Oprah: Once you started playing the piano, did you become known for that in your community?
Stevie: Not really. I was known as the blind boy who was always making noise, beating on walls, hitting on boxes, singing, and playing the bongos from morning till sunset on the front porch. People were like, "Give us a break."
Oprah: When you signed with Motown, did your life change immediately?
Stevie: It was a difficult point. The people there were excited about me being with them, but the lawyer my mother used was not that impressed with Motown. There was some negotiating, and some guy there said to my mom, "Let me tell you like this: Stevie can either sign this contract, or he can spend the rest of his life selling pencils." My mother said, "I don't give a damn what you say. My son will never sell pencils ever in his life." And the deal was off. I think Berry Gordy finally talked with my mom about the "misunderstanding," and they worked it out.
Oprah: In the four decades since you first signed with Motown, you've brought us music that's become the soundtrack of our lives. What are the three songs you're most proud to have introduced to the world?
Stevie: I have different songs for different days. One day might be an "As" day, and another might be a "Living for the City" day. Or I might have an "If Your Love Cannot Be Moved" day, which is a song you haven't heard yet. When Duke Ellington was asked about his favorite song, he'd say, "I haven't written it yet." I feel the same.
Oprah: Over the years, your music has challenged complacency. Was it always your intention to use music as a vehicle for reaching the world, or were you just writing songs you liked?
Stevie: My music has always been a lesson for me. I'll write a song, then later think, "Did that come from me?" It came from God through me.
Oprah: Do you start with music or lyrics?
Stevie: I normally write the melody first. Before I play the chords, I can hear them. It's like imagining a picture before putting it on paper. I'll usually have the basic idea of a line in a song, like "I'll be loving you always." For that song, I knew the feeling I wanted to write about. I just didn't have all the lyrics.
Oprah: So, "As around the sun the earth knows she's revolving" came later?
Stevie: Yes, shortly after the melody. Melodies give me a feeling, and from that feeling the words come.