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Founding members include Spencer Davis (born July 17, 1942, Swansea, Wales), guitar, vocals, and harmonica; Steve Winwood (born May 12, 1948, Birmingham, England), vocals, keyboards, and guitar; Muff Winwood (born Mervyn Winwood on June 14, 1943, Birmingham, England), bass; Pete York (born August 15, 1942, Middlesborough, England) drums. Steve and Muff Winwood left group, 1967. Pete York left original group 1969. Subsequent members include: Phil Sawyer, guitar; Eddie Hardin, keyboards and vocals; Ray Fenwick, guitar; Dee Murray, bass; Nigel Olsson, drums. Addresses: Agent--Robert Birk, Paradise Artists, 108 East Matilija St., Ojai, CA 92023. Efirstname.lastname@example.org.
The Spencer Davis Group, originally formed in 1963 in Birmingham, England, had a major impact on the music of other British rock stars of the sixties. Considered the band to see by other musicians, including such luminaries as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the members of the group seemed destined for success. Recalling the impact of the group, Ian Whitcomb stated in Rock Odyssey: A Musician's Chronicle of Rock, "only The Who, The Kinks and the Spencer Davis Group were keeping the rock pulse running." Davis, lead vocalist and guitar player, the Winwood brothers--Muff on bass and Steve on vocals, guitar, and keyboard-- and drummer Pete York were the original members. They spent four years touring England and the world and producing chart-topping hits. Songs such as "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "I'm a Man," driven by Steve's blues-tinged vocals and infectious keyboard riffs, became almost instant classics. By 1967, however, Steve and Muff decided to leave the band. Though Davis soon enlisted replacements, the band never again enjoyed the acclaim that had defined their early years. In 1970 the group disbanded. Davis and York occasionally revived the group, playing to audiences worldwide.
Their story begins in the early 1960s. Davis, a language scholar at University of Birmingham, England, decided he wanted to start a rock band. As a child he had learned to play harmonica and piano accordion. By sixteen he was hooked on the guitar and the American rhythm and blues music that was slowly making it's way across the Atlantic. With few opportunities to hear R & B in England, Davis avidly sought out any performance that came to town. When he heard a Dixieland band perform a skiffle version of the R & B song "John Henry," he was blown away. Skiffle--music played using standard instruments as well as improvisational objects such as washboards, jugs, and kazoos--was to Great Britain's R & B sound, what the Blues was to America's R & B. It influenced bands like the Animals, the Rolling Stones, and Manfred Mann, and provided Davis with the perfect outlet for his distinctive sound to take root. After a stint playing skiffle as a solo artist, Davis was ready to apply his skill to his own R & B band.
In 1963 Davis went to a local tavern to see Muff Woody, a traditional jazz band featuring Muff and Steve Winwood. Steve, only 15 at the time, was already gaining notice for his musical abilities. A child pianist, he turned to guitar in his early teens and later spent a year in music college where he learned to compose songs. Muff, five years older than Steve, also began his music training early and, by the time he formed Muff Woody, he was an accomplished jazz musician. When Davis saw the brothers' musical versatility, he knew he had found his band. He soon persuaded them to join him and drummer Pete York as the Rhythm and Blues Quartet. Playing mainly R & B covers, they landed a regular gig at a club in London within a year.
By 1964 they had adopted the name Spencer Davis Group and began to get some very famous attention. "Rock celebrities flocked to see them," Dave McAleer wrote in The Fab British Rock `N' Roll Invasion of 1964. He also referred to them as a "group's group," a title that would be applied to them often during those early years. The music industry buzz quickly reached the record labels and the band soon released it's first single--a cover of John Lee Hooker's "Dimples"--on the Fontana label. It received a lukewarm response. Their next three releases, though reaching the top fifty on the U. K.'s record charts, still did not garner the attention that the band did during a live show. That would soon change.
Chris Blackwell, visionary music promoter and founder of Island Records, heard the Spencer Davis Group perform at a London bar and was blown away. On Island's Web site, he recalled how Steve "could sing like Ray Charles whilst still sounding like himself." He introduced the group to another one of his artists, Jamaican singer-songwriter Jackie Edwards, and in 1965 the group released Edwards' "Keep On Running." It was a runaway hit, knocking the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out" out of the number one spot on the U. K. charts. Their next release, another Edwards composition, "Somebody Help Me" also hit number one. Their success in Great Britain was immediate. Touring on their own and with musical giants like the Who and the Rolling Stones, they amassed a loyal following. Early in 1966 they were named the Best New Group in Britain. In addition to the singles they also released three albums during this time. Though less popular than the single releases, all three albums, which highlighted the band's rhythm and blues style, still managed to make the U. K.'s top ten. Like so many pop bands of that era, they also made an obligatory film debut in a campy adventure movie entitled "The Ghost Goes Gear."
As their fame grew, so did Steve Winwood's reputation as a natural musical talent. His vocal range, from the high of a pre-pubescent boy to the deep soul-scratching wail of a bluesman, was a mesmerizing draw. He slowly began to eclipse the band. On their second album, Autumn 66, songs like "When A Man Loves A Woman" and "Dust My Blues" highlighted his songwriting abilities as well as his vocals.
