Smokey Robinson has written some of the most beautiful and tender pop songs of the modern age, but he didn’t get where he is today by being soft.
When he first met Berry Gordy – the man who would found Motown, with Smokey standing right alongside him from day one – Gordy rejected all but two of the dozens of compositions in the young writer’s notebook. Smokey, now 74, wasn’t offended; he could take the criticism. How else do you get better, to the extent that you can write classics such as My Girl, The Tears Of A Clown, The Way You Do (The Things You Do) and countless more?
Smokey gave a full interview and account of his career’s highs and lows to ‘The Telegraph’. He even discussed his addiction to drugs and why he has avoided alcohol.
In 1981, Smokey was again very popular – Being With You was a huge hit. He was living large and enjoying the height of the 1980’s. He wasn’t going to listen to anyone warning him of the evils of coke.
“I thought that it couldn’t happen to me. That’s the cunning of drugs. I could never become addicted! ‘I love sports, and I run, and I take care of myself. I can overcome this.’ Because when I was younger I used to smoke a whole lot of weed. But weed was always manageable for me. I could have some killer weed and put it away for a year and not touch it! It never had the handle on me. I had the handle on it.
“But when I started dibbling and dabbling on the cocaine,” he smiles ruefully, “that was a whole other animal. And I never thought I could become an addict. But I did.”
He ignored his friends and family’s entreaties. Then one night someone took him to a storefront church near his home in Los Angeles. The pastor prayed for him.
“And she told me that God had told her I was coming. And she told me all the things that were happening to me, physically and emotionally and mentally – which I shared with no on one earth!” he declares fiercely, his piercing eyes blazing. “No one knew. She told me every one of ’em that night. She said God had showed her what was going on.
“And I walked in that church an addict, and I came out free. May of 1986. Never looked back,” he nods with satisfaction.
On the subject of drinking he says:
“If I have some sushi I’ll have Saki. But I never drank. First of all, I never liked the taste of it. And I grew up, Craig,(Robinson’s real name) in my neighborhood, seeing everyone, everything. Alcoholics, junkies, prostitutes, what have you. And many of them were in my family, OK? And the alcoholics were the most pitiful of them all. They’d be standing there talking to the wall. Cussing the wall out – there was nobody there! Peeing on themselves. They were pitiful. Then alcohol had an adverse effect on me because [of] my dad … [He] was Clark Kent Sunday to Friday – just mild-mannered, sweetie-pie! Friday, he’d get paid, him and his friends – who were buddy-buddy all week long, they were brothers, they loved each other – they’d be drunk, fighting each other. It was just an adverse kind of drug for me, alcohol. So I never drank. And when I started doing something that I liked narcotic-wise, it was weed. And I didn’t start that till just before I graduated from high school.”
Smokey is one of our American treasures. He recently released a new album this week. Smokey & Friends, which is a collection of duet versions of some of his greatest hits. It features Elton John (on The Tracks Of My Tears), Mary J. Blige (Being With You), Gary Barlow (Get Ready), and Jessie J (Cruisin’).
Take a look at some of these great collaborations:
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