“People always commented on the tall one with the glasses, he was personable, approachable and he loved talking to the women. He also loved to talk to the guys, he loved to dance, love to sing and loved to perform, that was the joy of his life”, so said Smokey Robinson’s wife Claudette on hearing of the death of her cousin Bobby Rogers from the Miracles just three weeks ago.
Smokey Robinson added, “Another soldier in my life has fallen, he was my brother and a really good friend. We were born on the exact same day in the same hospital in Detroit. I’m really going to miss him very much.”
Bobby and Smokey formed the Miracles in 1954, originally as the Matadors, but when Claudette joined, it was considered too masculine so they changed the name to the Miracles. They were the first group to be signed to Tamla Motown and although they had a succession of hits in America, Shop Around, You Really Got a Hold on Me and Mickey’s Monkey, none of them charted in the UK, their first top 10 was The Tracks of My Tears in 1969. Clearly prior to that the British record buying public preferred the harder edge of The Four Tops, The Temptations and The Supremes.
Their next hit was over a year later and did even better when The Tears Of A Clown, or The Ears Of A Clown as one edition on the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles listed it, went to top the chart, but how did that song come about?
Well, in 1967, Stevie Wonder and Motown producer Hank Cosby came up with the music and they recorded an instrumental demo and asked Smokey Robinson to complete the song. It was quite common for Motown writers to work on each other’s songs at the time.
Smokey listened to the song for a few days and decided it sounded like a circus, and came up with the lyrics based on the clown. “I was trying to think of something that would be significant, that would touch people’s hearts, but still
be dealing with the circus,” he said. “So what is that? Pagliacci, of course, the clown who cries. And after he makes everyone else happy with the smile painted on his face, then he goes into his dressing room and cries because he’s sad. That was the key.”
A variety of instruments were used to create the circus sound including a bassoon and a piccolo which were played by the appropriately named Jim Horn. He had played saxophone on albums by The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and U2 among others. The line, ‘Just like Pagliacci did, I try to keep my sadness hid’ was nicked from a another song Smokey had co-written in 1964 called My Smile Is Just A Frown (Turned Upside Down) and was recorded by another Motown singer, Carolyn Crawford.
Smokey left the Miracles for a solo career in 1972 being replaced by Billy Griffin. Although Smokey’s career took time to get going, he was rewarded with a number one in 1981, Being With You. The Tears Of A Clown was covered in 1979 as the debut hit by The Beat.
In the 2000s, Smokey made a variety of television guest appearances, including a brief stint as a judge on American Idol. On one particular show he sang The Tears of a Clown and received a standing ovation. He also had an acting role on the American sitcom One on One and in 2004 he branched out into the frozen food business through his company SFGL, which manufactured a brand of gumbo, pot roast and red beans & rice. In 2005, he became more experimental when he returned to music with a new album called Food for the Spirit which was aimed at the gospel community and followed it a year later with Timeless classics which was a collection of jazz standards.