Despite their popularity in Great Britain, they weren't able to make an impact on the American music charts. Then in 1966 they released the original composition "Gimme Some Lovin'." Written quickly, under the exacting guidance of Blackwell, the song was an easy collaboration among the members. Driven by an infectious dance beat and a chorus that demands to be sung along with, it was destined to become a classic. American audiences went wild for it. Already a number three hit in the U. K., it climbed to number seven on the American charts by early 1967. Within two months, "I'm A Man," another original song, also hit the top ten in both Great Britain and America. The Spencer Davis Group was an international sensation. Steve, however, had already decided to leave the group to start his own band, Traffic. Muff also gave notice, choosing to pursue the business side of the music industry.
Though the loss of the Winwood brothers was a dramatic blow to the group, Davis was not about to let his namesake band fold easily. He soon enlisted Phil Sawyer for guitar and Eddie Hardin for vocals and keyboards. Their first release together was for a 1967 movie soundtrack Here We Go 'Round The Mulberry Bush, that also featured the music of Steve Winwood's new venture, Traffic. In 1968, after replacing Sawyer with veteran guitarist Ray Fenwick, the Spencer Davis Group released the aptly named album With Their New Face On. Though it clearly lacked the distinctive sound that made the original group so successful, it did send two songs-- "Time Seller" and "Mr. Second Class"--to the charts. Despite this minor success, the band continued to suffer. York, who had experienced both the highs and the lows, decided to pursue a duo career with Hardin. Still committed to the group, Davis recruited bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson to join him and Fenwick, and in 1969 they released two albums, Heavies and Funky. Neither album produced a hit and by 1970 Olsson and Murray left to join Elton John's band. No more replacements were sought and within the year Davis packed his guitar and moved to California.
Though the original Spencer Davis Group was gone, their reputation lived on. Considered to be one of the most influential of the "British Invasion" bands, Davis and the rest of the original band members discovered that many of their songs were considered classics. Referring to "Gimme Some Lovin'," Davis told a Pennsylvania newspaper reporter, "We had no idea when we wrote it that it would turn out to be an evergreen, a classic." Perhaps, hoping to recapture some of that classic spirit, Davis briefly reformed the Spencer Davis Group in 1973. Featuring Davis, York, Hardin, Fenwick, and newcomer Charlie McCracken on bass, the group put out two albums, Gluggo and Living in a Back Street. The former featured "Catch You On The Rebop," an infectious tune that enjoyed some success.
Throughout the seventies and eighties the original band members pursued various avenues of the music business. Steve Winwood, following the disbanding of Traffic, spent time in the groups Blind Faith and Airforce. He later struck out on his own and developed an international following for his solo work. His brother Muff eventually became head of Artist Development at CBS Records in England. Pete York pursued a successful career as a jazz drummer, playing in various groups as well as completing studio work. Davis has worked in the music industry as a promoter for artists such as Robert Palmer and Bob Marley and as a consultant for music video producers. In addition he has appeared in television commercials and sitcoms, including a co-starring role on Married with Children. He is also in demand as a lecturer on the history of rock and roll. Despite his busy schedule, he has always taken time out for his first love--making music. He produced solo albums in 1972 and 1984, collaborated on a couple of folk music albums, and toured the world with a group of classic rock stars. Since the early nineties, he and York reunite each year and tour Europe as the Spencer Davis Group. Performing their classic hits for new audiences, as well as those old enough to remember when, it seems that, thirty years after their first hit, the Spencer Davis Group are determined to 'keep the rock pulse running' a little longer.
Spencer Davis Group's Career
Group formed in Birmingham, England, 1963; released first British number one hit, "Keep On Running," 1965; named Best New Group in Britain, 1966; first American top ten hit, "Gimme Some Lovin'," 1967.
- Selective Works
- First Album (includes "Dimples"), Fontana, 1965.
- Second Album (includes "Keep On Runnin'"), Fontana 1966.
- Autumn '66 (includes "Dust My Blues" and "When A Man Loves A Woman"), Fontana, 1966.
- Gimme Some Lovin' (includes "Gimme Some Lovin'"), United Artists, 1967 I'm A Man (includes "I'm A Man"), United Artists, 1967.
- With Their New Face On (includes "Time Seller" and "Mr. Second Class"), United Artists, 1968.
- Heavies, United Artists, 1969.
- Funky, 1969.
- Gluggo (includes "Catch You On The Rebop"), Vertigo, 1973.
- McAleer, Dave, The Fab British Rock 'N' Roll Invasion of 1964, St.
- Martin's Press, 1994.
- Whitcomb, Ian, Rock Odyssey: A Musician's Chronicle of Rock, Dolphin Books, 1983.
- Periodicals The Daily News (McKeesport, PA), December 24, 1991.
- Online http://www.webcom.com/spencer/welcome.html.
- Additional information was provided by Paradise Artists publicity materials, 1997.
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