While in high school, I once had a boss at a record store who was one of the whitest, dorkiest, most socially awkward guys you could ever meet. How white and dorky was he? He grew up running his father's miniature golf course, ferchrissakes. But his greatest musical love was the blues, and he knew his stuff. My knowledge at that time was pretty much relegated to late-night commercials I'd seen for mail-order albums by B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland, so the guy schooled me on a ton of good stuff I still listen to, to this day--Little Willie John, Blind Willie McTell and Robert Johnson, of course, guys whose stuff you couldn't procure from an operator standing by right now.

Why am I reminded of this? Cut to last week, when I'm sitting in a lovely little restaurant with my girlfriend in Portland, Ore., and my cell phone rings. "Private number"--never a good sign. I answered to find on the other end one of the other whitest guys I've ever known: Tom Danehy. He explained that two great soul artists--Earth, Wind and Fire and Smokey Robinson--were coming through town in the span of two weeks, and he wanted to write a column about it, and wanted to make sure he wasn't stepping on my toes as editor of the music section. When I told him that Gene Armstrong was doing an interview with Smokey (which, as happens so often in music journalism, fell through at the last minute), he was rather disappointed. "But you don't understand," he begged. "Smokey Robinson is sex." And while I couldn't disagree with that statement, the fact that it sprang from the lips of Tom Danehy gave me shivers for the rest of my vacation.

By the time you read this, Earth, Wind and Fire will have already performed at AVA, but there's still time to catch Smokey.

Berry Gordy Jr., who went on to found Motown Records, and thereby change the course of musical history, discovered Robinson in the late 1950s, when he was lead singer for the Matadors, later renamed the Miracles. With Robinson serving as vice president of Motown for the next 25-plus years, the label became wildly successful and created what went on to be known as "the Detroit sound." While it's well known that in those days, studios usually employed songwriters who would pass their songs on to any number of acts that would spin them into gold records, you may not know that Smokey Robinson wrote not only a good share of his own hits, but piles of hits for other acts on the label. Just as the Miracles were scoring hits with "Shop Around," "I Second That Emotion," "The Tracks of My Tears," "Ooo Baby Baby," "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," "Going to a Go-Go" and "Tears of a Clown," behind the scenes, Robinson was also writing classics for Mary Wells ("My Guy"), Marvin Gaye ("Ain't That Peculiar") and a string of hits for the Temptations ("My Girl" and "The Way You Do the Things You Do," among others).

You want cred? Bob Dylan once called Robinson "America's greatest living poet."

In the early '70s, Robinson parted ways with the Miracles, and while each had a hit or two--the Miracles with "Love Machine, Part 1," and Robinson with the ballads "Cruisin'" and "Being with You"--the Motown days of yore were gone. Luckily, what wasn't, and isn't, gone is Smokey's gorgeous tenor, which will be on full display this week when the legendary Smokey Robinson performs at the Diamond Entertainment Center at the Desert Diamond Casino, 1100 W. Pima Mine Road, at 8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18. Advance tickets are available for $30, $35, $40 and $60 at either Desert Diamond box office, at all Ticketmaster locations, or by calling 321-1000. They'll be $5 more on the day of show. For more info, head to, or call (866) DDC-WINS.


Just about every radio station in town feels the need to sponsor its own music festival each year, and this week, it's the turn of your "home for real classic rock." KLPX FM 96.1's KLPX X-Fest will be headlined by the upstanding Christian golfer Vincent Furnier, aka original shock rocker Alice Cooper (who also hosts a rather enjoyable syndicated radio show on the station). Lest you think he's mellowed out in his country club days, the last time we caught his act, a few years ago at the Tucson Convention Center, he was still rockin' all the hits, in between playing with snakes and chopping the head off of a Britney Spears effigy with a guillotine. You know, all that good family fun we've come to expect from him over the years.

The penultimate act on the bill is none other than Blue Oyster Cult, who became known as "the thinking man's hard rock band" due not only to their wildly successful merging of unforgettable riffs and melodies that were tough to shake, but also because of their association with literary figures such as Stephen King and singer-poet Patti Smith, as well as rock critics Richard Meltzer and Sandy Pearlman. Somewhat incredibly, songs like "Godzilla," "Burnin' for You," and "R.U. Ready 2 Rock" still manage to sound enjoyable if not exactly fresh today. Admit it: When "Don't Fear (The Reaper)" comes on the radio, you crank it up just like the rest of us.

The rest of the fest isn't so stellar: bluesy rock vets the Pat Travers Band, whose only memorable hit was a cover of the blues staple "Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)"; singer-guitarist Joe Lynn Turner, who has done duty in Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen's band, and a re-formed Deep Purple; and Heartbreaker, a Led Zeppelin tribute band.

Things kick off at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19, at the Tucson Sports Park, 6901 N. Casa Grande Highway. Advance tickets are available for $32 at and all Catalina Mart locations. Kids 12 and under are free. For more info, call 407-4500, or head to the aforementioned Web site.


I know I mention Austin, Texas' Asylum Street Spankers just about every time they come through town, but that's only because I'm looking out for you. Trust me when I say there's no other act out there today doing what these guys (and gal) do, which is to combine just about every form of American music (folk, country, blues, jazz, etc.), get an ensemble of amazing players to do it right and basically update the traditions of vaudeville for the modern age. They're filthy as hell, even as they sing in those sweet, sweet voices, and song topics include vices of all variety, sexual come-ons and put-downs and their hatred of Dubya. Do yourself a favor and go see these guys if you haven't already. Smiles are guaranteed.

Asylum Street Spankers return to Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., next Thursday, Aug. 24. They'll start at 9:30 p.m. and play two sets. Opening band? They don't need no stinking opening band! Admission is $10, and the number to call for further details is 798-1298.


Here's a trio of shows worth noting at Club Congress this week:

For more than years, New York City's Murphy's Law have been straddling the line between metal and skate-punk with songs mostly about beer and weed for a rabid and loyal fan base. They'll hit Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Tuesday, Aug. 22. Opening at 9 p.m. are Los Angeles' Killing California, followed by a newly revamped Great American Tragedy, who have reportedly gotten a bit more accessible following a couple of recent lineup changes (read: more melodies, less pummel). Advance tix are $8, and they'll be $10 at the door.

It's hard to believe, considering their recent CD-release party drew some 1,200 fans to the Rialto Theatre, but local rockers Ph8 have never graced the stage at Club Congress. That situation gets rectified at an all-ages early show on Friday, Aug. 18. Red Bear Soldier and Ounce of Self begin the proceedings at 6 p.m.; admission is $5.

Then, later that night, Last Call Brawlers perform for the first time in six months in what they're calling their "Back From the Grave" show. Things should get started somewhere between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., with Al Foul and Mercury's Revenge rounding out the bill. Best of all? It's free to anyone with a valid ID. Questions about all of these shows will be answered by calling 622-8848.

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