October 20, 2020

Spencer Davis — More Than A Band Leader

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When Spencer Davis appeared at the Main Point years ago it was long past the time of the famed Spencer Davis Group days. One might have thought that he wanted to leave all of that behind him, but when I spoke with him in the basement of the legendary club, he didn’t mind dragging up the past. In fact, he seemed rather proud of the fact that Steve Winwood was doing so well.

At the time I didn’t think to ask him if the stories of him being Steve’s German teacher in high school were true. It was a rumor that prevailed for some time. While Spencer was very fluent in German and did teach it while performing in clubs at night, in looking at his bios there’s nothing about him ever teaching the subject to Steve or his brother Muff.

The more likely story is that Spencer discovered both Steve and Muff playing in a club. Despite the fact that they were both very young, Spencer saw the potential and asked them to join a band that he was forming. Despite their age difference, the brothers saw nothing but a great opportunity. Of course, they were right. Steve became the lead singer with a voice that was more soulful than his young age

Before forming the band, Spencer was the leader of a successful local band called The Saints. Other members of that group were Bill Wyman who became a Rolling Stone soon after and Christine Perfect who later become McVie and a member of Fleetwood Mac.

When the band that included the Winwood brothers first formed in 1963, they were known simply as The Rhythm & Blues Quartette. The named was changed to The Spencer Davis Group in 1964. Muff was to have said that Spencer was the only one who liked doing interviews, so why not change the name of the band. The truth was, given his age and that he was a real leader, it made more sense to name the band after him.

Chris Blackwell of Island Records saw the band and immediately signed. It wasn’t long after that signing that the group was signing autographs. Their first record knocked The Beatles off the top of the UK record charts. The Beatles were impressed enough to send Spencer a telegram offering their congratulations.

It was not long after that success that The Spencer Davis Group became part of the British Invasion that swept across the United States. Their biggest hit “Gimme Some Lovin’” was followed by “I’m a Man”. It seemed like the future was bright.

Then at the peak of their popularity, Steve decided to form his own group called Traffic. It was the end of The Spencer Davis Group. While there were numerous attempts at replacing him and several attempts at re-forming the band, the group had run its course.

When we spoke at the Main Point, Spencer was trying to do a solo career. He soon decided to become a talent scout and not a performer. Most people thought that he had walked away from the music business,. Instead, he was a very important man behind the scenes where his sparking personality and honesty made him perfect for the job.

The last time I spoke with him in this capacity, he seemed much happier doing this than performing. Ironically, he was very important in launching Steve Winwood’s solo career. He also did some song writing.

Since he seemed happy at his job, it was surprising that Spencer decided to not only reform The Spencer Group again, but they did as many as 200 shows a year.

It wasn’t surprising to hear upon his death that so many people remembered him as I did. He was smart, kind, gentle and caring man who was devoted to music. He died of pneumonia. We need more people like Spencer Davis in the music business.

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