Stevie Wonder – New York, NY (01/01/73)

Stevie Wonder
Abe Vigoda’s Birthday Party?!
Unknown Venue
New York, NY
January 1, 1973?
JEMS Archive

Download FLAC: Amazon Drive

JEMS Transfer (by the late great Jared Houser): 10″ presumably master half-track reel > Revox A-700 > Wavelab > .wav > iZotope RX8 > iZotope Ozone 8 > Audacity > TLH > FLAC

01 Unknown Song
02 Happy Birthday improv
03 You Are The Sunshine of My Life
04 Blame It On The Sun
05 All In Love Is Fair
06 “Baby I Need Your Love”
07 “Stay With You”

This has to be one of the strangest recordings in the entire JEMS Archive. Yes, you read that right, Stevie Wonder performing at Abe Vigoda’s birthday party on New Years Day 1973. At least that is what’s written on the box of the 10-inch reel that houses this most curious tape. Captured to stereo half-track at 7.5 IPS, the recording offers a 33-minute, seemingly spontaneous performance at what indeed sounds like a lively birthday celebration.

The spine of the tape calls it “Stevie Wonder Jam” and lists the musicians as Wonder on piano, Tim Moore on guitar, David Shaw on drums and Don Moore on bass. The performance is loose enough to require Wonder to shout chord changes to some songs.

The set list features three well-known Stevie tunes, an improvised Happy Birthday number, plus another three songs we have struggled to identify. Are they covers? Unreleased originals? Made up on the spot? Hopefully the DIME community can help us ID the tracks.

Everything I’ve written above is based on the audio itself and the notes on the tape box, which clearly dates from 1973. However, confirming that information has proven difficult, which is one reason we have waited all these years to release it, hoping we would find out more.

First of all, the box does’t actually say “Abe Vigoda,” it says “Vigoda,” so the Abe part is an assumption on our part. Only the late actor’s birthday isn’t January 1 or even close (he was born February 24, 1921). We have also yet to find any news account or record suggesting Wonder and Vigoda knew each other, let alone that this event took place. Yet, there’s no reason to think it didn’t, and certainly no incentive for anyone to label the tape with false information so bizarre.

“All In Love Is Fair” wouldn’t be released until August 1973 on Innervisions, and this performance does have lyrics variations suggesting it could be an early version. “Blame It On The Sun” and “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” are both from Stevie’s masterpiece Talking Book, released in October 1972. The rest we don’t know.

There is chatter between songs that reinforces the party environment and you can pick up some of the dialogue. The recording itself appears to be from microphones set up on stands to record the occasion. Samples provided.

JEMS obtained this reel nearly 15 years ago from the collection of a sound engineer, and given the other tapes in his possession at that time, the provenance of the recording is strong. The same person recorded Bob Marley within months of this.

While the Vigoda Party Jam isn’t a classic performance, it is most certainly a fascinating listen and another one of those “you are there,” time-machine type recordings. ANY new vintage Stevie Wonder document is historically significant and if we could learn more about the details behind this one, perhaps even more so. Help us if you can. Meanwhile, enjoy some newly discovered Stevie Wonder as a JEMS holiday gift to you.

Thanks to DIME member Superstition for help working out the set list and to mjk5510 for post-production prep and final posting.

BK for JEMS

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