Monday, February 4, 2013

The Spencer Davis Group

Originally known as The Rhythm And Blues Quartette, this band was formed in 1963 in Birmingham, U.K. when Welsh guitarist Spencer Davis recruited two brothers, bassist Mervyn "Muff" Winwood and vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Stevie Winwood for his band. Not long after, the band was completed with the addition of Steve York on the drums. While performing steadily in and around the city they were spotted in 1964 at a local club by Island Records producer Chris Blackwell who signed them to their first recording contract as well as becoming the band's producer. It was Muff Winwood's idea to change the band's name to The Spencer Davis Group citing the fact that Davis was the only member willing to give interviews, therefore he deserved to have the band named after him, and that my friends, is as good a reason as any, because "The Rhythm And Blues Quartette" is taking no one anywhere.
The group's first recording, a cover version of "Dimples", went nowhere. The second recorded release, however, 1965's "You Keep On Running" became the band's first #1 hit.

This was followed in 1966 by "Somebody Help Me" and "When I Come Home", two more releases that followed the formula of their previous hit.The straight-ahead blues and RnB influenced guitar-dominated rock and roll topped off with the young Stevie Winwood's soulful vocals should have propelled these songs to similar chart success. Unfortunately, a lack of promotion resulted in both these songs' failure to chart. The songs were issued in the U.S. on the Atco and Fontana labels respectively, suffering the same fate in America. A sad case of neglect for two quality pieces of work.

The band's fortunes took a turn for the better at the end of 1966 and the beginning of 1967 with the release of two more singles, "I'm A Man" and " Gimme Some Lovin". These songs introduced Stevie Winwood's organ work as well as an increased RnB-styled delivery.  The Jimmy Miller-produced tracks both sold over a million records and each received a gold disc. They proved to be the group's most well-known songs, particularly in the U.S.

After the band's appearance in the 1966 British comedy film The Ghost Goes Gear, Stevie Winwood left the band in 1967 to form Traffic. His brother Muff left as well to become an A&R man at Island Records. The band continued on with various personnel changes, including at different stages Nigel Olsson, Dee Murray, Ray Fenwick and others.
While The Spencer Davis Group carried on recording and touring with different line-ups well into the 2000's, It was the original Winwood-featured band that had the real lasting influence down the years. The Allman Brothers recorded a cover of Davis' instrumental "Don't Want You No More", and Three Dog Night released a rendition of "Can't Get Enough Of It". The Blues Brothers took their shot (for better or worse) at "Gimme Some Lovin", and of course Chicago's remake of "I'm A Man" became a classic in and of itself. Muff Winwood remained A&R man for Island Recods until 1978 when he became an executive at Columbia Records. He was responsible for signing acts including Terence Trent D'arby, Sade and The Psychedelic Furs, as well as producing Traffic, Mott The Hoople, Nirvana and others. Furthermore, we can all rightfully appreciate The Spencer Davis Group for the launching of Stevie Winwood as a rock icon. This band was a truly important part of The British Invasion.

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