Legendary singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson isn’t wasting any time after recovering from his 11 days of intensive care hospital treatment for COVID-19 last December.
“Everything means more to me now,” said Robinson, who turned 81 on Feb. 19.
True to his word, the 2002 National Medal of the Arts recipient and 1987 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee is making every minute count.
Now in the script-writing phase of a feature film about his storied life, he is back on the road for the first time since early last year. His 2021 summer tour includes a Saturday concert at the San Diego Symphony’s new $85 million concert venue, The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park.
Robinson continues to write new songs on a regular basis, more than five decades after such Robinson-penned hits as “The Tracks of My Tears,” “My Girl” and “Ooh Baby Baby” became an indelible part of the American musical landscape. He is currently completing two new albums — one in English, one in Spanish.
“They are both contemporary, but they are totally different,” Robinson said, speaking from his Los Angeles home. “For about the past eight years or so, I’ve been learning Spanish.”
One of the most gifted and prolific singer-songwriters of his generation, Robinson achieved international fame and acclaim in the 1960s.
As both an in-house songwriter and a recording artist for Motown Records — first as the leader of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, then as a solo act — he wrote or co-wrote dozens of classics. Among the performers who recorded his songs at Motown were Marvin Gaye (“Ain’t That Peculiar”), Mary Wells (“My Guy”), The Temptations (“Get Ready”), The Contours (“First I Look at the Purse”) and The Jackson 5 (“Who’s Loving You”).
He also co-wrote “Girls Girls Girls” for Chuck Jackson and “Malinda” for Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers, a Canadian band whose lineup at one point included future stoner comedy star Tommy Chong.
Robinson chuckled when asked if was ever tempted to give The Miracles a song he wrote or co-wrote, rather than let another Motown act record it first — or if the opposite ever held true.
“When you hear any one of my songs by another (Motown) artist, I’d written those songs specifically for them,” he replied. “I didn’t stockpile songs and say: ‘This will work for me.’ ”
Even so, has he ever regretted not recording “My Girl” — which in early 1965 became a chart-topping hit for The Temptations, with David Ruffin on lead vocals — with The Miracles first?
“People have asked me: ‘Smokey, why didn’t you keep ‘My Girl’ for The Miracles, instead of giving it to The Temptations?’” Robinson acknowledged of the song, which was released on Gordy, a Motown Records offshoot label.
“I say: ‘If it wasn’t for The Temptations, I probably would never have had a career at Motown.’ The first No. 1 song I wrote was ‘The Way You Do the Things You Do’ for The Temptations in 1964. We had a policy at Motown that the producers and writers all had access to all the artists. We could go to them with a new song, and ask: ‘Hey, do you like this?’ It didn’t matter who had written their most recent hit record.
“If not for The Temptations and David Ruffin, I probably would never have written my other songs. ‘My Girl’ has become our international anthem at my concerts. We can be performing in a country where 60 percent of the audience doesn’t speak English. But as soon as they hear (the opening guitar notes) ‘Bum-bum, bum, bum, bum, bum,’ they jump up and sing and they know all the words.”