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Soulpop infused with wonder 

Maroon 5 keyboardist gets icon on solo debut

PJ Morton started bringing Stevie Wonder home with him when he was in the 7th grade. "My dad would give me an allowance and I would buy a new Stevie Wonder record every week," Morton says. Now, at age 32, Morton has fulfilled a lifelong dream by getting Wonder on his latest solo project, New Orleans, with his own band, debuting on Lil' Wayne's Young Money Entertainment/Republic Records label.

Although Wonder is featured playing harmonica on the cut "Only One," Morton still didn't get a chance to meet with his idol, but he's OK with that. "He doesn't need it for any business move in his career at this point," Morton chuckles. "He liked it, cut it over at Wonderland and sent it back over to me."

Morton will have an opportunity to showcase his style at the Double Door Inn on June 9 as a tour stop in support of the new album. The legendary blues venue is the perfect place to display his current sound while bringing up a bit of his past influences.

Growing up in New Orleans schooled him musically, but Morton says that if you weren't into jazz, there were few outlets there. "It was definitely the dopest foundation I could have had, but as a person with dreams beyond that I had to break out," he says.

Moving to Atlanta, he hooked up with India.Arie when she heard him playing piano in the lobby of his apartment building. "We lived in the same complex and she heard me playing and came down and we started talking about Stevie, oddly enough, and I said, 'Let's sing,' and she sang 'Ribbon In The Sky' for me and we've been friends since then." That friendship earned him a songwriting/production Grammy for "Interested" from her 2002 album, Voyage to India, and led to work with Jermaine Dupri, LL Cool J, Monica and Musiq Soulchild.

Morton's vocals are close to Wonder's — smooth and mellow — while his music is a soul-tinged funk which he refers to as soulful pop. But his pop isn't the Britney Spears variety. "The pop in soulful pop is because I try to write music that all types of people, all ages, all races and genders can relate to," he says.

New Orleans has Morton reaching out to a wide audience, and includes a collaboration with Busta Rhymes on "Never Get Over You." A video for the song stars two of Morton's kids. Busta's in-your-face bluster and raucous delivery seems an unlikely match-up for the smooth soulman, but he's long been a Morton favorite. "He's such a musical rapper," Morton says. "His cadences are really like jazz cadences."

Morton's musical reach got even wider three years ago when Maroon 5's band director, was looking for a keyboardist/singer for that band's upcoming tour. "They flew me up to L.A. and we clicked really easily," Morton says of landing the gig. Being a touring member of the group allows him to continue to play with his own band, opening selected tour dates for Maroon 5, as well as playing keys with Maroon 5 — though he won't be opening the band's Charlotte show at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on Sept. 11.

But right now, Morton's still overcome with Wonder being on his record, even though Wonder doesn't appear in the video for the song. Morton says he didn't even bother to ask. "I figure I'd save that favor for when I really need him," he chuckles. "Maybe if we're performing on the Grammys, I'll call."

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