The Spencer Davis Group
The Spencer Davis Group rehearsing before a performance in Amsterdam in 1966.
The Spencer Davis Group are a British rock band formed in Birmingham in 1963, by Spencer Davis with Steve Winwood and his brother, Muff Winwood. Their best known songs include the UK number ones "Somebody Help Me" and "Keep on Running" (both written by reggae musician Jackie Edwards), "I'm a Man" and "Gimme Some Lovin'", which reached #2 in the UK and #7 in the US.
Steve Winwood left in 1967 to form Traffic before joining Blind Faith, then forging a career as a solo artist. After releasing a few more singles, the band ceased activity in 1968. They briefly reunited from 1973 to 1974 and Davis restarted a new group in 2006.
The Spencer Davis Group was formed in 1963 in Birmingham after Welsh guitarist Spencer Davis encountered vocalist and organist Steve Winwood (then aged 14 and still at school), and his bass playing brother Muff Winwood performing at a pub, the Golden Eagle, as the Muffy Wood Jazz Band. He recruited them and Pete York on drums to form the Rhythm and Blues Quartette, which performed regularly in the city. In 1964 they signed their first recording contract after Chris Blackwell of Island Records saw them at an appearance in a local club; Blackwell also became their producer. (Island was at that time a small label, so Blackwell got them on UK Fontana for distribution.) Muff Winwood came up with the band's name, reasoning, "Spencer was the only one who enjoyed doing interviews, so I pointed out that if we called it the Spencer Davis Group, the rest of us could stay in bed and let him do them."
The group's first professional recording was a cover version of "Dimples"; at the end of 1965 they gained their first number one single with "Keep On Running". In 1966, they followed this with "Somebody Help Me" and "When I Come Home". They had one single issued in the US on Fontana, as well as "Keep On Running" and "Somebody Help Me" on Atco, but due to lack of promotion, none of these singles got airplay or charted.
For the German market the group released a medley of "Det war in Schöneberg, im Monat Mai" and "Mädel ruck ruck ruck an meine grüne Seite" (the first is from a 1913 Berlin operetta, the second is a Swabian traditional) as a tribute single for that audience, Davis having studied in West Berlin in the early 1960s.
By the end of 1966 and the beginning of 1967, the group released two more hits, "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "I'm a Man". Both of them sold over one million copies, and were awarded gold record status. These tracks proved to be their two best-known successes, especially in the U.S. (where they had signed to United Artists). Jimmy Miller was their producer.
In 1966 the group starred in The Ghost Goes Gear, a British musical comedy film, directed by Hugh Gladwish, and also starring Sheila White and Nicholas Parsons. The plot involved the group in a stay at the childhood home of their manager, a haunted manor house in the English countryside. The film would later be considered a mistake by Winwood.
Steve Winwood left to form Traffic in 1967; his brother, Muff, moved into the music industry as A&R man at Island Records. In a joint venture the soundtrack to the film Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush featured both the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic. After the Winwoods' departures, the Spencer Davis Group regrouped with the addition of guitarist Phil Sawyer (ex-Les Fleur de Lys) and keyboardist/vocalist Eddie Hardin (ex-A Wild Uncertainty). This line-up recorded several tunes for Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush and released the "Time Seller" single in July 1967; the b-side, "Don't Want You No More," also received radio airplay.
This was followed by "Mr. Second-Class" in late 1967, which received heavy airplay on Radio Caroline (at that time one of the two remaining pirate radio ships off the British coast), and the album "With Their New Face On" in 1968. At that time Ray Fenwick had replaced Phil Sawyer. The group's last minor hit, "After Tea", was released at the same time by the German band The Rattles, providing competition that led finally to a temporary stop to all activities of the band. The song was originally recorded by the Dutch group After Tea, which included guitarist/singer Fenwick amongst its members.
After one further single ("Short Change"), at that time Eddie Hardin and Pete York had left to form the duo Hardin & York. They were replaced by future Elton John Band member Dee Murray on bass and Dave Hynes on drums. Nigel Olsson replaced Hynes, and this lineup produced the album "Funky" in 1969 (only released in the USA on DATE, a sub-label of CBS) before splintering.
The group reunited in 1973 with Davis, Fenwick, Hardin and York, and newcomer Charlie McCracken on bass. The group released the albums Gluggo (1973) and Living in a Back Street (1974) before once again disbanding.
Davis continued working, however, producing some jazz-oriented albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The band re-formed in 2006, although only Davis and Hardin remained from the 1960s group line-ups. Since then, The Spencer Davis Group has continued to tour the USA and Europe, but with two differing line-ups; only Spencer Davis himself is present in both formations of the band. Hardin remained with the UK version of the band until his death in 2015.
The Spencer Davis Group - particularly its incarnation with Steve Winwood - proved to be influential, with many of the band's songs covered by other artists over the years. Notable among these are Chicago's 1969 version of "I'm a Man"; The Allman Brothers Band's 1969 take of Davis and Hardin's "Don't Want You No More"; Three Dog Night's 1970 recording of "Can't Get Enough of It"; and The Blues Brothers' 1980 recording of "Gimme Some Lovin". The Grateful Dead also covered Spencer Davis Group material in live performance on occasion, and Spencer Davis himself performed "I'm a Man" with the Grateful Dead at a 1989 performance at Los Angeles' Great Western Forum.
Europe: Spencer Davis Miller Anderson Colin Hodgkinson Steff Porzel
America: Spencer Davis Ed Tree Taras Prodaniuk Jim Blazer Tom Fillman