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Forty-seven years after AWOL visit, KC man reunites with Smokey Robinson, sort of

Over the weekend, Jesse Camacho (left) met up again with Smokey Robinson. It wasn’t quite the reunion Camacho was hoping for, he said, but “Smokey’s still my guy.”
Over the weekend, Jesse Camacho (left) met up again with Smokey Robinson. It wasn’t quite the reunion Camacho was hoping for, he said, but “Smokey’s still my guy.”

Jesse Camacho’s reunion with Smokey Robinson at an upstate New York casino didn’t exactly come off as hoped.

“I got squeezed out by the high rollers,” Camacho said.

Camacho, 67, from Kansas City, traveled to Niagara Falls last weekend because he wanted to visit with the Motown great and remind him of a night in 1969 when Robinson invited a young soldier on his way to Vietnam to go backstage after a show at a club in San Francisco.

They had a good visit that night 47 years ago. Robinson posed for a photo with Camacho, who had gone AWOL for a day to attend the show.

When Camacho learned recently that Robinson was performing at a casino near Niagara Falls, he was a bit surprised. He didn’t know Robinson, 76, was still out on the road doing his thing.

Camacho packed a bag, including that old photo, and took off. He wanted to remind Robinson of that night and tell him what it meant to him. He was 19 then and didn’t know if he would make it back from Vietnam, so he played hooky to see his favorite singer.

Turned out he got blasted by mortar fire over there and got a Purple Heart.

That’s the story he wanted to tell his old friend Smokey.

Before Saturday’s concert at the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino’s Bear’s Den Showroom, Camacho somehow had gotten word to Robinson’s agent and thought he might get a few minutes.

But it turned out only casino high rollers got the few minutes. Camacho got maybe 30 seconds, just long enough to show Robinson the old photo and ask if he remembered that soldier from way back.

Robinson said he didn’t. He might have with a little prodding, but handlers kept the line moving.

Oh well, no tracks of tears on Camacho’s cheeks. He sat fourth-row center, close enough to hear Robinson himself and not the speakers.

“Great show, great trip,” Camacho said. “Smokey’s still my guy.”

Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182

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