Monday, March 22, 2010

Smokey Robinson SXSW 2010 Keynote Speech

via Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Smokey Robinson, relaxed while sitting on an easy chair, summed up his life as a songwriter in these few words: "My goal is to always write a song," he said. "Every time I sit down, I want to write a song."

That was the gist of the Motown music legend's keynote address Thursday morning (March 18) at the South by Southwest Music Festival. Except that Robinson didn't stand behind a lectern to deliver a pre-written speech.

Instead, in a much looser setting, he fielded questions from music journalist Dave Marsh. Although all Marsh really did was introduce a general topic and let the talkative artist gab.

Robinson isn't shy. He's more than happy to tell stories about the golden days and today. Robinson hasn't slowed down, releasing Time Flies When You're Having Fun on his Robso Records label last year. Plenty of conversation also focused on 2006's collection of pop standards, Timeless Love.

"It was the first music I heard in my life at home," he said of the classics on Timeless. "I consider these songs to be timeless. They are older than me."

Of course, much discourse centered on Berry Gordy, the visionary Motown Records founder that took 16-year-old Smokey Robinson and helped mold him into a superstar singer and songwriter.

When Robinson met Gordy, he had a loose-leaf notebook full of songs that rhymed but made no sense, he said. It was Gordy who, while impressed with the persistent budding artist, made sure that Robinson learned the craft well. So Gordy had Robinson listen to the radio and study the structure of hit after hit.

"I want you to see that songs have a beginning, a middle and an end tied together," Robinson said Gordy once told him. "That's really how I learned to write songs."

A few fun factoids: Robinson wrote "Shop Around" in 25 minutes. "It just flowed out of me," he said. By contrast, "Cruisin' " took five years to pen.

Nothing Robinson said Thursday was particularly revelatory, but it was highly entertaining listening to him reminisce. We did learn just how ambitious Robinson can be and how passionate he is about his art.

"I want to be Beethoven," he said. "I want to be Mozart."

It's not that he wants to be a classical composer, it's that he wants to endure. He wants to be timeless. "I was influenced so much by George Gershwin, by Ira Gershwin," he says, "people like that who wrote songs that we're still singing."

(video courtesy of SXSW)

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