As the audience upstairs at the Masonic Temple waited for Keith Emerson to make his way from the Moog store unveiling of his cloned Moog Modular System, Malcolm Cecil told a few more Stevie Wonder stories.
Still a minor when he recorded tracks for Motown, Wonder had no say over the material. Told what to sing and how to sing it, he saved up his original pieces until he turned 21. Over the course of one focused weekend, he and Cecil cranked out 17 finished tracks, nine of which would become the appropriately titled 1972 album, The Music of My Mind.
Along with business partner Bob Margouleff, Cecil produced and engineered three more Wonder albums in a three year span. The next was Talking Book, whose England-based sessions attracted Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, among others, and whose album cover featured Braille lettering at Wonder’s request.
Not having what he felt was a definitive single from The Music of My Mind, Wonder wanted all singles for his follow-up, which he got with the lead track on Side A (“You Are the Sunshine of My Life”) and Side B (“Superstition”). Cecil also noted that certain adjustments had to be made with the studio instruments, which were not only older than what Wonder was used to playing in California but played slightly different due to the cold, damp English weather.
For 1973’s Innervisions, Cecil and Margouleff won a Grammy for engineering, a surprise since Cecil was sure Dark Side of the Moon would take the prize.
“You could have knocked me over with a feather when they announced it,” Cecil said. Fortunately, Margouleff had a speech prepared and Cecil managed a few quick words of thanks.
Over the years, Cecil has had people tell him that they think his and Margouleff’s four albums with Wonder (the last of which was 1974’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale) were truly special. Cecil figured these admirers were just being polite because he was around, but said that over the years he’s come to accept that it was monumental work.
Speaking briefly on the end of his and Margouleff’s partnership with Wonder, Cecil closed with another Grammy anecdote. After Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale won back-to-back Album of the Year awards, when Paul Simon won the category in 1976 for Still Crazy After All These Years, Cecil said the first thing Simon said when he accepted the trophy was, “I’d like to thank Stevie Wonder for not putting out an album this year.”
Of course, Wonder won the top prize the following year for Songs in the Key of Life his last album to receive that honor.