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Miracles Worker

The legendary Smokey Robinson will perform at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Saturday.

April 27, 2001|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's no need to shop around--the legendary Smokey Robinson's Saturday night gig at the Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks is the happening musical event this weekend.

Robinson has pretty much defined the love song during his 40-plus-year career, with 36 Top 40 hits along the way. Robinson has earned a Grammy Living Legend Award, plus he's a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

A founding executive, songwriter and performer at Motown Records, Robinson scored the label's first big hit, "Shop Around," with the Miracles at the end of 1960. And the hits just kept on coming for Smokey and the Miracles, including such classics as "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" and "Tears of a Clown."

Robinson also wrote hits for other Motown artists, such as "My Girl" for the Temptations, "My Guy" for Mary Wells and "Don't Mess With Bill" for the Marvelettes. These songs still sound as good as they did when they were new, and Robinson has one of the great voices in popular music.

Speaking from Atlanta, William "Smokey" Robinson had a few stories to tell.

Q. How often do you tour these days compared to the Miracle days?

A. There's really no comparison to the Miracle days. I'm out probably once a week on the weekends. Last year during the summer months, though, we did an extensive tour, so you know, I do this all the time. Basically I play amphitheaters like I'm playing tonight, plus I play the casinos in Vegas, Tahoe, Reno, Atlantic City, and there's a lot of Native American casinos around the country now. We're constantly doin' something.

Q. What's the secret to surviving on the road after all these years?

A. Well, I love it. It's my passion. It's something that I look forward to because it's the only time I get to one-on-one with the fans, to communicate with them. See, I don't do the show where I'm performing and you're just at the show--you're participating. It's like we're having this big, fun party making music, and I love it, man. And the other thing, I have this radio show in L.A., so I'm probably busier than I've ever been.

Q. How has the music biz changed since you started?

A. There's no comparison to what it was. When I first started, it was easier to have an independent record, and nowadays, there's only about five record companies in the world.

Q. How did "Shop Around" change things for you?

A. "Shop Around" changed things for me, but also for Motown. We had just started not too long before, and that was the first million seller for Motown, the Miracles and me. So it really started a lot of things happening.

Q. What are the dynamics of a love song? The ones you have written seem timeless.

A. Songs should be a story like a short movie or a short novel--something that gives people a beginning, a middle and an ending that ties in and tells them something. I've always tried to write songs. I'm not a person that sits down and tries to write a record or what's going to be the trendy thing like a dance . . . or something. I always try to write a song because if I write a song, 20 years from now it still has a chance to be recorded or still be around.

Q. Was "Don't Mess With Bill" about you?

A. You know, people have asked me that down through the years, but . . . that one's for all the Bills because it just sang well. Don't mess with Tom? Nope. Don't mess with John? Nope. Don't mess with Bill just sang well.

Q. Where's Motown's place in all this?

A. I think Motown is the most eventful musical thing that's ever happened. I'm very proud, very happy and very blessed to have been a part of that. I don't think it'll ever happen like that again, and most certainly, never happened like that before that time.

Q. How would you describe Smokey music?

A. My music is just me--it's what I feel. Like I said, I'm a very blessed man because I'm living a life that I absolutely love. . . . So for me to be able to write music and have people accept it and for some of my songs to just live on and on and on--I'm living my dream.

Q. What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?

A. People ask me that all the time, but nowadays, I don't know what advice to give to a songwriter or a singer because it's not like it used to be. It used to be that songs were like a keynote, but now there's another kind of music that is the mainstream music. So unless they're writing something that is rap or hip-hop--and I'm not putting down rap or hip-hop, because there's a lot of that stuff that I thoroughly enjoy--but it's another kind of music. So I don't know what to say to a fledgling songwriter. They'd be better off asking someone who is involved in that.

Q. Any place you haven't played?

A. I can't think of anywhere I haven't played, but there's countries I haven't played in, like [in] Africa or China. Gosh, that's probably about it.

Q. This story will be a preview for the Thousand Oaks show. Have you played there before?

A. Yes, I have, but it's been a few years. It's a beautiful venue.

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