A British musician has been telling the remarkable story of how Stevie Wonder ended up playing an uncredited harmonica solo on his band’s single back in 1984.
Writing in The Guardian, Nick Murphy, the drummer in Leicester-based ‘80s funk outfit Feelabeelia, says that the unlikely guest spot came about after Wonder’s manager had called - not to say ‘I love you’, but to announce that the star had to do some recording work while he was on tour in the UK. Signed to Warner Bros on Quincy Jones’ label Qwest Records, Feelabeelia were holed-up in a Surrey studio at the time, and word came through that Wonder was requesting to use it.
Unsurprisingly, Feelabeelia were happy to indulge him, but when word came through that he was coming, the band still didn’t quite believe it would happen.
“But he turned up at about 1am in a massive coach with 50 people,” recalls Murphy. “He’d come straight from playing the NEC in Birmingham. He was much bigger than I thought he’d be, but maybe that’s because he just had that superstar-ness about him. He shook our hands and said, ‘Good evening, gentlemen’, then went off to the studio while we all started partying in the kitchen.”
Just to make the story even more surreal, it turns out that the recording Stevie needed to work on was the vocal for I Just Called To Say I Love You, a song often derided as schmaltzy but which still managed to hit number one in the UK.
And then the big moment: “Once Stevie had done his stuff, he asked what we were doing, so we played him our single Feel It. He liked it, but said it needed a bit of this and that in the middle section. Being a cheeky lad, I said, jokingly, ‘Well, you do it, then.’”
A wise move, it turns out; not only did Stevie call in his backing singers, Wonderlove, to record on the track, but he also agreed to play harmonica.
“We put the tape on a loop and he recorded this world-class solo. All of us in the band just looked at each other thinking, ‘Oh my God.’ How he came up with that within a minute of hearing the song, I’ll never know. The song was pretty shit before he blessed it.”
Sadly, Feelabeelia weren’t able to go public about Wonder’s involvement, as Motown, his record company, weren’t happy about him appearing on a Warner Bros record. And when the band were asked in interviews who played the harmonica solo, they weren’t allowed to say.
Listen to the track now, though, and Wonder’s presence is unmistakable. And, although Feel It was never a hit in the US or the UK, some might argue that it’s still aged better than I Just Called To Say I Love You…