Hash’s Faves: “I Wish”

10 Dec

i_wishThis week’s pick is Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish.”It was released as a single in 1976, and then included on the album Songs In The Key Of Life in the same year. The musicians are Nathan Watts, bass; Hank Redd, alto saxophone; Raymond Maldonado and Steve Madaio, trumpet; Trevor Laurence, tenor saxophone; trumpet; and Stevie on vocals, Fender Rhodes, ARP 2600 Synthesizer, and drums.

I played my first Christmas music gig of the year Friday and during the course of the job realized that this is really a Christmas song. Since it’s also one of my favorites and a Sueños staple, we played it, and no one objected, so jobbers, here’s your hip Christmas alternative.

The groove on this song is just the stankiest funk imaginable, driven by Watts’ bass line, which is a line that every bassist should know. It’s doubled by Stevie on synth, but he gives Watts the freedom to play some nasty fills on the vamp-out; after one of them Stevie absolutely cackles with glee. As a jobbing aside, here’s a little story from the trenches. This song is in High Society’s book, but it’s always been in the wrong key, I guess because the original key was too high for an earlier version of the band’s vocalists to handle. I hate it, because I only play a 4-string bass, and the bass line is not only impossible to play a half-step lower but it sounds stupid. Anyway, we were playing it one night with a female vocalist who was auditioning for the band. She evidently had a really weird sense of perfect pitch, because she sang it in the original key, completely ignoring us. The rhythm section made the switch somewhere in the first verse (with me thanking the Dark Gods of Jobbing,) but when the horns came in half of them hadn’t gotten the memo, so it was kind of our “Skies Of America” version of the song (look it up).

As another aside, I attended Senn high school on Chicago’s north side; it was one of the first Chicago schools to bus students in from across the city, including many black students from the south and west sides. It made for some bad moments: Senn was notable for riots in the schoolyard and fights in the halls, and the city eventually had to provide police escorts to get the black students to and from the el stop safely (you can read an account of this in the book The Old Neighborhood by Bill Hillmann, a former juvenile delinquent from my ‘hood). Bless her heart, my mother used to drive to school and fill up the car with a bunch of students who I had become friends with and drive them all the way home to the south side, which we were familiar with because when the Japanese first came to Chicago from California, out of the relocation centers, that’s where they settled, and our family dentist still had an office at 63rd and Jeffrey. Anyway, one of the first black kids I met at Senn was a guy named Larry Brown, who always claimed to be Stevie’s cousin. Stevie still hadn’t quite crossed over to massive mainstream popularity yet so most of us north siders didn’t even really know who he was talking about, but I do remember Larry brought a single in and showed us the songwriting credits, which read Stevland Morris, and for some reason that made it believable to all of us. I don’t know why this story has stuck in my brain the last 50 years.

You can listen to it here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYKYka-PNt0

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

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