Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Godspeed Spencer Davis

Spencer Davis, founding member of The Spencer Davis Group, died on October 19 at the age of 81. The cause was pneumonia.

Spencer Davis was born Spencer Davies in Swansea, South Wales on July 17 1939. He changed the spelling of his last name from "Davies" to "Davis" when he began performing ("Davies" and "Davis" are pronounced the same in Wales). He was interested in music from a young age, learning to play harmonica and accordion when he was six years old. He later switched to playing guitar. He was influenced by such diverse music artists as Long John Baldry, Huddy Ledbetter, Buddy Holly, and Alexis Korner. He began playing in bands as a teen. He played in a band called The Saints with a bassist named Bill Perks, who later changed his name to Bill Wyman. After having moved to London when he was 16 to work as a clerical officer at the Post Office Savings Bank in Hammersmith and later the HM Customs and Excise, Spencer Davis moved to Birmingham to resume his studies. He continued to play on stage after school. He sometimes performed with Christine Perfect, later known as Christine McVie.

It was in 1963 that Spencer Davis went to the pub the Golden Eagle to watch the the Muff Woody Jazz band perform. Two  of the members of the band were Muff Winwood and his brother, a young teen named Steve Winwood. Mr. Davis asked the Winwoods to form a band with him and drummer Peter York. The band was named the Rhythm and Blues Quartet, but was soon renamed The Spencer Davis Group, as Spencer Davis was the only one comfortable doing interviews.

The Spencer Davis Group proved popular performing around London and signed to Fontana Records. Their first single, "Dimples," failed to chart, but their second single, "I Can't Stand It," went to 47 on the UK singles chart. Their first major hit would be their fifth single, "Keep On Running," which hit no. 1 on the UK singles chart. It was also their first single to hit the Billboard Hot 100, reaching no. 76 on the chart. They followed "Keep  on Running Up" with "Somebody Help Me," which also hit no.1. They would have further hits with "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "I'm a Man." "Gimme Some Lovin'" proved to be their first major hit in the United States, reaching 7 on the chart. It reached no. 2 on the UK singles chart. "I'm a Man" reached no. 9 on the UK singles chart and no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Unfortunately, "I'm a Man" was their last major hit on either side of the Pond.

The Spencer Davis Group released four albums in the Sixties. Their First LP went to no. 6 in the UK. Their Second Album went to no. 3 in the UK. Autumn '66 went to no. 4 in the UK. It was in 1967 that Steve Winwood left to form Traffic in 1967. Muff Winwood left to work in the record industry. The Winwood brother were replaced by guitarist Phil Sawyer and keyboardist/vocalist Eddie Hardin. With their performance on the charts in decline, The Spencer Davis Group disbanded in 1969.

After The Spencer Davis Group broke up, Spencer Davis moved to California. He recorded an acoustic solo album, It's Been So Long, in 1971. It was followed by a second solo album, Mousetrap. Afterwards he retuned to the UK and formed a new incarnation of The Spencer Davis Group. They released two albums: Gluggo (1973) and Living in a Back Street (1974).

In the mid-Seventies Spencer Davis went to work as an executive at Island Records. At Island Records he worked with both Bob Marley and Robert Palmer, as well as his old Spencer Davis Group bandmate Steve Winwood. In the Nineties he formed two supergroups. The first, Class Rock All-Stars, was formed in 1993. In 1995 he left the group to form World Class Rockers, which also featured guitarist Denny Laine. In 2006 another new incarnation of The Spencer Davis Group was formed, although only Spencer Davis and Eddie Hardin were the only two who were members of the band in the Sixties. With changes in their line-up, this new incarnation of The Spencer Davis Group continued to perform until 2016.

The Spencer Davis Group would prove to be one of the most influential groups of the Sixties. Their influence could be seen in such acts as The Blues Brothers, The Jam, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, and others. Steve Windwood credited Spencer Davis with influencing his tastes in music and said that "he became like a big brother to me at the time." As a executive at Island Records, he helped develop such artists as Bob Marley and Robert Palmer. He was a remarkable musician who was instrumental in creating British blues.

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