long-haired hippy). When Stevie left, they looked at me and said, “Get the hell out and don’t come back”. Big mistake – I was the fastest runner in my town. I bolted up the stairs and made it out to the street just in time. Stevie’s limo was just about to pull away. Stevie’s brother, Larry was driving and Stevie was riding shotgun. I called to them and they stopped. I told Stevie what happened. He looked very thoughtful and after a minute of contemplation he said to me, “Be cool, man”.They drove off and I never saw him again.