“Little lads from the back streets of Hartlepool don’t write books, do they?”
That Sounds Like Stevie! is a music anthology/discography with an unusual twist. Not content with celebrating Stevie Wonder’s published music, dedicated fan and archivist Teesside-born Mick Hutchinson delved deeper – into the many and varied tracks that Stevie Wonder helped to produce, as artist, songwriter, musician, producer or any of his many other talents, often behind the scenes. Here, Mick tells the story behind his extraordinary book…
Following the publication of my first book, That Sounds Like Stevie!, in May 2019, I was asked what inspired me to write such a lengthy and detailed tome. My answer – a lifelong love of the music of the Stevie in question, Stevie Wonder – was a rather glib and off the cuff reply. On reflection, and now with considered hindsight, I might have offered that well worn phrase ‘well everyone has at least one book in them’ though without the barbed addendum, ‘but in most cases that is where it should stay’. I could have, maybe should have said, having taken on board Mark Twain’s advice, ‘that you should write what you know’, good advice indeed. Subconsciously though, I think I had the words of the Pulitzer prize winning author the late Toni Morrison floating around in my head somewhere, she said, ‘if there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written, then you must write it’. So, ‘thank you’ Toni Morrison because that is what I did.
Of course it is all very easy to trot out lacy statements, and textbook quotations after the event, but at the time the question was posed to me, I was happy to continue my lifetime habit of extolling the virtues of somebody I had got to know rather well, having chronicled his every professional move since the early 1970s, always socially distanced of course.
There are many different aspects to the book. I wrote it over a seven year period, it covers an unbridled professional career spanning sixty years [that is still going], covers nearly 400 different songs, involving 300 other artists, and offers [I hope] a little bit more than ‘just a load of facts’. I believe that its most telling appeal is that nobody has covered this most interesting part of Stevie’s career before. It’s the one where he plays ‘second fiddle’ so to speak, as a contributor to the main work of others, where he offers his many and varied artistic services – usually free of charge – and where his extracurricular support for an extremely wide range of musical talents has become habit forming for him, and career changing for them. That would be a book that I would have wanted not just to read, but proudly own, and a book that I believed needed to be written. So, I set off on a journey.
Over the course of those years, and over the course of that journey, there were three dominant factors always in play. The research, the writing, and the subject matter. Nobody ever taught me how to research properly, I’m not sure anybody can. It would appear to me to be something borne out an inherent interest in the subject matter itself or, in my case, an endless fascination wrapped up in a complex though sometimes difficult to define ‘draw’ towards something or somebody. My journey had begun at St Michael’s Secondary School in Billingham. Here I was taught by an inspirational English teacher Bill McNeill, who helped me become an independent thinker, encouraged me to write, and tried to coach me to become a better footballer. [I hope he succeeded with the first two.] But, having some time to research hundreds of pieces of information that I had collected, and an interest in writing doesn’t guarantee words on the paper, or on the screen. The subject matter – material that I had collected over many many years – needed to be properly sourced, laboriously filtered, and when produced into a written format, be current, consistent, and convincing – and I hope it is.
Although I will always remain a North East lad at heart, the last thirty five years of that journey has seen me domiciled at the southern end of the A19 in the beautiful old City of York. From here my daily grind to teach in Leeds involved two long tiresome ring roads that for their sins did enable the mental writing process of the book to take shape. For it was whilst idling in commuter traffic that I knitted together in my head those loose threads, and the ‘bits’ of the songs information that I already had, that would eventually make up its entry into this vast anthology. It was often a lonely journey, in more ways than one, with no Sat Nav, a dated road map, and at times no real end in sight for the journey’s end.
For me, to move the project on just another few steps, and then construct it into something that was legible and of interest to others to read and enjoy, took a level of confidence and self belief that I really didn’t know that I had. Somehow, and after many years of effort, ‘That Sounds Like Stevie!’ has managed to see the light of day, and has, so far, been very positively received. The feedback and comments have encouraged me to embark on another project, not so ambitious [maybe], and certainly not as time consuming or as vast, but one that I believe has an original and even necessary tale to tell.
I’m pleased I didn’t dwell for too long on that initial question posed to me, as glib replies to tricky questions often work best. Had I pondered for too long, I might have ignored all the thoughts and words of those previously mentioned great writers, and replied more candidly to the question having listened more carefully to my own inner voice. This would often have me daydreaming as I sat waiting at another set of traffic lights on the homeward bound leg of the journey, or more literally stop me in mid sentence as I plundered the keyboard, with regular verbatim with a nagging wake up query, which was, ‘little lads from the back streets of Hartlepool don’t write books, do they?’ Well, I’m pleased this one did.
That Sounds Like Stevie! by Mick Hutchinson
That Sounds Like Stevie! is a fascinating journey through the lesser-known musical adventures of the incomparable Stevie Wonder. Universally acknowledged as one of music’s most influential and successful artists, Stevie Wonder has enjoyed a career like no other. But how much do you know about his other work, that of songwriter, producer, arranger, vocalist, and highly sought after session musician for other people, and mostly on tunes unknown?
In this astonishing collection, which is the result of years of painstaking research and determined digging, lifelong fan and chronicler of Stevie’s life Mick Hutchinson sheds light on the other side of his illustrious career.
Available from Sixth Element Publishing
Paperback, 490 pages, RRP £20
Published by Sixth Element Publishing, May 2019
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