Spencer Davis, who as conductor of the Spencer Davis group topped the UK charts twice in the mid-1960s, died at the age of 81 while being treated for pneumonia in the hospital.
The band, which formed in Birmingham in 1963 and also featured Steve Winwood, have had hits like Gimme Some Lovin ‘, Keep On Running, Somebody Help Me and I’m a Man. Along with a number of other early British pop groups, they helped popularize the sound of American blues and R&B in the UK.
Winwood left the group in 1967 to form Traffic, with Davis and others breaking up the group in 1969. They partially reformed for two years in the mid-1970s, and again in 2006, when Davis returned to tour internationally. with the group.
Born in Swansea in 1939, Davis began learning the accordion and harmonica at the age of six. Attracted by the attraction of American R&B records, he took up the guitar and formed his first group The Saints with Bill Wyman, who later joined the Rolling Stones.
Davis moved to Birmingham to study German at university and performed in parallel bands, first playing American folk and traditional blues. In 1963, he and drummer Pete York recruited Winwood, 15, and his brother Muff into their group, first called the Rhythm and Blues Quartet, then the Spencer Davis Group.
Like the Stones, Dave Clark Five, Kinks and others, the Spencer Davis Group was part of the thriving mid-1960s beat scene, playing music influenced by American rhythm and blues. They, along with another Birmingham band, the Moody Blues, were nicknamed “Brum beat” to differentiate them from the vibrant London and Liverpool stages, although their popularity increased with a residency at the Marquee club in London.
Building their sound around uptempo beats and the powerfully soulful vocals of Winwood, their first single, I Can’t Stand It, was released in 1964. They topped the charts the following year with Keep On Running, and in 1966 with Somebody Help Me, both written by Jamaican artist Jackie Edwards. Other hits include the anthemic Gimme Some Lovin ‘, written by Winwood, which was also a hit in the United States, reaching No. 7.
I’m a Man (1967) would be the group’s last big hit, also reaching the Top 10 in the US and UK and later picked up by the group Chicago.
After their first breakup, Davis moved to the United States and struggled financially, later complaining about punitive record contracts. “I didn’t know what was going on. I had sold millions of records and hadn’t seen a dime of them, ”he said in 2005.
He rose to a role in the industry in the 1970s, working with his Island Records label to help develop artists like Bob Marley and Robert Palmer. He also helped Winwood’s solo career.
Artists paying homage to Davis include Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet who tweeted, “He led a wonderful group, one of the greatest of the ’60s, with Muff and Steve Winwood. Keep at [sic] Running and Gimme Some Lovin ‘were R&B classics. He drove the soul into the sound of white rock of the time.