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Spencer Davis - RIP

Started by Taman Tun, October 21, 2020, 09:53:55 AM

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Taman Tun

This obit from the Times:-

Spencer Davis knew he had found the alchemical ingredient to turn his musical vision into gold, one night in 1963 when he walked into the Golden Eagle pub in Birmingham and heard Steve Winwood. "He was sitting there, playing like Oscar Peterson and singing like Ray Charles," recalled Davis, who at the time was a school teacher by day and a semi-pro musician in the clubs by night.

"I thought, this guy is too good to be true," he remembered later. "He's two for the price of one and I'm having him in the band, now."

What was even more extraordinary was that Winwood was just 15 and still at school. With Winwood installed as the lead singer and Davis on guitar, the Spencer Davis Group went on to record a string of chart-topping hits including Gimme Some Lovin', Keep On Running and I'm A Man that came to define the phrase "blue-eyed soul".

That the lead singer was underage meant that Winwood's older brother, Muff, had to join the group too, as chaperone and bass player. "Within two weeks we had lines around the block when we played at the Golden Eagle," Davis recalled.

Chris Blackwell, an ambitious young producer who had recently founded Island Records, became an early champion. On a visit to Birmingham to scout another group he heard Davis's quartet by chance and signed them to a management contract on little more than a handshake, an oversight that would come back to haunt them.

As the group turned professional, Davis gave up his teaching job and within months they were in London playing at the Marquee Club. Blackwell landed them a recording deal with the Fontana label and although it was clearly the teenage Winwood who was the star attraction, the quartet became The Spencer Davis Group, on the suggestion of Muff Winwood.

His bandmates nicknamed Davis "the Professor" and argued that his articulate, bookish demeanour meant that he was tailor-made to be their spokesman. "Muff was sharp," Davis said. "The name was chosen so that I had to do the press interviews while they all stayed in bed."

It put Davis in a similar position to John Mayall, who around the same time was leading a group that bore his name, but in which Eric Clapton was the undoubted star.

Touring with the Rolling Stones, Davis and his group did their best to blow the headline act off stage. "The Spencer Davis Group drew from the same material as the Stones, but we were a much more sophisticated sort of band when you think about it," Davis said. "We gave them a good run for their money."

The group's first No 1 came at the end of 1965 with Keep On Running, a song suggested by Blackwell and which had been written and previously recorded by the reggae singer Jackie Edwards. Transformed into a rocking R&B number with driving bass riff and innovative electric fuzz guitar, Keep On Running knocked the double A-sided Beatles single We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper from the top slot. The Beatles gallantly sent Davis a telegram offering their congratulations. The song was later used as the opening sequence in the movie Buster (1988), as Phil Collins in the title role stole a suit from a shop window for a friend's funeral.

The follow-up was delayed when Davis suffered concussion from bashing his head on the windscreen of his car after braking to avoid a dog, but three months later the group returned to No 1 again with Somebody Help Me, another cover of a song written by Jackie Edwards.

Yet it was the next hit that was to become the group's signature song. Under pressure from Blackwell to write their own material, they were booked into a rehearsal room at the Marquee Club and instructed not to emerge until they had come up with a hit record.

"It was 11 o'clock in the morning and we started to mess about with riffs," Muff Winwood recalled. "We hadn't been there for more than half an hour and this idea just came. Steve had been singing 'gimme some loving' and just yelling out anything. We fitted it all together and by about 12 o'clock we had the whole song."

Thoroughly pleased with the morning's work, Davis and his bandmates adjourned for a drink, only to be interrupted by a furious Blackwell, who had dropped by the rehearsal room to find nobody there. When they returned and played him Gimme Some Lovin', he knew he had a chart-topper on his hands. Davis and the group played the song at a gig the same night and recorded it the next day.

Driven by Steve Winwood's insistent Hammond organ and soulful vocal, Gimme Some Lovin' became an instant classic, reaching No 2 in the British charts and breaking the group in America with their first Top Ten entry. It has since been used in a number of films from Notting Hill to The Big Chill.

Davis and the group also starred in the 1966 musical comedy film The Ghost Goes Gear with Nicholas Parsons and recorded the theme song for the long-running children's TV show Magpie, under the pseudonym the Murgatroyd Band. Yet there was only one more hit, with I'm A Man before Steve Winwood left in 1967 to form Traffic.

Davis put a new line-up together which had minor hits with Time Seller and Mr Second Class and found some success in Europe, where his fluency in German, French and Spanish was a boon. He also hung out with the Beatles while they were filming Magical Mystery Tour, and even had a cameo in it. Yet without their lead singer, the Spencer Davis Group had lost its magic ingredient, a fact that was recognised when a "greatest hits" album appeared in 1967 under the title The Best of the Spencer Davis Group featuring Steve Winwood. Although Winwood went on to superstardom, Davis liked to insist proudly that "he never sounded so good with anyone else as he did with us."

Davis might have fared better if he had not rejected a young hopeful named Reg Dwight, who auditioned to replace Winwood. Instead the gig went to Eddie Hardin and Dwight went on to solo fame as Elton John.

He was married to Pauline Oliver but the relationship ended in divorce. His long-term partner, June, survives him along with his three children, Lisa, Sarah and Gareth.

Spencer David Nelson Davies was born in 1939 in Swansea, the son of a paratrooper who in peacetime became a GPO engineer. Inspired by a mandolin-playing uncle, by the age of six he was playing harmonica and accordion. By his teenage years he had discovered American blues and R&B and was playing guitar in a local skiffle group.

Educated at Dynevor School, he left at 16 with a respectable clutch of O-levels and moved to London, where he took a junior civil service job, first with the Post Office Savings Bank and then with HM Customs and Excise.

However, he returned to his old school to study A- levels in modern languages and became head boy, before enrolling in 1960 at the University of Birmingham to read German. As a student he dated Christine McVie (née Perfect), later of Chicken Shack and Fleetwood Mac, and they played the Birmingham folk clubs together.

After the break-up of the Spencer Davis Group in the mid-1970s he took a job as an executive with Blackwell's Island Records, having confronted the group's former manager about missing royalties. "I'd sold millions of records and hadn't seen a penny from them," Davis recounted. "So I said to him, 'I've finally figured out why I wasn't getting what I was entitled to.' "

Blackwell told him he would "put it right" and placed him on the label's payroll. "You can see what happened there. I think he was afraid I was blackmailing him," Davis added.

At Island he promoted Bob Marley, Robert Palmer and Steve Winwood's solo career. Yet he still wasn't satisfied that a wrong had been righted and later sued for unpaid royalties and received an out-of-court settlement.

In the mid-1980s he moved to California, living on Catalina Island, and continued to make music almost to the end. "I never stopped playing somewhere," he said.

Spencer Davis, musician, was born on July 17, 1939. He died of pneumonia on October 19, 2020, aged 81
If the old only could, if the young only knew.

Johnnie F.

Rest in peace Spencer Davis. The Spencer Davis Group has been one of my favourite bands from the 60s on. I had a lot of singles of their songs.

And my very first CD (bought in 1985 at the horrendous price of 45 German Marks) was of an already digitally recorded 1984 concert of Spencer Davis, Pete York and Colin Hodgkinson in Waldkirch, a town near Freiburg, the famous student town in Southern Germany. I still play it once in a while. Spencer was not just a good musician but also a good comedian. He could speak some German, and his jokes - half English, half German - were superb. He loved touring through the German province towns and interact with the audience. Not much money can be made there, but lots of fun to have.

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