Smokey Robinson Brings Sweet Falsetto to Agua Caliente Casino

The tracks of this Motown legend's career lead straight to the desert on April 8.

Mike Mettler Arts & Entertainment

Smokey Robinson plays Agua Caliente Casino's The Show on April 8. 

There are some voices you recognize instantly, after hearing a single note. Motown cofounder Smokey Robinson has one of those voices. For more than 60 years and counting, his sweet, supple falsetto has delivered songs that have been in our collective listening DNA for many decades — including indelible pop/soul hits such as “The Tracks of My Tears,” “I Second That Emotion,” “Shop Around,” “Tears of a Clown,” “Being With You,” “Ooh Baby Baby,” “Cruisin’,” and “Just to See Her.”

Smokey Robinson brings these and more unforgettable hit songs to The Show on April 8.

Not only is William “Smokey” Robinson Jr. a legendary singer, but his top-shelf songwriting and production skills also contributed mightily to the musical bedrock that the Detroit powerhouse label Motown was founded upon in the late 1950s and early 1960s — not only with his own group, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, but with other groundbreaking and chart-topping artists like The Temptations (“My Girl,” “Get Ready”), Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, The Marvelettes, and many others.

The true mark of a singer/songwriter’s legacy extends across generations of listeners and musicians alike, and Smokey long ago set such a standard for himself. 

“Smokey Robinson is the quintessential American songwriter,” says Jon Butcher, a Boston-based African American guitarist, vocalist, and producer who’s been on the national scene since the early 1980s. “It’s hard to quantify his deep legacy and importance. Most accolades seem woefully insufficient for a singer/songwriter/producer whose catalog of quality songs puts him in the realm of Lennon/McCartney and Rodgers & Hammerstein. When I first heard ‘My Girl’ by The Temptations, I was captivated — first by the indelible guitar figure that makes the song, and then by the vocalist, David Ruffin. I knew that whoever wrote that piece of brilliance was the kind of songwriter I aspired to be. ‘My Girl’ was what led me to become a forever fan of Smokey Robinson.”

Peter Wolf, former lead vocalist of J. Geils Band, points out that “First I Look at the Purse,” one of that group’s earliest, crowd-pleasing favorites from their 1970 self-titled debut album, was in fact a hit song for The Contours in 1965 and co-written by Robinson. “Besides his singing, I love so much of his writing — and that song captures a certain energy.” 

Little Steven Van Zandt, the noted guitarist/vocalist and rock historian and Bruce Springsteen’s main E Street Band foil, has often praised Smokey’s talents on his acclaimed Underground Garage channel on SiriusXM satellite radio. Little Steven’s dream, he told this writer in 2017, is to have Smokey sing “Forever,” a song he cut with his own solo band, The Disciples of Soul, in 1982. “I’m hoping to somehow hook that up with Smokey someday,” Little Steven says, “because he’s one of the main guys who inspired that song.”

Adds Mike Hines, an African American vocalist of Delaware’s favorite long-running funk/soul combo Mike Hines and The Look, “Smokey Robinson has one of the greatest falsettos of all time, and he is the epitome of style and class. I have always been a huge fan, and I admired how he carried himself both on and off stage. As a child, I didn’t realize what falsetto meant, but I was amazed to hear a voice like that coming from a male singer. I would listen to my parents play music from various artists, and I would always gravitate to the songs that Smokey was singing.” 

Hines confirms he covered “Ooh Baby Baby” at the outset of his career. 

“Smokey’s songs and vocal styling inspired me, and his words told a story,” Hines continues, “and I used to try to emulate his falsetto until my voice deepened. I still greatly appreciate his songs to this day. Smokey Robinson’s hit-making spans many decades, and he paved the way for thousands of singer/songwriters like me — and we are all very grateful. Thank you, Smokey Robinson.”

Smokey Robinson looks forward to “Being With You” April 8 at The Show at the Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa Rancho Mirage. Come to second that emotion and bask in the glow of a true vocal legend for the ages.