Exclusive Interview: Berry Gordy & Smokey Robinson (Part 2)

Exclusive Interview: Berry Gordy & Smokey Robinson (Part 2)

Today we’re bringing you the second part of our interview with Motown Founder Berry Gordy and Musical icon Smokey Robinson.

Missed part 1? Read it Here.

What does it mean to you guys personally that you’re opening up the music to whole new audiences around the world, it must be thrilling for you both?

Berry: I don’t consider the UK a new audience because they were so aware of our music when we had no idea they were aware of it. We were in a little place on West Grand Boulevard, a house, and we worked our hearts out to get this music out. When it started getting really big in America, we couldn’t get it played anywhere else hardly, but the UK, there was pirate radio here, Radio Caroline. We got our music on the air so this turned out to be the gateway to the world for us because the people loved it and they understood it and became the best fans in the world because they not only knew the artists but they knew the bass players…

Smokey: They knew everybody! They could play first violin!

Berry: These people were just incredible. There’s been a love affair with us since ’64 I think when we came over. They met us at the airport with signs saying “Welcome to the UK” and we were looking and we were amazed! There’s been a love affair with us and the UK since that time.

Smokey: The UK was very instrumental on our overseas launching. It’s always been wonderful for us. And I want to answer another part of that question because you asked about new audiences. I perform all over the world and what intrigues me a great deal about that is the fact that there are people in the audience and they’ve got their children with them, some of them are lap babies, 2/3 years old. The first time I ever saw these people, they were with their parents, and it’s a generational thing that continues to go on and on. I do believe that there are children that haven’t been born yet who will be exposed to the Motown music and I’m very proud of that because it keeps the quality. I give him [Berry] credit for that because on the very first day, there were 5 people there and he said “I’m going to start my own record company”. He was P**ed off that the other record companies weren’t paying so he said “I’m going to start my own record company and we are not just going to make black music, we’re going to make music for everybody. We’re always going to have great beats and great stories.” That’s what we set out to do and when I see the results of what has happened because of that nowadays, almost 60 years later and the music is still being played. It’s still being bought, it’s still being loved.


What is it that you hope audiences take away with them from the show?

Berry: What they take away every time from almost every show we do is the feeling of Motown. Their own memories, their own feelings and that is the feeling of joy and remembering where they were and what they were doing at the time a song came out. But even more important to me is their understanding of the story, understanding this is what happened and how it happened. It’s all about story even though the music enhances it so much. We can do a concert and still pack them in as Smokey does every night!

Smokey: It’s kind of like the concert though, because this is the first stage show I’ve ever been to in my life, and I’ve been to a lot of plays, where the audience is singing almost every song. That’s incredible for a play that the audience is singing almost every song, it’s unbelievable.

Berry: And everyone has a different experience, they have their own experience. Because there’s what they were doing at that time when that song was out and what troubles they were into. My feeling was that all the people in the world basically had so much in common. I was a friend of Dr [Martin Luther] King’s and he always told me that there are more good people in the world than bad, so work with those people and think about those people and they will then bring up other people. The world is such a complex place, but he said the bad people just speak louder and in smaller groups but there are more good people in the world because people want to be good. They were born good and they were taught to be not good in certain things. I believe that so I believed that my music would fit all people. So we never let that thought even perpetuate anything that we were doing and all the artists felt that so we had no concern and we were never in doubt. Smokey used to tell me stories that he would go to China, Japan or somewhere and the people would be singing the songs when they don’t even speak English! They’d sing in perfect English and then he’d go up to them after and say man that was great, you really were good and the guy says, what did he say?

Smokey: Oh yeh we were in Spain, The Miracles and I, we were playing a show that night. Many times when you were in foreign countries especially, the promoters would take you to the end spot in that town for the after show thing so you can kick back, dance, whatever you want to do to enjoy yourself. We were in Madrid, we go to this little club after the concert and these guys are up on stage and they’re singing “Now if you feel that you can’t go on”. It’s just verbatim, you close your eyes you think it’s The Four Tops. The guy comes off the stage and I go over to him and say “that was really, really, really great!” he goes “err no comprende!” He didn’t speak a word of English but he knew that song verbatim. That’s how he sounded and it happens all the time in countries where the basic language is not English. There are certain songs that you sing and people just sing them, they know them and that’s a beautiful feeling.


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