For many of us, Motown’s Smokey Robinson, now 83, provided the soundtrack to our youth with memorable hits like Tracks of My Tears, Being With You, or Tears of a Clown. Remarkably, he’s still going strong and back on the road with a new album, Gasms. The twice-married father-of-three tells us his secrets:
Q: Congratulations on your 26th studio album, Gasms. Tell us about that title?
SMOKEY: I was at the piano one day, and I wanted to write something controversial and I thought about gasms, because gasm is a controversial word. And most people, when you say gasms, they go right to orgasm as the first gasm. It might be the most important one anyway!
Q: Do you hope Gasms might help get older folk back in the bedroom?
SMOKEY: Yes! Because when people get to be a certain age, they can lose their desire to have sex or make love. That’s never happened to me! I want to make it clear – that’s never happened to me.
I think people have a misconception about the over 60s, thinking once you get to that age that you’re done.
I think people have a misconception about the over 60s, thinking once you get to that age that you’re done. Especially in today’s world where people who are 60 are now like 30. We’ve got all kinds of health stuff and treatments that we didn’t have years ago. When I was a kid, a person of 60 was kind of old – but not now.
Q: How do you keep fit for touring again?
SMOKEY: I work out all the time whether I’m going on the road or not. I just want to keep myself as fit as I possibly can. And I’ve been doing yoga for about 40 years. So I try and take care of myself as best I can because the road can be grueling – life itself can be grueling so I just want to be in as good a health as I possibly can. But I’m never off the road, honey. It’s just that we have a new album out but we tour all the time.
Q: And you also meditate?
SMOKEY: I don’t meditate like I used to. I used to do transcendental meditation but that’s what got me off into doing yoga. And I found that by doing a yoga and relaxing my body that way, I didn’t have to do the meditation anymore.
Q: Do you have a strict diet?
SMOKEY: I haven’t had any red meat like beef, pork or lamb since 1972 although I still ate fish and chicken. For about five years, I was actually a vegan. But then I got sick with COVID and I was hospitalized for about 11 days. And when I came home, my wife Frances, started sneaking fish and chicken into my meals. I wasn’t paying attention because I was still out of it. COVID keeps you out for a while.
So I began eating chicken and fish again but then there are so many plant based meats nowadays. There’s a plant based meat for almost every kind of meat you can think of. So I’m in pretty good shape because of those things.
Q: What’s an average day in your life look like?
SMOKEY: I am an early riser for many reasons because I used to run all the time. I’ve had arthroscopic surgery on both my knees now but I used to run all the time and I got to the point where I was attempting to run marathons. I attempted three, and I made one. So I used to get up at 5am every morning to run. I had a pact with myself that I had to run at least five miles – no matter what I had done the night before.
But I’m also a golfer and golf gets you up early too. Golf is addicting. It’s the most addicting sport – and I’ve tried all of them. If you call me at 5am and say let’s play some golf, I’m there. But if you call me at 5am and say let’s go play some baseball, I’m gonna hang up on you. In the afternoons I’ll work on my social media projects and take care of some business or stay home and watch TV. I also have a great dog, an English white lab, and I play with him. But I like to go to bed early. So I’m an early riser and an early sleeper.
Q: You’ve always been an early riser?
SMOKEY: Yes, ever since I was a teenager, by the time it was 11pm or midnight, I was ready for bed – even at the weekend. My dad taught me to drive when I was 10 and when I turned 16 he built me a car. He was a master mechanic and went to the junkyard got a body of a ’47 Ford and some partial motor cars and put me a car together. So I had a car and on the weekends if there was a party, I would pick up all my buddies and we’d go. But, come 11pm, I’d be going round the party telling everyone I wanted to go home. But I’ve always wanted to go to bed early and get up early.
Q: And you’re in the wine business too?
SMOKEY: Yes we had a winery in Pittsburgh because my wife, Frances, was born there. She introduced me to a couple of her friends and they convinced me to go into the wine business in 2017. Now we have a vineyard in Napa Valley and another in Italy. But it did start in Pittsburgh.
Q: Are you a big wine drinker?
SMOKEY: No, I’m not a drinker at all. So it was ironic to me – but our wines are milder than their counterparts from other companies. I got in from the ground floor. I didn’t want them to put my name on some existing wine and just say ‘OK, here’s Smokey Robinson wine’. So I tasted grapes and made all kinds of stuff for about 18 months before we even came up with the first bottles. So I made it mild for people like me who don’t really drink. It’s very good. Occasionally I will have some wine and, when I do, I want it to be low-alcohol.
Q: Where is home today?
SMOKEY: I live in Los Angeles, basically but we have homes in Pittsburgh and Las Vegas.
Q: Who is your own favorite artist?
SMOKEY: Oh gosh, I couldn’t tell you my favorite. I listen to everyone. I love music. I grew up in a home where there was all kinds of music all day, every day. I grew up hearing the most Gut Bucket blues and all the other blues. I had two older sisters who played Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra and also bebop, like Dizzy Gillespie. And then my mother played gospel music by the Five Blind Boys and other times she would only play classical music so I’d only hear Beethoven, Chopin or Rachmaninoff. So I listen to everyone. I listen to all my peers but also to the younger people, because they always have a grip on the market so I gotta hear what they’re doing, if I want to be in the record business and compete with them.
They say grow old gracefully – but I’m not gonna do that.
Q: Can you share any advice on how we can all stay as youthful as you?
SMOKEY: Yes, I do. Keep yourself in as good shape as you possibly can but think about not being old. When you think you’re old, that’s when it happens to you. They say grow old gracefully – but I’m not gonna do that. So just think young and be young, because it’s a frame of mind. Age is just a number. So use your number to your best advantage.
Q: You’re always looked great. What is your secret to aging with attitude?
SMOKEY: I don’t want to be old, that’s my secret. I want to be as young and vibrant as I possibly can for as long as I possibly can. I don’t even think about being old. That doesn’t even come into my psyche. I feel as good, if not better, than I did when I was 50. So age hasn’t affected me to the point where I’m thinking, ‘Well it’s time for me to sit in a rocking chair now and kick back’. So I just try and keep that frame of mind.
* Download/stream Smokey’s GASMS HERE or check him out on tour:
6/23 – Saratoga, CA – Mountain Winery
6/24 – Brooks, CA – Cache Creek Casino
7/8 – Milwaukee, WI – Summerfest
7/19 – Costa Mesa, CA – OC Fair
7/27 – Meridien, MS – MSU Riley Center
7/29 – Biloxi, MS – Beau Rivage Casino
8/5 – Detroit, MI – Fox Theater
8/19 – Pala, CA – Pala Casino Resort
11/3 – Chandler, AZ – Wild Rose Pass Casino
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Gill Pringle began her career as a rock columnist for popular British newspapers, traveling the world with Madonna, U2 and Michael Jackson. Moving to Los Angeles 27 years ago, she interviews film and TV personalities for prestigious UK outlets, The Independent, The i-paper and The Sunday Times – and, of course, Senior Planet. A member of Critics Choice Association, BAFTA and AWFJ, she wrote the screenplay for 2016 Netflix family film, The 3 Tails Movie: A Mermaid Adventure. An award-winning writer, in 2021 she was honored by the Los Angeles Press Club with 1st prize at the NAEJ Awards.
Photo (Top) by Derek Banks with Crowd MGMT