Opening Act

By now, a Smokey Robinson-penned standard such as "My Girl" is as classic as the kind Frank Sinatra used to sing. So it figures that Robinson can mix the two with ease.

The Motown pioneer says that for the past 15 years, he routinely would drop a Cole Porter or George Gershwin tune into his live shows. He may even manage a few more today and Saturday when he christens the new Access Showroom at Aliante Station, located at the intersection of Aliante Parkway and the Las Vegas Beltway in North Las Vegas.

When he decided to record a full album of classics two years ago, "one day I would record a standard and the next day I’d record something original. I was doing them at the same time."

Both were recorded "the old-fashioned way, live in the studio. The musicians were in there playing while I was singing," he says. "People don’t record like that anymore. We had a ball."

The standards album, "Timeless Love," took the 68-year-old back to the music of his youth in Detroit’s North End. "Those standard tunes are the first music I ever heard in my life, as a kid growing up. I had two older sisters and my mom, and they played music of all types, all day long, every day. So I got a great dose of music growing up as a kid."

The standards album came out in June 2006, but Robinson is still doing post-production on the original songs. He rounded out the original Los Angeles sessions by recording newer duets with Joss Stone, India.Arie and Carlos Santana, for a planned album release early next year.

"I’m just being me," he says of the still-untitled collection, which will be his first mainstream album since 1999. (In 2004, he released an album of original gospel tunes, "Food for the Spirit.") The new songs are "just what I’ve always done, probably updated soundwise because of the new recording techniques. But other than that, it’s just me."

Robinson’s songwriting and legendary soul sound had a significant radio presence for 27 years, from "Shop Around"– his first hit with The Miracles in 1960 — to his top 10 solo ballad "Just to See Her" in 1987. He could live well on his songwriting royalties alone, but still performs in the range of 40 to 60 dates each year.

"I’m so blessed, I’m at the point in my life (where) if they call me with something I like, I’ll do it. And if they don’t, then I won’t," he says.

"As far as my work goes, performing is probably my favorite part, because that’s when I get a chance to go out and be with the fans and have a good time," he adds. "I never do a show for people. I always do a show with people. It gives me a high, you know?"

Robinson bought a home in the Las Vegas area about three years ago and now divides his time between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. "I love Las Vegas and have spent a lot of time there," he says of annual dates at Caesars Palace and Bally’s in the 1980s.

"I’m not a clubber, man. I’m very low-profile. I don’t do much going out and party functions," he says. "But I do find that Las Vegas is very peaceful, at least for me. … Los Angeles is like hustle and bustle."

Robinson’s two-night stand is only at Aliante, but Station Casinos is testing a policy of two-night, cross-town bookings, where performers play Ovation at Green Valley Ranch one night and Aliante the next. Early ticket sales were heavily weighted toward Ovation, but as the opening of Aliante became more tangible, they started to balance out, says Judy Alberti, who heads entertainment for Station.

Hard-core fans might even double down. So far, they are given the choice with Chris Botti on Nov. 28 (Green Valley) and 29 (Aliante); Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades on Dec. 5 (Green Valley) and 6 (Aliante); a solo date with Godsmack’s Sully Erna on Sept. 12 (Green Valley) and 13 (Aliante) and an acoustic solo show by Aaron Lewis of Staind on Jan. 2 (Green Valley) and 3 (Aliante).

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ or 702-383-0288.

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