When Smokey Robinson, the legendary R&B singer and songwriter, told us on the phone that he was a fan of Lady Gaga, we weren't surprised. First of all, he appeared recently on The Voice, so he's not out of the loop, and these days, thanks to TiVo, even our parents know more about Rihanna and Chris Brown than we do.
Smokey's something special. And everything this Motown Miracle had to say, we listened and learned. A day before his Hard Rock show tomorrow night, we talked about Robinson's time singing on TV with Nicholas David, his love of Nelly, and the evolution of music.
New Times: What was it like being on The Voice recently?
Smokey Robinson: I've done shows like that many, many times. It was a great experience because Nicholas [David] requested me because he was going to sing "Cruisin'." I was very happy to do that. He's a very nice young man, and I love that show. I watch it all the time. I had a good time.
The winner is from West Palm. Did you meet her and the other singers? Did you have any impressions about them? Do you think any of them are going to be stars?
The wonderful thing about those shows, and it started with American Idol, the kids who make the show are seen my millions all over the country before the even make a record. So many of them have fans already. All the kids who make the top ten already have a fan base, so they all have a good shot of becoming well-known.
They're putting out Motown: The Musical. Are you familiar with the script?
Well, yeah. Berry Gordy's my best friend, so you know I was familiar when they first started doing it. I'm very happy that he is doing that. I think it should be done. He did a whole vignette expose of it a few months ago, my wife and went to that. It's going to be awesome. I think he's going to get some Tonys out of this.
Is there anything that wasn't included about Motown that should be included that wasn't?
Not that I can think of, no.
Do you have any Motown memories that you wish would be made into a movie?
This is the story of his life and I think it should be told. It's accurate. There's so many inaccurate ones. I think it's going to be wonderful, people are going to love it.
Do you go back to Detroit often?
I still have some relatives there, and a few friends. I get back at least once or twice maybe a year. At least once every two or three years, I perform there.
Detroit has obviously changed a lot, but particularly, it was hit hard economically in the past years. Do you have any feelings on that?
I think they're doing a turnaround now. The city is being revitalized. The auto plants are back, and I hope it turns around.
Are you still songwriting for other artists?
I write all the time. At this point, in the last couple of years, I haven't done any writing for other artists because I've just been so busy with my own schedule.
What's your favorite thing about songwriting, as opposed to performing?
The fact that it's a blessing. And it's creativity, and I'm blessed to have it.
Are there any new artists that you wish you could write songs for or perform with?
I would love to do both with all the new artists. [laughs] I'm not prejudiced on that whatsoever. Why would I be, you've got a lot of great new artists out there, and great new songs out there.
What do you think about new trends in music? R&B seems to be coming back with a bunch of new singers...
Did it ever leave?
It was less popular for a minute.
[Laughs] I don't remember that, Liz! Music is evolution. It keeps happening. I don't know what you're talking about. You've always had young people coming along and singing R&B. I don't know how many years Beyonce's been out, or Alicia Keys, Chris Brown, and people like that. They've been going for years. I don't remember a lull.
There's been a lot of electronic music, and this year seemed like a lot of the top songs were R&B...
That's been around too, honey. It's like disco music. That's what people in the clubs like. Music is always there. It's just a fact of who's listening to it. I think that radio has gone electronic in the last couple of years, but other than that, the music has always been there.
Who are some of your favorite new R&B artists, you mentioned Beyonce and Chris Brown?
I listen to everybody. There are so many wonderful artists out there. You've got Bruno Mars. I love Lady Gaga. She's got the music that I love, because I listen to everybody. I listen to rap. I love Nelly. You might catch me listening to Nelly, or you might catch me listening to Bach!
Nelly's great! Have you seen him live?
Oh, yeah! I did a benefit in New York in December and Nelly and I were on the show together. It was the Angel Ball.
Anything else coming up?
I'm about to go back in the studio again. I haven't gone in. But I have two projects in mind. I have a duets CD with some artists and I'm also doing one in Spanish.
Do you speak Spanish or are you just singing in Spanish?
Well, I've been learning Spanish for the past four year or so. It's been coming along pretty good. It's a tough language, but it's so beautiful and I want to learn as much about it as I can!
Smokey Robinson. 7 p.m. Saturday, January 12, at Hard Rock Live Hollywood, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets cost $49 to $79 plus fees. Call 954-797-5531, or visit hardrocklivehollywoodfl.com.