AFTER five decades in show business, the man who shaped Motown with instantly recognisable hits like My Girl and Tears of a Clown says he can’t stop writing.
Smokey Robinson says he scribbles down lyrics on a pad or leaves a fragment of a tune on his own voice mail whenever inspiration strikes.
“I write on the plane, on the bus, on the train, I write in the bathroom,” Robinson said in an interview. “I do have a bunch of songs that I’m very anxious to record.”
But you won’t hear any of that material on his latest album, Smokey & Friends, out this week. The collection of Robinson tunes pairs the legendary singer-songwriter with Elton John, Mary J Blige, James Taylor, CeeLo Green, Miguel, Steven Tyler and more.
Robinson, who is on a US tour, talked about about his duets and collaborators and his love of being on the road.
GETTING A HOLD OF FRIENDS
On Smokey & Friends, Robinson sang You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me in-studio with longtime friend Steven Tyler, while the other tracks were pieced together electronically from separate recording sessions.
Each collaborator picked a favourite song written by Robinson. Elton John, a friend of Robinson’s for three decades, chose The Tracks of My Tears, first recorded by the Miracles in 1965.
“When we’re around each other, we have a great time. Neither one of us is from affluency,” Robinson said of John. “So when you come up like that and your dream is to be in show business or to sing or play and you get the chance to really do it and earn your living, and it’s your life – it’s a wonderful thing.”
BACK INTO THE STORM
Robinson heard John Legend cover his song Quiet Storm in concert and told the 35-year-old soul crooner backstage that he should record a version of it.
“I look at people like John and I know that the future of show business is in good hands,” Robinson said. The two join up on a new version of the tune, which in 1975 marked Robinson’s return to the industry after a brief hiatus.
“I’m very close to that song,” he said. “It became a radio format and there are ‘quiet storm’ stations all over the country now.”
Robinson says he’s been watching and listening to Mary J Blige since she debuted in 1992 as the “queen of hip hop soul”.
“Mary has done a metamorphosis from when I first met her,” he said. “She came from having the image of the hip hop world into what she has now. And that’s a whole other vision of her. She’s very spiritual. And she’s one of the greatest singers ever.”
On the duets album, Blige sings Being With You, first recorded by Robinson in 1981 on his solo album of the same name.
GENERATIONS OF FANS
Robinson, 74, has been performing for more than five decades and won’t be stopping any time soon. He gets a spark of energy from seeing parents in the audience holding babies.
“The first time I saw those people, they were on their parents’ laps. There’s everybody there, from six months old to 100, and they’re of all races,” he said. “I’m not going to get that anywhere else. I’m not going to get that same feeling, that same vibe, that same energy, anywhere else.”
There’s no after-party after each two-hour show nowadays, though.
“That was the party for me. I’m going to my hotel now. I’m going to watch some TV until I wind down and go to sleep. But it is a party,” he said. “That’s why I still do it.” – Sapa-AP