Spencer Davis, Leader of Spencer Davis Group, Dead at 81


Spencer Davis, the bandleader of the Spencer Davis Group, died in the hospital on Monday while receiving treatment for pneumonia, his agent told BBC News. “He was a very good friend,” said his agent Bob Birk. “He was a highly ethical, very talented, good-hearted, extremely intelligent, generous man. He will be missed.” Davis was 81.

Raised in South Wales, Davis learned to play harmonica and accordion as a child. When he was 16, he moved to London to work in civil service before relocating to Birmingham where he studied German. Davis and future Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman formed a band called the Saints. Davis also collaborated with Christine McVie (later of Fleetwood Mac).

In 1963, Davis formed the Spencer Davis Group with Davis on guitar, a young Steve Winwood on organ and vocals, Muff Winwood on bass, and Peter York on drums. The band was initially called The Rhythm & Blues Quartet, but changed their name since Davis was the only member who enjoyed doing press. With a blend of jazz, folk, and blues, the band earned their first hit in 1965 with “Keep on Running,” which was a cover of a song by Jamaican musician Jackie Edwards. In 1966, “Keep on Running” reached no. 1 on the UK singles chart, pushing out the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out”/“Day Tripper.” Davis later said that the Beatles sent him a congratulatory telegram. The band had another no. 1 hit with “Somebody Help Me,” a second Jackie Edwards cover. Other singles like “I’m a Man” and “Gimme Some Lovin’” also found success.

Under the name The Murgatroyd Band, the Spencer Davis Group recorded the theme song for the British children’s show Magpie. In 1966, the group starred in a film called The Ghost Goes Gear. Davis appeared in a bit part in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour.

In 1967, Winwood left to form Traffic and the Spencer Davis Group disbanded two years later. Davis started a solo career which resulted in 1971’s It’s Been So Long (a collaboration with Peter Jameson) and 1972’s Mousetrap. Due to money trouble, he ended up getting a job in artist development at Island Records. “In 1970, I was considering declaring bankruptcy, but I’d written a track with Eddie Hardin, called ‘Don’t Want You No More,’ which the Allman Brothers put on their Beginnings album,” Davis told Music Mart magazine in 2005. “The damned thing sold six million copies. Suddenly a cheque for £5,000 arrived through the door and I’d never seen so much money in all my life.” At Island, Davis signed punk-pop band Eddie and the Hot Rods and reggae group Third World.

In recent years, Davis continued to release records and toured with a new iteration of the Spencer Davis Group.

“I feel that he was influential in setting me on the road to becoming a professional musician, and I thank him for that,” Winwood said in a statement. “Thank you, Spencer.”



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