The Spencer Davis Group - Biography
By Nick Castro
Spencer Davis Group is a British rock group who originally formed in 1963, in Birmingham England. They are most famous for songs like "Gimme Gimme Some Lovin" and "Keep on Runnin". The original lineup was Davis and Steve Winwood, on guitar and vocal duties, Muff Winwood, Steve's brother, on bass and Pete York on drums. The Spencer Davis Group were one of those rare groups, who not only were famous on the rock scene, were also the favorites of other musicians. They recorded a vast amount of records and have solidified their position as giants of the 60's rock pantheon.
In the early 60's Davis was deeply involved in his studies at the University of Birmingham, where he excelled in his scholarly pursuits in language, later earning him the nickname Professor. He is fluent in four languages and this helped him to crossover to other markets in Europe, as he could easily rerecord his songs in the appropriate language.
Davis would also voraciously seek out any live performances in his area, leading to his love of skiffle and r&b musics. It was at a jazz show though, in 1963, that Davis would find the Windwood brothers playing. Though Steve Winwood was still 15 years old then, he had gained a reputation for being a cut above other musicians. Together, the group would soon began playing r&b in local clubs and shortly after they got a job in London. By the next year they were being billed as the Spencer Davis Group and it was at this time that their popularity soared. The media, as well as the crowds, were becoming loyal fans by the day. Soon, they were signed to the Fontana label and released their first record, "Dimples", which was a cover of a John Lee Hooker tune. Though they were quickly becoming the darlings of the London music scene, this record did not go over very well. Undeterred, the band released more singles, which began to chart, though in the lower rankings. They finally got a true hit record in 1965 when they released the song "Keep on Runnin", which went to number one. The song had been suggested to them by Island records owner, Chris Blackwell, who also introduced the band to Jackie Edwards, a singer from jamaica who wrote the song. At the time, the number one song was the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out", which was quickly replaced the Spencer Davis Group. The band, wise to Edwards' talents, recorded another one of his songs, "Somebody Help Me", which also went to number one. Their name was soon synonymous with bands like the Rolling Stones and The Who, both bands would also begin to tour with the Spencer Davis Group, throughout England.
Still in 1965, Spencer Davis Group released the album Their First LP (1965 - Fontana), which was mainly comprised of the early r&b covers they had become famous for, though the band would pen some of the tunes on the record. The band is in top form on the record and Winwood sounds like a singer twice his age. That same year they also released the albums Beat With Soul (1965 - Fontana) and Sittin' and Thinkin' (1965 - Fontana). Though the band was always more r&b than beat music, their were many similarities in their sounds. Much of the departure though, is due in large part to Winwoods excellent keyboard skills, which automatically put the band in another league from from typical beat group.
By 1966, the group was immensely famous and released the albums Second Album (1966 - Fontana) and Autumn '66 (1966 - Fontana), which was an example of their mastery over blue-eyed soul, though not particularly creative in and of itself, often choosing songs like "Midnight Special" for their repertoire. A fine song, but can easily verge on pedestrian if not handled delicately. Luckily, the band is more than competent enough to make the album stand on its own for the sheer musicianship. The appeared, at this time, in a film called The Ghost Goes Gear. The band had still yet to make it across the pond and into American markets though. Something else was happening to the group at this time as well; though the group was known as Spencer Davis Group, Winwood was the obvious shining talent in the group, especially for his young age. He began to garner most of the attention the band would receive, and for good reasons.
In 1967, Spencer Davis grop relased the album Spencer Davis Group featuring Stevie Winwood (1967 - Fontana), which contained their biggest hit of all, "Gimme Gimme Some Lovin", and was released in the USA as Gimme Gimme Some Lovin' (1967 - United Artists). This song went into the top ten, both in the UK and the USA. They also had a top ten hit with their follow up song, "I'm a Man". Although the band was at the peak of their careers, the Winwood brothers would soon depart, Muff to go into music business, and Steve to form his new band, Traffic.
Though losing the Winwood brothers was a devastating musical blow to Davis, he continued on with the Spencer Davis Group and released the album With Their New Face On (1968 - United Artists), which featured their new vocalist Eddie Hardin. They followed that up with the albums Heavies (1969 - United Artists) and Funky (1969 - Date). Heavies was a collection of rarities from the period before Winwood left, but the other two records featured the new band, including Ray Fenwick on guitar, who became the creative force of the group as well. None of these album had nearly the success of their earlier efforts though. The band continued to release mediocre album throughout the 70's, including Mousetrap (1972 - United Artists), which found the band in a country rock idiom that did not suit them well nor naturally.
Spencer Davis can still be found maintaining a steady tour schedule, often playing fairs and cruiseships, but his work still takes him on journeys throughout America, Europe and Australia.