LIANE HANSEN, host:
On Herbie Hancock's new album, "Possibilities," he plays Stevie Wonder's 1984 bubble gum pop hit "I Just Called To Say I Love You" featuring singer Raul Midon.
(Soundbite of "I Just Called To Say I Love You")
Mr. RAUL MIDON: (Singing) No New Year's Day to celebrate...
HANSEN: Raul Midon's voice and his compositions often sound uncannily like Stevie Wonder's and Stevie Wonder returns the compliment by making his own appearance playing the harmonica on Midon's debut CD "State of Mind."
(Soundbite of harmonica music)
HANSEN: Raul Midon joins us from NPR West.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. MIDON: Hi. Nice to be here.
HANSEN: How'd you get Stevie Wonder to play on your record?
Mr. MIDON: Well, it was actually joke that I was, you know, hanging around with the producer of my record one day. We were working on the record and things were going very well. We had gotten all the musicians that we wanted. And I said, `How come we can't get Stevie on the record?' and he just picked up the phone. He said, `I will call him.'
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. MIDON: (Singing) It comes back again like the sun in Spain. That's the way of everything. Here's to hope and time.
We sent him a couple of songs for him to choose from that we thought, you know, he would be good on and also wrote him a letter in braille in which I reminded him that he'd actually met my twin brother a couple of years ago. My twin brother, who's also blind, works for NASA. He works on the Solar Dynamic Observatory and they were at a technical conference in Los Angeles and my brother is very adept with software and all this kind of thing for the blind and Stevie was so impressed with him that he invited him over to the house. I finally heard from him about a day before mastering the record. I had thought that we had struck out, but, you know, I got down to the studio and there he was. He was patched in. He was in Los Angeles and I was in New York, and we had a phone line hooked up so we could talk back to each other and it was a wonderful experience.
HANSEN: Is he a major influence on you?
Mr. MIDON: Sure. I think there's an aesthetic to the way he sings. It's sort of the soul music aesthetic is what I call it. You know, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, gospel singers, blues singers--they all have this kind of, `Yeah,' you know, this kind of aesthetic of singing that's common throughout, you know, the soul tradition I guess.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. MIDON: (Singing) You have given so much to me, a chance to find my destiny. Feeling is believing and I'm feeling fine, fine...
HANSEN: "Sitting in the Middle" is a song you've actually dedicated to Donny Hathaway. How did he influence you?
Mr. MIDON: He's just a great songwriter, singer and player, which is fairly uncommon and, you know, it's kind of what I do. So I've always been interested in people who played and sang and wrote and arranged their own music.
(Soundbite of "Sitting in the Middle")
Mr. MIDON: (Singing) This notion in my mind that all we do will fade away in time but I'll remember you. But I'll remember you. Well, then I'll remember you, whoa-oh. Everything is everything. Where is the love you said you'd bring me and someday we will all be free? Hear me where every place I believe in the power of the human race to make a waking dream reality. And that's why we're sitting in the middle of the ones we love. Nothing else matters.
HANSEN: When did you know you wanted to be a musician?
Mr. MIDON: I think I knew from very young. I was a kid and I just did it. Being blind gave me fewer options, you know? I couldn't wait tables or pump gas for a living while I figured out whether I could do music or not. And so I kind of realized at one point I had to do this.
HANSEN: I had read that you would be riding in the car and you'd listen to the rhythm of the turn signal and you would hear music in everything like crickets and car horns.
Mr. MIDON: Windshield wipers, you know...
Mr. MIDON: ...are great. I would do beats to windshield wipers, you know, (imitates windshield wiper sound) you know?
HANSEN: Your late mother was African-American but your father was a professional dancer. He was born in Argentina. Was there a lot of music at home?
Mr. MIDON: Absolutely. The two things that really helped me in early years were my dad's great record collection, tango, great classical music. Yeah, he was and still is a lover of things like Stockhausen and John Cage and--as well as Beethoven and Mozart and all that, and a great jazz collection, Charlie Parker records and Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins and all that. The second thing was public radio. You know, we were in a very rural area in New Mexico, north of Santa Fe. It's not like New York City where you can go out every night and see good music.
HANSEN: "All In Your Mind" is your last tune on the album, and this was a song that's--essentially it's you. It's you telling us what it's like for you to not have sight.
Mr. MIDON: It's a song about imagination, really.
(Soundbite of "All In Your Mind")
Mr. MIDON: (Singing) Through my eyes, you can see the world. Well, you might be surprised what you'll find, a cool wind and a warm touch and a moment that is all in your mind. And if you find the reason to change your point of view...
My twin saw partially from about the age of four till the age of 15. So I realized that, you know, that gives him a perspective that I never had. So when I think about something or when I try to describe something as a person who's never seen, I have to imagine it by the things that I've heard. It's almost an intellectual process, you know? So when I talk about sunset or a beach or an ocean or over the horizon, all of that is in my mind because I've never seen what over the horizon looks like. And so that's what that song is about. It's about having it all in your imagination, which is why I'm such a fan of literature.
HANSEN: What do you love to read?
Mr. MIDON: Right now I'm reading "Anna Karenina," actually. On this leg of the tour, I think I'm going to finish it.
HANSEN: A few songs on this CD--I mean, it's about figuring out purpose, about believing in yourself, but you've also said that you're inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Do you envision your compositions as instruments of change?
Mr. MIDON: You know, I've gotten a little bit of flak for that, especially from the jaded press in some of the bigger cities, that I'm naive and that my lyrics are whatever. You know, I've been given a gift and I think my gift should be to at least contribute something to uplifting the world and that's what I'm about. Martin Luther King, you know, Malcolm X, people that have transcended--you know, Gandhi or people that have found something within themselves that says, `This is what my mission is,' and, you know, they gave their lives. I mean, that's--it doesn't get more noble than that. I hope I don't have to give my life, but people have done that. And that's very, very inspiring.
HANSEN: But do you want to be overtly political?
Mr. MIDON: I don't, and I haven't been overtly political, but that doesn't mean that I wouldn't be at some point. Some--I have been inspired by some people who are overtly political, Gil Scott-Heron, for example. I do listen to those people and still listen to them, and, you know, there's certainly a place for those kind of things.
HANSEN: So what are your immediate long-term goals for yourself and your music?
Mr. MIDON: Well, it's been kind of a hard road getting to the point where I am right now. So immediate goal is just to promote the record and to go around and do that. You know, I hope that the music does reach people and I hope that I in some way--you know, I don't have great expectations. I mean, I think, you know, The Beatles--I mean, we went through this whole period in the '60s where we thought a song was going to change the world, you know, and kind of realized that that's not necessarily the case. But, you know, you change an individual, and you--one person at a time, or you get them to think about something in a little bit of a different way and you are changing the world. So I want to inspire people because I was told from a very young age, `You can't do this. You're blind,' and it's never stopped me.
HANSEN: Raul Midon's debut CD "State of Mind" is on Manhattan Records and he joined us from NPR West.
Thanks a lot. Good luck with this.
Mr. MIDON: Thank you so much.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. MIDON: (Singing) Ba, ba...
HANSEN: To hear three of Raul Midon's songs from his new album "State of Mind," visit our Web site, npr.org.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. MIDON: (Singing) Well, you've been on my mind.
Unidentified Man: All right. We've got it. We've got it.