It isn’t just you – Smokey Robinson really is everywhere.
At 83, the silky-voiced former frontman for the Miracles — known for such 1960s hits as “I Second That Emotion,” “The Tears of a Clown,” “Going to a Go-Go” and “The Tracks of My Tears” — could easily be resting on his pop music laurels. Instead, this year he has released his first album in nearly a decade, launched a U.S. tour and, just this month, started a new job as the host of his own SiriusXM channel, “Smokey’s Soul Town.”
Though it’s been some time since Robinson sat behind the vice president’s desk at Motown, he still knows how to sell an artist, even when it’s himself. His eyebrow-raising album title, “Gasms,” caught the press’ attention; he’s since been interviewed by just about everyone from the NBC’s stalwart “Today” show to the taste-making music site Pitchfork. Speaking to the U.K. newspaper The Guardian this past April, Robinson dropped another attention-grabber, revealing that he and Diana Ross had a long-ago affair.
Ahead of his Nov. 29 “Music & Memories” concert at The Paramount in Huntington, Robinson spoke to Newsday from his home in Los Angeles. Among the topics discussed: writing songs, staying young and why fans might want to get to his show a little early these days. Here’s an edited version of the conversation.
Let’s talk about the new album. Explain that title to me, Smokey.
Well, I'm glad you brought it up, because everyone brings it up. And that was my plan! See, that was my strategy because I hadn't had an album of original material in a long time. So, I wanted it to have impact. And I wanted it to have controversy, where people say, “What?!”
So I was at the piano, and I was just going to write some songs for this particular album. And I thought, “Well, what would be controversial? Gasms.” Because when people hear that, they think about orgasms. And that gets their attention right away. And you know, before I completed the song, I looked up “gasms.” And “gasms” is any good feeling you might have.
Could you have gotten away with that in the 1960s?
Oh, I don't think so. In the 1960s I had a song called “I’ve Made Love to You a Thousand Times.” And radio refused to play it because there was a line in there that said, “I’ve made love to you a thousand nights and a thousand days for a thousand ways.” And they said, “What do you mean by ‘a thousand ways?’ We can't play that!” And they wouldn't play it. That would be totally a nerd lyric now, you know what I'm saying?
Everyone’s got their own way of songwriting. What's your way?
There's no way. That's my way. You might say something to me during this conversation that I say, “Oh, that'd be a great song.” I might give you credit, too!
You know, I think that all creativity is a gift from God, and I think that everyone gets it. Some people don't even know they have it. Some people never discover it. Some people discover it and squander it. But everybody gets a gift. So one of the gifts that I got, man, was to be able to rhyme and to write songs. I've been doing it since I was 6 years old.
Can you tell when you've written a great song?
I try to make all of them great. They might not be hits. But when I write a song … Well, 50 years from now, it's going to mean something. And I think with that attitude, a lot of my songs have proven that. Because some of my songs, man, are older than 50.
You were talking about your ability to come up with a rhyme. Do you think that has helped give you an appreciation for hip-hop?
If y’all pay close attention, these young people — their rhyme schemes are incredible. They go back to rhyming stuff like [George M.] Cohan and the Gershwins and people like that, back in the day. But they're rhyming street rhymes, and they're rhyming life. And if people listen to it, they'll hear that.
In the ‘80s, you released “Being with You,” which is one of your great songs. But that's the decade when you started to get into cocaine. Why do you think you turned to it then?
First of all, just out of curiosity. You started with your friends, with the people that you know, who you love, and they love you. People will tell you: “Well, if they loved you, they wouldn't give it to you.” Yes, they would — because you gave it to them, too!
How do you stay in shape these days?
First of all, I have been doing yoga for better than 40 years. Yoga is so dynamic in keeping the body stretched out and keeping the muscles and the core muscles and all those things stretched out and moving properly. I do that every day. Then the next day I'll do my yoga and I'll go down to my gym and lift weights. So I try to take care of myself all the time, because I don't ever want to be old, man. You know what I mean?
You’re one of the last original Motown artists still standing.
Eighty percent of us are gone. Diana Ross is still around. She's doing great, in fact. And Otis [Williams] of The Temptations … And then there's Duke [Fakir] of The Four Tops … It seems like every time you’re turning around, somebody else is passing away. But we're at that time of life, man.
Speaking of Diana Ross, has she said anything to you about telling the Guardian about your affair?
No, no, no. I only did it because she had done it first! A long time ago she had done it. And she's my good friend. I feel fine about it. You know, we were young people. So there's nothing tragic about that, or ridiculous, you know. The only ridiculous thing about it may have been the fact that I was married when I was doing it, but I was young. That was many, many, many moons ago.
Is there a Smokey Robinson biopic coming?
Yes, there is. In fact, all we've been waiting for now to get started is the strike to be over. The script is done and everything.
Who do you want to play you?
Whoever's going to do the best job, man. I'm not sure if it would be somebody new, like the dude who played Elvis, or someone established. We haven't gotten that far yet.
After all these years, do you ever get tired of performing?
No, man. I really don't. I can't find anything that replaces it for me.
You know, there was a time when I had what you call a meet-and-greet. And I used to do it after the concert that night. But now I've started doing it an hour before the concert. So [fans] come back and they say, “OK, Smokey, now where's the party?” And I would tell them, “I just had the party! For two hours, I had the party. That is the party! Now I'm going back to my hotel and watch some TV.”