- 02 Jul 07
Ahead of his Dublin gig, Motown legend Smokey Robinson tells Hot Press what it was like running one of the greatest music labels in the history of pop music.
Bob Dylan famously described him as, “America’s greatest living poet.” His songs ‘Tracks of My Tears’, ‘My Girl,’ ‘Tears of A Clown,’ and ‘Get Ready’ are ingrained in the consciousness of generations of music lovers. The Beatles were amongst his earliest fans, recording a version of his song ‘You Really Got A Hold Of Me’.
But Smokey (William) Robinson will always be inextricably linked to Motown, arguably the greatest music label in the history of pop music. As songwriter, producer, performer, talent scout and later vice-president, he was at the very heart of the company that styled itself as “the sound of young America”. He was taken under the wing of Motown founder Berry Gordy and together they forged the unique sound that was Motown.
“Man, I wish I’d known at the time we were making history, not just making music,” he laughs, down the phone line from LA. “We’d decided from very early on that we were not going to make black music, we were going to make music that everyone could enjoy. Time has proved that we did the right thing. It was quality music.”
He recalls his delight at hearing the early Beatles were big fans of Motown. “I had met them before they became popular and I liked them even then, so it was a joy to hear them do my song,” he says. “I still love that version and I’m glad I played some part in their careers.”
As well as writing for Motown acts such as the Temptations, The Four Tops and Mary Wells, Robinson enjoyed huge success with his group The Miracles, and later on as a solo artist. He became vice president of Motown at beginning of the ‘70s – how did he find the business side of things compared with his artistic role?
“It wasn’t really something new for me because was involved in the business from the start,” he explains.
“Back in the days when it was just Tamla Records and we were just a local label, Berry Gordy and I did everything it took to run the company. I remember going to the pressing plant with the tapes to manufacture the records, I remember boxing up the records myself and taking them around to the stores and to the radio stations. So running the business was nothing new to me. It was just a bigger company and we were making more hits.”
Robinson still records and performs regularly, and he makes a rare Irish visit when he plays Vicar Street on July 9.
“You know performing is my favourite part of my work and that’s why I still do it. I tour when I feel like it without any pressure from anyone. We do a two and a half hour show and include a bunch of the old stuff and some the new stuff. I’m looking forward to this tour.”