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SMOKEY ROBINSON AUGUST 1977 INTERVIEW
SMOKEY HITS THE BIG TIME
Smokey Robinson talks about his movie projects, recording and tour plans…


NOW THERE'S a subtle headline for you! After all, William 'Smokey' Robinson hit the big time years ago and has managed to stay there, so what the hell am I talking about?

Well, as any regular disco frequenter in the western world will confirm, the most danced-to sound of the day just happens to be called "Theme From Big Time" and its creator, performer and writer just happens to be the said Mr. Robinson and so everything is revealed.

"I've just been talking to a guy in Australia and he says the same thing about 'Big Time'," a somewhat bemused but jocular Mr. Robinson laughs. "It's funny, though, because I honestly didn't expect this kind of response from the soundtrack album.

"In a way, I guess I planned it but the real plan was to make the music as exciting as possible while the actual movie is playing."

Hesitantly, I asked Smokey what he had been doing for the past year or so because his own recording career seemed to have been ailing somewhat and it was then that I learned the reasoning behind it all.

"Since last June, this movie has been my only project," he explains. "That's why my last album, 'Deep In My Soul' had none of my own songs in it.

"In fact, without the help of some of the good people at Motown, there probably would not have been an album and I am ever in the debt of these talented people. But now that the movie is finished — it opens here in Los Angeles on August 9 — I'm going to go back on the road for a period and then I shall start work in the studio again.

"This time, I'm planning to record enough material for two albums."

But, though Smokey's solo involvement on the soundtrack should not come as a surprise, he was also involved in the movie right from its inception.

"Christopher Joy and Leon Isaacs and myself adapted a short story and then directed the movie between us. It meant that I actually became involved with the day to day shooting and general affairs of the film — right down to the cutting and post production as Editor.

"In fact, it was my decision to reshoot the last twenty minutes because I wasn't happy with it. And I've got close on a half million dollars invested in it — although I feel confident that I'll make it back because it is a quality movie.

"Much of the filming was done in friends' homes and in the streets of Los Angeles so we all feel that we got off cheaply. Happily, from the sneak previews we have had, the film looks like being a success and now that the soundtrack is doing nicely, we are hoping that the album will help the movie and that will help the album and on and on.

"The basic story is about a black guy whose father has a stroke and he suddenly has the job of supporting his family and paying the hospital bills. But he runs out of money and borrows from a friend who is involved in the syndicate. Then when it comes to payback time, he can't raise the money and so starts to arrange phoney accidents so that he can claim from the insurance companies.

"The whole thing is a comedy and ends up quite uproarously."

Meanwhile, while all of this filming activity has been going on, Smokey has allowed his recording and concert-making career to quietly take a back seat.

"But that's all changing now," he assures us. "One of my main hopes for this year is to get to Britain and do a few concerts there. I haven't actually appeared there since the Motown Revue back in '67 and I really want to put that right this year.

"It's funny because I think I am more excited about going out on the road now than I have ever been before. Maybe it's because I do have a choice now. When I was with the guys in the Miracles, there was no choice and it perhaps became like a regular job.

"For example, I couldn't have considered doing something like 'Big Time' if I had been in the group because it would have meant a year off the road and that would not have been fair to the other guys, would it? Now I am in a position to accept the dates I want and to bypass the others.

"As I said, I will do these concerts that will tie in with the movie, hopefully get to Britain and complete the two album projects — then I'll take a long break."

However, knowing Smokey, his idea of a 'nice, long break' probably means an extended lunch break because he is already hard at work on his next project.

"Actually, I have been quietly working on an animated movie for close on three years now. It's called 'Bushhead' and it now looks as though it may go through Motown's film company because Berry (Gordy Jr.) loves the idea of it all. It's not certain yet but that would be the ideal way for it all to happen.

"It's another piece of proof that I was right to leave the group when I did because again this is going to be a very time consuming project — even more so, really, than shooting 'live', because it is so much more complicated."

So, what has happened then to the other projects that Smokey was involved in the last time we talked, the album on his wife, Claudette, for example?

"Well, she decided that she wasn't quite ready yet so it's all been shelved. Right now, she is involved on a health trip so maybe when that is done, she'll be ready.

"Just the other day, I jokingly said to her that if she wasn't going to use the tracks, I would take them over for myself and, judging from the reaction I got from her, I'd say that she will eventually do the album!"

And, of course, it hasn't gone unnoticed that Smokey hasn't been writing the wealth of songs that he became renowned for.

"I have actually got a thousand that simply have never been finished. You see, I always believed that writing songs was inspirational, a kind of gift from God and so I don't believe the knack ever leaves you. Now that I hope to have a little more time, I hope to be able to concentrate more on writing and once the creativity starts to flow again, it'll all work out alright.

"In fact, I am actively working right now on five new songs for the upcoming two albums I told you about earlier. And surely the success of 'Big Time' — all of which I wrote — proves that I can still do it, right?"

So, we left Smokey to get back to his endeavours — safe in the knowledge that the fabled trip to Britain is no longer just a figment of his or our imagination.

Meanwhile, the disco people look like making "Big Time" such a success that Smokey simply won't be able to ignore us any longer anyway!!!

  
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