Our Motown Heritage (Part 27)
Handling Stevie Wonder
by Robert Dennis

Motown Heritage Club Co-Founder, Harold Bowles, started his career at the age 11, when he became Stevie Wonder's official handler. Harold recalls the time...
 

 

Harold Bowles considers himself fortunate because his father ("Bean's" Bowles) was the first manager at Motown. Beans managed the Temptations and also a new ten-year-old artist called Stevie Wonder. They needed a companion for Stevie to travel with him, be around him and sort of "guide" the blind artist.  His father said that Harold "was available" for the job - then too, the price was right ("nothing").  Stevie would go on the road with the "Motown Review" (originally called the "Motor Town Special"). During this, Harold was his roommate and with him at all times. 

According to Harold, "Stevie was very inquisitive. He also would hang out at the studio and practice playing every instrument. He would hang out with Earl Van Dyke (the Funk Brothers original pianist) and Earl would show him chords & scales. His fingering on the piano is very unorthodox but Stevie would manage to play by ear, making his fingers work the keys until it sounded good. He would play anything he could get his hands on and stay in the studio with the musicians day in and day out for his first 6 or 7 years as an artist.

"He always hung out with this producer Clarence Paul.  Clarence Paul had the distinction of producing a lot of "B" sides. All the producers were trying to get the next A side on an artist, but Clarence Paul realized that the B Side got paid for as much as the A Side. He helped out Stevie a great deal teaching him a lot about music and a lot about performing."

Stevie would play tricks on people; Harold recounts this story: "We'd be in a hotel and everyone knew Stevie was without sight. As a prank, Stevie would get Clarence to take him to another floor to someone's room and knock on the door after Clarence left. When the door was answered he'd say "hi" and name the person answering the door. No one could figure out how this blind kid found their room. People began wondering, "Are you sure he's blind?"  Stevie would also love to give Harold the slip, map out a path for himself and act like he could get around as well as anyone.

Harold recounts what happened in the creation of Stevie's first gold record, Fingertips. Hank Cosby and Clarence Paul had come up with this big-band track, that didn't have a melody to it. They called up Beans and asked him to "put a top on this track" - By "top" they meant a solo instrument that played a melody.  Beans came up with a idea and put a flute melody on the track. The track came out on the first album by Stevie ("The Jazz Soul Of Little Stevie Wonder") where Stevie played the bongos and, because of this, it was called Fingertips. Later Clarence Paul took the track and taught the flute melody part to Stevie playing the harmonica. Stevie began to perform this on the road and they recorded one of these performances of Fingertips done live. During the performance, Stevie did it with a "false end" where he walked off stage after the tune played and then the band vamped back up and Stevie came come back on and started an encore with "Everybody say yea" On this recorded performance, there was a new bass player and as the band continues after the song ends, you can hear confused musician call out, "What Key?" This recording, all off-the-cuff, became a gold record for Stevie Wonder.

Harold was officially Stevie's companion for about 2 years but continued to be involved with Motown after that because of his dad. "At 11 years old I was intrigued - here were stars with pretty clothes making music." Stevie got to be a big star fast and Harold was replaced with a tutor who would travel with him so he could legally do the tours with the tutor providing Stevie's schooling.  And Harold is still in the music business because of these experiences.

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Copyright 2006 Robert Dennis - All Rights Reserved USE OF THIS ARTICLE SUBJECT TO USER AGREEMENT

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