When most folks conjure images of Smokey Robinson, the impression is of a silky smooth singer, who became a Motown legend belting out such classics as Going To A Go-Go,” “Tears of a Clown,” or “The Way You Do The Things You Do.”
Yes, that's a huge part of who Robinson has been over a legendary career. You can't help but be taken aback by his unique, gorgeous tenor. Other vocalists can only dream of possessing such a set of pipes.
But that's not all that Robinson, 73, brings to the table. Robinson, who has a staggering 37 Top 40 hits, doesn't get the notice for it but he's one of the all-time great songwriters. The R&B icon is so adept at wordplay that Bob Dylan, a pretty good bard in his own right, calls Robinson America's greatest living poet.
“That's something I'll always treasure,” Robinson says while calling from Los Angeles. “To hear something like that from anybody is great but to hear that from him is incredible. When it comes to songwriting there are no new chords, notes or words. I used the same ol' stuff but I try to make it a little different and I've been very fortunate throughout my career by just writing as best as I can.”
The soulful entertainer's songwriting and production ability made him arguably the most indispensable member of the Motown Machine, which is hardly small praise when considering the talent that was part of Berry Gordy's musical empire. Such gems as “Shop Around” and “You've Really Got a Hold on Me” were written and performed by Robinson while he fronted the Miracles.
But Robinson also wrote such classics as “My Guy” for Mary Wells and “My Girl” for the Temptations as well.
“There was a lot of inspiration that was flowing through me,” Robinson says. “I had songs coming out of me left and right back them. I've always enjoyed writing songs.
“It's been as important as singing to me,” he says. “The ability to write a song is something I'm proud of. I was never one of those guys content to just sing. I've always enjoyed songwriting.”
Looking back at his '60s hey day, it's difficult to imagine when Robinson ever rested. The mellow iconoclast was in perpetual motion in the studio or the stage.
“I had a lot of energy and I had so much to contribute,” Robinson says. “I worked as hard as I could.”
Robinson, who will perform Wednesday at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, still works hard and he has still possesses that golden voice.
Four years ago, he blew away a few thousand jaded, badge sporting hipsters/members of the music industry at the nation's biggest music festival, South By Southwest.
The playful Robinson, who always knew how to work a room, had the capacity crowd of 3,000 in the palm of his hand. Young musicians should have taken copious notes during this performance clinic.
“That was a great deal of fun,” Robinson says. “I still love to perform. I can still do it.”
Robinson still has considerable stamina since he's kind to his body. “I take good care of myself to do a great deal,” Robinson says. “I'm not a partier anyway. The way I look at it is that I have a job to do so the people in the audience can party. I've been blessed to have such an instrument. I thank God for that and the life I have, which is something I enjoy and appreciate. I do all that I can to be as healthy as possible to sing.”