Watch Stevie Wonder’s Amazing Drum Solo, and See Why He May Be the “Greatest Drummer of Our Time”




When Prince passed away, many a non-Prince fan suddenly found out that the man was not only a brilliant songwriter, singer, dancer, guitarist, pianist, stylist, and superstar, but that he was also a virtual one-man band in the studio, able to play almost any instrument, in exactly the way he wanted it played. Prince fans knew this, as do fans of the musician who made Songs in the Key of Life — or what Prince called the greatest album ever recorded. And if Prince were here, he would agree:  Stevie Wonder deserves more appreciation for his multi-musicianship while he’s still with us.

Yes, of course, we know him for his “staggering songwriting and vocal skills,” writes PC Muñoz at Drum! magazine, for his “prowess as a formidable, inventive keyboardist (and pop music synthesizer pioneer)” and “his virtuoso-level skills on harmonica.”


But do we know Stevie Wonder as a drummer? Well, “newsflash for those who didn’t know,” Muñoz announces: “Stevie Wonder also happens to be one badass drummer.” (In fact, his very first gig, at 8 years old, was on the drums.) Not that he hasn’t received his just due from fellow musicians, far from it.

Eric Clapton called Wonder “the greatest drummer of our time” in 1974 — “hefty praise” (and maybe a bit of a swipe), wrote music journalist Eric Sandler, “coming from a man who played with Ginger Baker.” See a demonstration of Wonder’s formidable feel and groove behind the kit in the drum solo at the top of the post. But, of course, you’ve already heard his drumming — all, or most, of your life perhaps — on his albums, including most every track on Talking BookSongs in the Key of Life, and Innervisions — songs like “Superstition,” “Higher Ground,” “Living for the City” … all Stevie.

“I grew up practicing to Stevie Wonder’s music,” drummer Eric Carnes tells Muñoz, “but I actually didn’t know he was often the drummer on his own stuff. Until I was in my twenties.” Carnes goes on to describe the hallmarks of Wonder’s style: “very relaxed – not so crisp and not so metronomic. He’s using different parts of the stick at different times, and his hi-hat parts change throughout the song. A lot of times, each chorus in a given song is played slightly differently, too. He escalates a song over a long period of time, really growing the whole piece, instead of topping out early; it gives the music somewhere to go.”

Bill Janovitz of the band Buffalo Tom — in a very thorough paean to Songs in the Key of Life — points to the “innate sense of groove in his drumming…. There is a musical inventiveness that might stem from being a well-rounded multi-instrumentalist, as opposed to someone who strictly defines themselves as a drummer.”

In his appreciation of Wonder’s drumming at Slate, Seth Stevenson also highlights Wonder’s “expressiveness…. No two measures sound the same.” He offers a mini best-of roundup of Wonder’s recorded drumming moments:

My favorite Wonder drum track comes on ‘Too High,’ the first song on Innervisions. Subtle snare rolls, sudden tom-tom tumbles, jazzy ride-cymbal swings – they’re all scrumptious and all in the greater service of the song. This is not the approach of a hired drummer attempting to carve out his own terrain. It’s the work of a multi-instrumentalist composer who fits his vision for each part into an interlocking whole.

Stevenson and Janovitz speak to a thread in so many discussions of “virtuoso” musicians: composers who are also musical prodigies have ways of playing instruments in an idiom only they can understand. One imagines that if we had recordings of Mozart or Bach – both prodigious multi-instrumentalists from very young ages – we would hear classical instruments played in ways we’ve never heard them played before. The magic of recording — and Stevie Wonder’s recordings especially — means we can hear the drums on his songs exactly as he heard, and played, them, and exactly as he wanted them played.

Related Content: 

Catch Stevie Wonder, Ages 12-16, in His Earliest TV Performances

Deconstructing Stevie Wonder’s Ode to Jazz and His Hero Duke Ellington: A Great Breakdown of “Sir Duke”

See Stevie Wonder Play “Superstition” and Banter with Grover on Sesame Street in 1973

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


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Comments (15)
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  • glenn says:

    Not even close. Good but not the best of our time sorry!

  • Tony says:

    My son showed me footage of Stevie Wonder doing a 16 minute drum solo a while back. It was impressive for he never missed a beat.

