Guide to British Music of the 1960s


The Spencer Davis Group

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Spencer Davis- guitar, Steve Winwood- vocals/guitar/keyboards, Peter York- Drums, Muff Winwood- Bass

The Spencer Davis Group was formed in Birmingham, England in the early 1960s as The Rhythm and Blues Quartet. It featured Spencer Davis on guitar and vocals, Steve Winwood on guitar, organ and vocals, Muff Winwood on bass and Pete York on drums. Davis, Muff Winwood and Pete York already had a background in playing skiffle, jazz and blues. Spencer Davis's background was in jazz and Delta and Chicago blues of artists like Muddy Waters and Leadbelly. Steve, Muff's younger brother, was only 15 when the band played its first gigs at the Golden Eagle pub, Birmingham's only r 'n' b club and the band was offered a residency there. Also known as The Shoop, the Golden Eagle was at the top of Hill Street in the centre of Birmingham. This was followed by regular Tuesday night gigs at the Marquee in London.

Following a deal with Fontana, John Lee Hooker's Dimples was chosen as the first single. The second single, I Can't Stand It which has been sung by The Soul Sisters, made the charts. The first major chart hit was Keep on Running which made number one in the UK as did the second hit Somebody Help Me. It became clear that Steve Winwood had an exceptional talent and Keep on Running showcased his vocals excellently. Other hits were Gimme Some Loving, I'm a Man and When I Come Home. They also started to make the US charts. The band also appeared in a film called The Ghost Goes Gear. The first three albums, all released in 1965-1966 were strong sellers. The first one contained r 'n' b standards as well as a few Steve Winwood originals which showed his emerging songwriting talents.

The second album showed that the group was following a pattern of releasing commercial songs as singles while limiting the r 'n' b songs to albums. The Kinks had a similar approach. Autumn '66 was a further step forward with exceptional vocal performances by Steve Winwood including When a Man Loves a Woman, Dust My Blues and Nobody Know You When You're Down and Out.

Steve Winwood left in 1967 to form Traffic and this marked a downturn in the band's fortunes. Muff Winwood left to join Island Records as head of A & R. The band continued with Phil Sawyer who himself was replaced by Ray Fenwick on guitar and Eddie Hardin on keyboards. Two minor hits, Mr Second Class and Time Seller, followed.

After a number of additional personnel changes the band finally split. Spencer Davis went to America where he worked in A & R for a number of record companies. The line-up of Davis/York/Hardin and Fenwick reformed in 1973 with Charlie McCracken on bass and made two more albums. Catch Me on the Rebop was a minor hit single.

Today Pete York is playing with a number of jazz bands. Spencer Davis based himself on the West Coast of America where he maked the occasional album. Muff Winwood is head of artist development at CBS Records. Steve Winwood joined Blind Faith after leaving Traffic and later became a highly successful solo artist.

Spencer Davis died 19 October 2020 while being treated for pneumonia.

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