Spencer Davis Dead At 81
Spencer Davis, founder of mid-’60s British Invasion stalwarts the Spencer Davis Group, has died. As the Birmingham Mail reports, Davis’ fellow Spencer Davis Group member Pete York claims that Davis died of a heart attack while at home in California. Davis was 81.
Davis was born Spencer Davies in Swansea, Wales. (He dropped the “e” from his name as a musician to make it easier for people to pronounce. “Davies” is pronounced “Davis” in Wales.) Davis moved to London as a teenager, where he worked as an office clerk, and then studied German at the University Of Birmingham. He also formed a skiffle and R&B group called the Saints with future Rolling Stone Bill Wyman.
In 1963, Davis recruited teenage jazz musician Steve Winwood, as well as Winwood’s brother Muff and drummer Pete York, to join a new group that was first known as the Rhythm And Blues Group. Steve Winwood was generally considered the group’s frontman, though Davis sang and played guitar and harmonica. The group started out playing R&B covers in Birmingham, and they adapted their new Spencer Davis Group name in 1964; they picked it because Davis was the only member of the band who liked doing interviews.
In 1964, Chris Blackwell signed the Spencer Davis Group to his nascent Island Records label, and they released their debut single, a cover of John Lee Hooker’s blues song “Dimples.” In 1965 and 1966, the group had #1 singles in the UK with their versions of Jackie Edwards’ “Keep On Running” and “Somebody Help Me.” Later on, they hit the US top 10 with a couple of originals, 1966’s “Gimme Some Lovin'” and the elemental Winwood-written 1967 jam “I’m A Man.” They also starred in a 1966 British comedy called The Ghost Goes Gear. The Spencer Davis Group’s version of blues-rock was harder and grittier than what many of their peers were doing, and it also tried hard to be truer to the sound of American blues.
In 1967, Steve Winwood left the Spencer Davis Group to form Traffic, while Muff Winwood departed to go into A&R at Island. Davis recruited series of new lineups and attempted to go in a more more psychedelic direction. None of those took, and the Spencer Davis Group broke up in 1969. Davis reunited a late-period lineup for a couple of early-’70s lineups, but then that one broke up as well. In the mid-’00s Davis began touring with a new version of the Spencer Davis Group.
Davis also released solo music, and he moved to California in the early ’70s. In the mid-’70s, Davis, like Muff Winwood before him, became an executive at Island.
Below, check out some videos of the Spencer Davis Group at work.