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With new duets album, Smokey Robinson still penning songs: 'I write in the bathroom'

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. - After five decades in show business, the man who shaped Motown with instantly recognizable hits like "My Girl" and "Tears of a Clown" says he can't stop writing.

Smokey Robinson says he scribbles down lyrics on a pad or leaves a fragment of a tune on his own voice mail whenever inspiration hits.

"I write on the plane, on the bus, on the train, I write in the bathroom," Robinson said in an interview. "I do have a bunch of songs that I'm very anxious to record."

But you won't hear any of that material on his latest album, "Smokey & Friends," out Tuesday. The collection of Robinson tunes pairs the legendary singer-songwriter with Elton John, Mary J. Blige, James Taylor, CeeLo Green, Miguel, Steven Tyler and more.

Robinson, who is on a U.S. tour, talked to The Associated Press about his duets collaborators and his love of being on the road.

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GETTING A HOLD OF FRIENDS

On "Smokey & Friends," Robinson sang "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" in-studio with longtime friend Steven Tyler, while the other tracks were pieced together electronically from separate recording sessions.

Each collaborator picked a favourite song written by Robinson. Elton John, a Robinson friend for three decades, chose "The Tracks of My Tears," first recorded by the Miracles in 1965.

"When we're around each other, we have a great time. Neither one of us is from affluency," Robinson said of John. "So when you come up like that and your dream is to be in show business or to sing or play and you get the chance to really do it and earn your living, and it's your life — it's a wonderful thing."

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BACK INTO THE STORM

Robinson heard John Legend cover his song "Quiet Storm" in concert and told the 35-year-old soul crooner backstage that he should record a version of it.

"I look at people like John and I know that the future of show business is in good hands," Robinson said. The two join up on a new version of the tune, which in 1975 marked Robinson's return to the industry after a brief hiatus.

"I'm very close to that song," he said. "It became a radio format and there are 'quiet storm' stations all over the country now."

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MARY'S METAMORPHOSIS

Robinson says he's been watching and listening to Mary J. Blige since she debuted in 1992 as the "queen of hip-hop soul."

"Mary has done a metamorphosis from when I first met her," he said. "She came from having the image of the hip-hop world into what she has now. And that's a whole other vision of her. ... She's very spiritual. And she's one of the greatest singers ever."

On the duets album, Blige sings "Being With You," first recorded by Robinson in 1981 on his solo album of the same name.

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GENERATIONS OF SMOKEY FANS

Robinson, 74, has been performing for over five decades and won't be stopping anytime soon. He gets a spark of energy from seeing parents in the audience holding infants.

"The first time I saw those people, they were on their parents' laps. There's everybody there from 6 months to 100, and they're of all races," he said. "I'm not going to get that anywhere else. I'm not going to get that same feeling, that same vibe, that same energy, anywhere else."

There's no after-party after each two-hour show nowadays, though.

"That was the party for me. I'm going to my hotel now. I'm going to watch some TV until I wind down and go to sleep. But it is a party," he said. "That's why I still do it."

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Online:

http://www.smokeyrobinson.com

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Follow Ryan Pearson at twitter.com/ryanwrd

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