Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground on ’72 Stones Tour

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Wonder’s album, Music of My Mind, had been out for three months when the tour began

Longtime music industry writer, editor and executive Adam White authored the 2016 book, Motown: The Sound of Young America (via Thames and Hudson), with Barney Ales, for years the influential label’s #2 to its founder Berry Gordy.

White has since started a blog and he has allowed Best Classic Bands to publish this exclusive excerpt, “Stevie Reaches Higher Ground,” about Stevie Wonder’s opening slot on the Rolling Stones’ 1972 U.S. tour:

In music, careers can turn on a dime. In 1972, Stevie Wonder’s career turned on a tour.

For $6.50, you got to see the Stones, Stevie Wonder and… free parking?

The Rolling Stones’ fifth American tour, to be precise, and their first such excursion in three years: a summertime itinerary of rock ‘n’ roll, exhibitionism and excess, with a top ticket price of $6.50 and a new album by the band, Exile On Main Street, in tow.

That the Stones were interested in having Stevie join their caravan was no surprise. In their early years, they were under the thumb of American blues and R&B. Like the Beatles, they tackled Motown songs, “Can I Get A Witness” and “Hitch Hike” among them.

On June 3, 1972, Stevie Wonder joined the Rolling Stones’ roadshow, opening at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. On July 26, he played his final date with the Britons at New York’s Madison Square Garden. In between, the 22-year-old from Saginaw, Michigan, was seen and heard across North America by more than half a million people. Nothing for him would ever be the same again.

At the New York Times, Don Heckman reported, “Spectacular as the Stones were…my most vivid memories are of the charged-up playing and singing of the blind soul singer/musician Stevie Wonder and his crisp little band, Wonderlove.” [MSG] was host to the tour for three dates, July 24-26, with a total of 60,000 tickets sold.

Stevie’s 55-minute set featured early hits such as “For Once In My Life,” “I Was Made to Love Her” and “If You Really Love Me,” some oldies associated with others (“Rockin’ Robin,” “I Need Your Loving”) and material from Music Of My Mind. His finale gave audiences the opportunity to hear a show-stopping “Superstition” in concert–three months before it was released by Motown on record. Wonder had already been in the studio with the song: the week before the tour’s first show in Vancouver, he was adding parts to it with saxophone player Trevor Lawrence and trumpeter Steve Madaio at New York’s Electric Lady Studios.

“Superstition” exploded in October and [on January 27, 1973] became Wonder’s first #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 since 1963, and the accompanying Talking Book graduated into his first-ever Top 3 pop album, spending more than two years on the charts.

Stevie and Mick Jagger made music on the road, sharing the microphone for renditions of “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” In fact, these were to be a highlight of the “live” album of the tour, according to trade press reports of the time. Many of the performances were recorded; the Stones’ own label was due to release a double LP in November. It never materialized.

[Tickets to see the Stones tour are available here and here.]

Watch Wonder and the Stones perform “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” during the tour

No matter. As far as Stevie was concerned, those 40 shows in 30 cities during the summer of ’72 sealed a future of abundance and of a creative stature almost beyond measure. Talking Book sold 1.6 million copies in the U.S. on release – three times more than [its predecessor] Music Of My Mind – and its successors, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale, claimed domestic sales of 2.1 million and 1.5 million, respectively. In the 1970s, these were impressive numbers. Moreover, two of the albums netted a total of 10 Grammy awards.

Watch the concert here

Read White’s complete account of the tour here.

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12 Comments so far

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  1. Big Beef
    #1 Big Beef 3 August, 2017, 09:47

    No Refunds!

    Reply this comment
  2. dennisl59
    #2 dennisl59 19 May, 2018, 20:09

    I saw this tour at RFK Stadium, Washington, DC July 4, 1972

    Reply this comment
    • Jeff Tamarkin
      Jeff Tamarkin 21 May, 2018, 16:56

      Me too! My first Stones show. Amazing, right?

      Reply this comment
    • JCB
      JCB 14 May, 2021, 08:17

      Me too. Stevie rocked it big time. The last Stones tour with Mick Taylor who absolutely played a bigger guitar roll than Keith did that day. Keith looked drunk. Taylor’s solo on Street Fighting Man was unreal, incendiary. The only downer was the idiots in the crowd shooting bottle rockets into the mass crowd.

      Reply this comment
  3. Bomber
    #3 Bomber 24 November, 2018, 13:52

    The Stones’ entourage got into a fight with a photographer in Providence R.I. Jagger and Richards landed in jail. The mayor of Boston fearing a riot bailed them out that night the show went on about one a.m.

    Reply this comment
  4. Gary L
    #4 Gary L 14 May, 2019, 11:02

    Thank you for reporting that the great Stevie Wonder is from right here in Saginaw,Mi…….most anything written about him always says hes from Detroit…..they do the same with other michigan artists also…..must sound better…….im 64,so i grew up on Stevies music

    Reply this comment
    #5 WINGNUT 14 May, 2019, 12:58

    I remember this show in San Diego although to young to attend. There were 1000s of BOOTLEG TICKETS. The arena was already full when authorities stop letting ANYBODY IN! Valid ticket or not. The riot afterwards was not pretty.

    Reply this comment
    • Rollbert
      Rollbert 14 June, 2022, 07:23

      Still got my ripped ticket from Madison Square Garden. Lot of excitement in Manhattan that night.

      Reply this comment
  6. rick reed
    #6 rick reed 14 May, 2021, 04:45

    Lets not forget that Martha and The Vandellas were on the tour !!!

    Reply this comment
  7. JCB
    #7 JCB 14 May, 2021, 08:23

    I’ve seen the Stones three times. They played well each time. The anomaly of it was each time I saw them, the opening act was better, often times way better than the Stones. Stevie Wonder, The Doobie Brothers, and Bryan Adams cooked them, especially Adams, he and his band absolutely blew them off the stage. From the opening cover of Dion’s “The Wanderer” to the closing of “It Cuts Like A Knife” Adams owned that dome. Having to follow him that night was a bad call.

    Reply this comment
  8. Steve
    #8 Steve 14 May, 2021, 16:51

    I saw Stevie open for the Stones in that summer of ’72 tour in Denver, at the Denver Coliseum. Stevie played for 45 minutes and he played keyboards, Bass and Drums. He got three standing ovations from the crowd, estimated by the Denver Post at over 13,000 fans. He was so incredible that the Stones kept the audience waiting nearly an hour to cool down before they came out on stage. After Stevie, they were good, but not as good as Stevie had been. Mick did all of his schtick, crawling around on his hands and knees and whacking the stage floor with his gold lame’ belt during Midnight Rambler, etc., etc. Mick Taylor was great, Keith kept things moving, Charlie and Bill were excellent. Ian Stewart was great, too.

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