Smokey Robinson Remembers Marv Tarplin - Rolling Stone
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Smokey Robinson Remembers Marv Tarplin, Collaborator of Six Decades

‘He was one of my best friends. This news is like a dagger to my heart’

marv tarplin smokey robinson miracles

Marv Tarplin, center, with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

R&B legend Smokey Robinson pays tribute to his great friend and collaborator Marv Tarplin, the Motown guitarist and songwriter, who passed away in Las Vegas last week.

Marv Tarplin was invaluable to my career. He’s always been my most important collaborator. 

I met Marvin way back in the day. You see, Diana Ross and I grew up together. When Berry Gordy started Motown she called me. She was  still in high school then. She said, “Smoke, I’ve got this group that I want you to listen to. I want you to sign us to Motown.” She came in and auditioned for me. There was four of them because they had another girl named Barbara. Marvin was playing guitar for them. At the time, the Miracles had no musicians whatsoever. We were getting ready to go on tour and we had all kinds of problems working with various bands on the road. 

I asked Diana if we could take Marvin on tour with us. She said yes. The Supremes weren’t popular at the time, so he just stayed with us. After they became the real Supremes and became who they became, he might have regretted it – but he never said anything like that to me.  Now, Diana and I are very, very close. When she sees me today, the first thing she always says is, “Hey Smoke, what happened to my first guitar player?”

Marvin was very melodic. He had a way he strummed the guitar that was very soulful and very bluesy. That’s what initially captured my attention. He came up with a lot of melodies that I wrote songs to. He always had the guitar riffs. He would give them to me on tape and I’d see what I could come up with. Together, we made “The Tracks of My Tears,” “Going To A Go-Go” and many more.  He was also one of my best friends. This is real tough loss. 

Marvin was very inward unless you knew him. He never really looked for the limelight. He had enough because he was with the Miracles all those years. After I left, he stayed with them for two months. Then he called me. I had moved to Los Angeles. He said, “Hey man, I’m going to come out there to live with you. I don’t like being here without you. I’ll just come out there and we’ll just write some songs.” This was around 1973, and by 1975 we put out my solo album Quiet Storm

He stayed in my touring band until 2008. By that point, I think he had had enough. He did get ill shortly after that, but I think he wasn’t sick when he left. He had a touch of arthritis and his fingers weren’t moving like they used to. He got to the point where he said, “Ok, that’s it.” He had been touring with me since 1961.

We last spoke three weeks ago. It was  great conversation. We talked about music and he told me about a royalty check that he’d just gotten. The news of his death was like a dagger to my heart.

As told to Andy Greene.


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