  • Jacqueline Vaughan says:

    jacquelinereneevaughan71262@gmail.com.. not at all surprised bout the drum thing.. I just want to acknowledge he , is my ALL-TIME OVERALL FAVORITE, MUSICIAL GENIUS, INSPIRATIONAL, CLEVER, PEACEFUL, MAN.. out side of my 93 year old father, he is my HERO,

  • Ted Bogan says:

    As a musician myself, and a fan of Stevie Wonder’s music I was aware of his ability to play multiple instruments. Ernie Isley and Peatrice Rushin are two other artist that fit the mold, but what elevates Stevie above all other drummers is the fact that this is a man who couldn’t even see his drum kit and still managed to not play off beat! For all those who doubt that he’s the greatest ever to play drums, when did you ever see ginger baker, Neal pert, play blind plus sing with beautiful octave flow?? Hands down Stevie wonder is the overall greatest performer ever, Prince is the only one that comes close, but he had eyes to help him, Stevie does not! If anyone ever deserves to be in the Rock Hall of Fame he should’ve been the first entry unanimously! Study his music then you’ll see how great he truly is and then you’ll appreciate him even more.

  • Clarence Bogan III says:

    As a musician myself, and a fan of Stevie Wonder’s music I was aware of his ability to play multiple instruments. Ernie Isley and Peatrice Rushin are two other artist that fit the mold, but what elevates Stevie above all other drummers is the fact that this is a man who couldn’t even see his drum kit and still managed to not play off beat! For all those who doubt that he’s the greatest ever to play drums, when did you ever see ginger baker, Neal pert, play blind plus sing with beautiful octave flow?? Hands down Stevie wonder is the overall greatest performer ever, Prince is the only one that comes close, but he had eyes to help him, Stevie does not! If anyone ever deserves to be in the Rock Hall of Fame he should’ve been the first entry unanimously! Study his music then you’ll see how great he truly is and then you’ll appreciate him even more.

  • Meat says:

    To even put a headline up like this is stupid . To compare him with any professional drummer is just insulting to anyone who plays . His drumming is amateur at best .

  • Josh Jones says:

    You’ll notice that the headline is a quotation from Eric Clapton, so go argue with him.

  • james deans says:

    As fan of a lot of drummers, male AND female alike, to be a musician who has NEVER seen the light of day, and can play a kit and not EVEN SEE IT, man you have no choice but to give it up to STEVIE WONDER!!! Both him and PRINCE are my HEROES, and from what I have seen in some of some of these comments, is some serious “TALENT BIGOTRY” or what I call the unwillingness to give credit where credit is due, but then you don’t have to, because GOD imbued both with the drive,the understanding to honor your craft, to be the ABSOLUTE BEST that you can be. So like I said,say what you want, but I’m sayin, “HE IS THE BEST EVER,TO HELL WHAT YOU HATERS SAY OR THINK!”

  • Kathleen Padden says:

    Stevie Wonder is a trailblazing musical god who walks as man. Anyone who denies his superiority doesn’t know jack about music, especially Stevie’s music. Ignore the ignorant.

  • Suzie says:

    He is good but he is no Benny (Papa Zita) Benjamin from the Funk Brothers. Benny taught him how to play the drums. But Benny Benjamin is considered one of if not the best drummer ever. Listen to the Detroit era Motown songs like Can’t Help Myself or Uptight. Also watch Standing In the Shadows of Motown. They talked about his skills.

  • Mark Kandborg says:

    Good lord, yes. What a disaster. Any pro (or amateur with any talent at all) would recognise these solos as exactly what you would expect from a blind keyboard player. it’s insulting to drummers and, for me, very depressing. It’s a bit like someone who’s never read a physics textbook going up to a blackboard and writing E=MC squared to a standing ovation of kindergarten students. “The greatest physicist of all time!” So depressing. The art of percussion is sublime and this “performance” makes me very sad. Sorry, Stevie, but I think you must have realised that you didn’t know what you were doing.

  • Timothy Wilson says:

    Some people are just jealous, & bad spirited when it comes to other people being more accomplished than they are. No matter what it may be,sports, music, or Absolutely Anything. Some people will Never understand the rhythm of being a decent human being here on earth…

  • William Lane, Jr says:

    Man, I didn’t know Mr. Wonder could play drums! Man, my mind is blown right now!!!

  • Stevie Fan says:

    The idiots saying he’s amateur at best probably don’t even listen to Stevie or even soul music… drumming fast doesn’t make you the best drummer… being in pocket and improvising allowing the drums to complement the other instruments and overall composition… Rock drummers are basic anyway no soul in it

  • Royc Ellis says:

    He’s been playing for so long, no one’s so smooth, and quite a nice guy, go Stevie, you got it made.

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