Bobby Rogers: Singer and songwriter with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles


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The Independent Online

The singer and songwriter Bobby Rogers was a founder member of The Miracles, the soul group whose formation predated the launch of Berry Gordy Jr's Motown operation in 1959 and earned them premier status on the company's roster. In 1960 the quintet scored the first million-selling Motown single with the catchy "Shop Around" – containing the peerless advice "My mama told me you better shop around" – co-written by Gordy and their primary vocalist and composer Smokey Robinson. Two years later, Rogers sang tenor lead alongside Robinson's yearning falsetto on "You've Really Got A Hold On Me", an arrangement the Fab Four emulated for the version included on their second album With The Beatles.

This established a pattern that would make Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, as they were billed from the mid-1960s, prime purveyors of repertoire for successive generations of musicians, particularly from the British Isles. Rogers, Robinson and fellow Miracles Pete Moore and the guitarist Marv Tarplin co-wrote "Going to a Go-Go", the group's 1966 debut UK hit, which was revived by the Rolling Stones in 1982, while subsequent Miracles singles, "I Second That Emotion", "The Tracks Of My Tears", the Transatlantic chart-topper "The Tears Of A Clown", and the post-Robinson US No 1 "Love Machine" were respectively adapted by Japan, Bryan Ferry, The Beat and Wham!

Rogers was the best dancer in the group and often came up with their routines, even after Cholly Atkins became Motown's house choreographer. Rogers also co-wrote the Miracles' 1964 US hits "That's What Love Is Made Of" and "Come On Do The Jerk", the Temptations' first US chart entry, "The Way You Do The Things You Do", as well as the torch song "One More Heartache", which Marvin Gaye recorded in 1966, and he contributed backing vocals to Gaye's epochal 1971 album What's Going On.

Rogers was born on the same day in 1940, and in the same Detroit hospital, as Robinson, though they didn't meet until the mid-1950s, when he joined him, Moore (bass singer), Ronnie White (baritone) and his cousin "Sonny" Rogers, who was replaced by Sonny's sister Claudette in 1957. That year, they auditioned for Jackie Wilson's manager Nat Tarnapol, with Gordy, the co-writer of Wilson's "Reet Petite", also in attendance. "When he saw us, he didn't like us because of the fact that Claudette was with us," Rogers recalled. "He said we were a similar group to the Platters, and that there couldn't be two groups in America like that, with a woman in the group."

However, impressed by Robinson's voice and songwriting ability, Gordy began working with them and suggested they should ditch the no-longer appropriate Matadors moniker.

The Miracles released two singles, "Got A Job" and "Money", on the New York label End Records in 1958, before Gordy borrowed $800 from his family to record and issue "Come To Me" by Marv Johnson on his own imprint, Tamla. Its regional success led to a contract and a Top 30 smash for Johnson with United Artists in 1959, a move Gordy tried to avoid repeating when he released the Miracles ballad "Bad Girl", on Motown before licensing it to Chicago's Chess for distribution, and securing a second US hit.

After two more Chess-distributed 45s, in 1960 the Miracles reverted to Motown for "Way Over There", their second US Top 100 entry, and cemented their position as the foundations of Gordy's fledgling enterprise. The ever-tinkering Gordy had sweetened "Way Over There" with strings and encouraged the Miracles to record a more uptempo version of "Shop Around", whose crossover success was so phenomenal – it peaked at No 2 in the US in 1961 – that it overshadowed their next few singles until "You've Really Got A Hold On Me", "Mickey's Monkey" and the sublime harmonies of "Ooo Baby Baby".

They performed all these on The Sound Of Motown TV special edition of Ready Steady Go! hosted by Dusty Springfield in 1965 (the Supremes, the Temptations, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Stevie Wonder also featured). Claudette Rogers, who had married Robinson in 1959, retired from touring but continued to record with the group, while Bobby Rogers, who had married Wanda Young of the Marvelettes in 1963, was entrusted with the occasional production, including the gem "Save Me", the B-side of their 1966 hit "(Come 'Round Here) I'm the One You Need".

When Robinson left in summer 1972, to go solo and concentrate on his family and his role as Motown Vice President, the Miracles were prepared. "We knew it. We had talked about it two years before. Motown and a lot of artists were moving to California," Robinson said. "On our last tour, we carried Billy Griffin so he could find out what was expected of him."

Griffin's high tenor blended in easily. The Miracles returned to the charts with the title track of their 1974 album Do It Baby, and most famously with the disco smash "Love Machine" and the 1975 concept album City Of Angels, but made an ill-advised move to the Columbia label in 1977. "Columbia was offering us a lot of money. But it wasn't offering us the support. We didn't know that at the time," said Rogers. "Everyone wanted to go their separate ways. I was doing interior design."

In 1983, Robinson and the Miracles enjoyed a one-off reunion for the celebratory TV special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. A decade later, Rogers revived the franchise with White, and continued with three new members after his bandmate's passing in 1995 (Tarplin died in 2011). Last year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame rectified the anomalous solo induction of Robinson in 1987 and honoured the other five "classic" members of the Miracles. Rogers' granddaughter Brandi Williams is a member of the Atlanta-based R&B trio Blaque.

Robert Edward Rodgers, singer and songwriter: born Detroit 19 February 1940; married 1963 Wanda Young (divorced 1975; one son, one daughter), 1981 Joan Hughes (two daughters); died Detroit 3 March 2013.