Formation and early career
The Spinners were formed in Michigan, in 1957. Five friends — Billy Henderson, Henry Fambrough, Pervis Jackson, C.P. Spencer, and James Edwards — grew up together as neighbors in a suburb in Ferndale, just next door to Detroit. They formed a band which they first named The Domingoes. But James and Spencer eventually left. Bobby Smith and George Dixon came along to replace them. It was Smith who would sing lead in all of the Spinners’ early records and some of their hits as well.
Four years later, record producer Harvey Fuqua noticed the quintet’s talent and had them signed to his label, Tri-Phi records. Now calling themselves The Spinners, they released their first single “That’s What Girls Are Made For” in 1961. It didn’t perform badly on the charts, as it climbed to #5 on the R&B and #27 on the Hot 100. Following the release of their first single, Dixon had quit the band, to be replaced by Edgar “Chico” Edwards.
End of the chart drought
Over the next few years, The Spinners scored moderate successes. In the mid-1960s, Fuqua’s Tri-Phi was swallowed by the bigger label Motown Records. The Spinners automatically became part of Motown’s stable of artists, and they were signed to its subsidiary label V.I.P. Around this time Edwards left the band and was replaced by G. C. Cameron.
Still, the band was having moderate chart success. Ushering into the 1970s, the course of their career began to turn around with a Stevie Wonder-penned hit “It’s a Shame” in 1970. For over a decade of singing professionally, the Spinners had yet to taste major success. During these years the Spinners were about to leave Motown and move to Atlantic. However, there was a hitch. Cameron couldn’t leave Motown due to his still-existing contract, so he remained there as a solo artist. Instead, Cameron recommended his talented cousin Philippe Wayne to the group. And soon enough Wayne was one of the group’s newest co-lead singers.
But the drought was about to end. Also in 1972, The Spinners scored their first major success with “I’ll Be Around,” a song written by their producer Thom Bell, together with Phil Hurtt. “I’ll Be Around” peaked at #3 on the Hot 100 and topped the R&B singles chart. It was followed by “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” which peaked at #4 and #1 on the pop and R&B charts, respectively, and 1973’s “One of a Kind (Love Affair)” which charted at #29 and #1 on the pop and R&B charts, respectively.
Throughout the 1970s The Spinners achieved a string of R&B Top 10 hits including “Ghetto Child” (#29 pop, #4 R&B), “Mighty Love” (#18 pop, #1 R&B), “Love Don’t Love Nobody” (#15 pop, #3 R&B), “Living a Little, Laughing a Little”(#37 pop, #7 R&B), “Sadie” (#54 pop, #7 R&B), “They Just Can’t Stop It (Games People Play)” (#5 pop, #1 R&B), “Love or Leave” (#36 pop, #8 R&B), “The Rubberband Man” (#2 pop, #1 R&B), and “You’re Throwing A Good Love Away” (#43 pop, #5 R&B). During these peak years the band was mostly led by Wayne.
Taking advantage of the Spinners’ new-found success, their erstwhile label Motown released Best of the Spinners compilation.
Wayne left the band in 1977 to pursue a solo career and was replaced by John Edwards. The Spinners by then were still scoring decent hits. 1979’s “Working My Way Back to You” became one of the group’s strongest singles, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, #1 on the R&B singles chart, and a high #2 on the UK singles chart. In the same year, Motown again issued another Spinners compilation albumFrom the Vaults.
In 1980 The Spinners scored their last Top 10 pop hit with the medley “Cupid”/”I’ve Loved You for a Long Time.” It reached #4 there.
Active in the oldies circuit
Since their last pop smash, The Spinners would never again achieve another major chart success. In 1984, Wayne passed away from a sudden heart attack in the middle of his performance in Oakland, California. He was 43 years old. Wayne had also collaborated with Parliament/Funkadelic aside from his solo career.
In any case, it was in the 1980s where the Spinners’ star started to fade away, and they began to settle themselves into the oldies/revivalist circuit. With their chart success finished, the Spinners nevertheless have remained a popular concert draw.
Early members C.P. Spencer, George Dixon and Edgar “Chico” Edwards passed away in 2004, 2005, and 2011 respectively. While original members Billy Henderson, Pervis Jackson and lead singer Bobby Smith died in 2004, 2008 and 2013, respectively. The Spinners’ current lineup consists of latter-day members Henry Fambrough, Charlton Washington, Marvin Taylor and Jessie Robert Peck, with Fambrough the only surviving original member who is still active.
In 2009, the Spinners released their latest album, a compilation issue Are You Ready For Love? The Very Best of the Detroit Spinners. The group had already been inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, and as of now they have received their first nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Honors.