60s Music

History of the Spencer Davis Group

The Spencer Davis Group
Rehearsal of The Spencer Davis Group, before performing at the Grand Gala du Disque, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, 30 Sept. 1966. From left to right: Muff Winwood (bass), Spencer Davis (guitar), Pete York (drums) & Steve Winwood (organ). (Source: Wikipedia)

Introduction

The Spencer Davis Group is a British 1960s beat, rock and blue-eyed soul group known for their hits “Keep On Running,” “Somebody Help Me” (their two #1 UK hits), and “Gimme Some Lovin’” which was their only US Top 10. The original personnel included guitarist Spencer Davis, keyboardist Steve Winwood and brother Muff on bass and drummer Pete York. They entered the music scene with a minor hit “Dimples” (a cover of blues singer John Lee Hooker), the group eventually hit it big with #1 hits “Keep On Running” and “Somebody Help Me” between 1965-1966. They released another couple of hits “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m a Man” between 1967-1968. These two singles finally broke into the US Top 10. Personnel changes happened when Steve Winwood left the group to form the band Traffic, and eventually a short-lived supergroup Blind Faith. The band was achieving only minor hits, and York and replacement member Eddie Hardin left to form their own act Hardin and York. Spencer Davis Group has had subsequent changes in their lineup and periodically gone on a hiatus. Now, the band’s lead Spencer Davis is the only member of the original band left. It now has a different lineup in Europe and in the US whenever they go on tour.

 

 

Formation and eventual ascent on the UK charts

It was in Birmingham, England where the Spencer Davis Group started. The founder was, of course, Spencer Davis (guitars) who recruited teenaged vocalist and organist/keyboardist Steve Winwood and his brother Muff Winwood, who played bass. Drummer Pete York completed the lineup.

Chris Blackwell discovered the group and also became their producer. Their first recording stint resulted in their John Lee Hooker cover “Dimples.” Another recording, “I Can’t Stand It,” became the band’s first single. After a few minor singles in the UK, the Spencer Davis Group scored their first major hit in 1965 with the chart-topper “Keep On Running.” It was written by another one of Blackwell’s talents, reggae star Jackie Edwards. The single became a minor hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 at #76.

The Spencer Davis group covered another Jackie Edwards original “Somebody Help Me” and released it as a single in early 1966. It gave the group another #1 hit in their homeland. In the US, the single was released on Atlantic Records’ Atco subsidiary, and went to #47 on the Hot 100. Another single, co-written by Winwood and Edwards was “When I Come Home” which charted in the UK at #12.

 

Finally breaking into the US music scene…

In late 1966, The Spencer Davis Group released “Gimme Some Lovin'” their first single of original composition, written by Davis and the Winwood brothers. It was their first successful US single, peaking at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100. It sold over a million copies, eventually going gold. “Gimme Some Lovin'” also went to #2 on the UK singles chart.

 

In the beginning of 1967 the group released “I’m A Man” which was written by Steve Winwood and the band’s new record producer Jimmy Miller. Again, it was another successful single in the US, peaking at #10 on the pop chart, as well as making a dent on the R&B singles chart at #48. It also went to #9 on the UK singles chart. The song in particular highlighted the dynamic Steve Winwood’s gritty and soul-driven vocals that belied his teenage years.

With Spencer Davis Group now rising on the US charts, they could have made good of their success with an American tour. However, they never embarked any tours there.

Later career

Steve Winwood left the band in 1967 and shortly after formed his own group Traffic (he would also join the rock supergroup Blind Faith). The Spencer Davis group still went on without him with new members coming and going. York and later member Eddie Hardin also left to form their own group Hardin & York.

The Spencer Davis Group split in 1969, but re-formed four years later with newer members (but sans the Winwood brothers). Winwood forged a solo career and also moved on to producing.

The band has still been active up to this day since re-forming in 2006, but only Davis and Hardin are the only 1960s members remaining. The Spencer Davis Group tours with two formations — one American lineup and one European lineup, both of which is led by Davis.

 

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