He's "the poet laureate of soul," the godfather of the "Quiet Storm." And as the man behind some of the most iconic love songs of the last half century, who better to headline on Valentine's Day than William "Smokey" Robinson?
Fresh from performing Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” with Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson, Usher and Carrie Underwood at last month’s Grammys, Robinson is the main attraction at the Emerald Queen Casino on Sunday. Recently, we caught up with the living legend, who will turn 70 on Feb. 19, to talk about his career, his new album, “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun” and missing Michael.
Most recently, we all saw you do the Michael Jackson tribute on the Grammys. How emotional was that for you?
Michael was my little brother, and so in memory of him it was emotional. But the song! Michael was an ecology buff, and he loved people and animals and the Earth and all that. And we are absolutely annihilating the Earth. We better start being conscious of that and taking care of this Earth because we have nowhere to go. And our poor little grandkids, man. … We’re leaving them absolutely nothing.
Where were you when you found out about Michael?
I was actually in a meeting, and my wife called me. She was hysterical and told me that Michael died.
For a few minutes I couldn’t even speak, and the people I was with said, ‘What’s up? What’s the matter?’ And when finally I could tell them, everyone was just awestruck. It was a sudden impact. It was an incredible, unbelievable moment.
You and he are linked by, among other things, by your legacy with Motown. Did you have any inkling of the sort of effect you would be able to have in the early days?
Well, you know something, Ernest. I knew. When Barry Gordy started Motown from the very first day, there were only five people there. … And he sat us down and he said, ‘We are not gonna just make black music. We’re gonna make music for everybody. We’re gonna make music for the world. We’re gonna make music with great beats and great stories. We’ll always make quality music. And that’s what we set out to do.
But in our wildest dreams and in our wildest imaginations, I’m sure that none of us – including Barry Gordy – on that first day had any idea what Motown would become to the world.
We don’t get tired of hearing them. But there are songs you’ve played thousands and thousands of times. Are there songs you get tired of doing?
From the bottom of my heart, every night those songs are brand new to me, ’cause I love the concerts. As far as my work goes, that’s my favorite part of it, ’cause I get a chance to be with my fans. I get a chance to make some new fans. I get a chance to do a one-on-one with people. That’s my favorite part.
What kind of set are you putting together for us?
Everything. It’s at least 21/2 hours, maybe three hours, of just having fun – singing all the songs they want to hear. We sing all the old stuff, all the new stuff, all the in between stuff, and we just come and have a good time.
I have a six-piece band that travels with me all the time. I have three singers and two dancers who are with me at all times. I carry my own sound and lighting. There’s 18 people on the road.
What about the new CD? Are you doing a lot of “Time Flies” stuff?
Yes we are. It’s the one I’m promoting now, so we’re definitely doing stuff from the “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun” CD. So come on out, let’s have a good time.
Which ones are getting the best response out of the new songs?
Gosh, I don’t know. You know, we’ve played several of ’em and they all get good reaction, which makes me very happy because it’s my new CD and it’s on my own label.
What would you say is the biggest lesson you had to learn throughout the course of your career?
That show business is one of the most fickle occupations there is. People see the glitter and gleam, and they see the success stories. But they don’t realize that show business is a life of peaks and valleys, ups and downs, ins and outs, overs and unders. And it constantly goes on. I’ve been doing this for 50 years and it’s the same thing since I started.
Has there been a time during one of the valleys you’ve thought of retiring from show business?
Well, the only time I ever thought of retiring, Ernest, is when I retired from the Miracles. I retired from the Miracles at a point in my life when my two oldest kids were little babies, and I wanted to spend more time with them. And I’d been on the road with the Miracles since I was 16 years old, and we had done everything that a group could do. We had done it three or four times. We had been all over the world.
Plus, I was the vice president of Motown Records. I had been for years. So when I was at home, I had a job. I just had had it, and I wanted to retire. And so I did, and I stayed retired for about 31/2 years, and I went to my office on every working day, and I did the vice president stuff. And then after 31/2 years I was climbing the walls to go out and do some concerts.
I tried retirement, so I’m not gonna do that again.
Ernest Jasmin: 253-274-7389