Spencer Davis Group 1966 | L-R – Muff Windwood, Spencer Davis, Pete York, and Steve Winwood
Spencer Davis, the multi-instrumentalist who lent his name to the British band that logged two top 10 hits in America in 1967, “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m a Man,” died on Oct. 19, according to several British websites. The cause was pneumonia. He was 81 and had long lived in California.
A Facebook post from musician Zoot Money reads, “Yet again I’m reminded of the good times I’ve spent in old friends’ company. Goodbye Spencer Davis and thanks for sharing the stage with me from time to time. Until we meet again up there rest easy free from that pain you had over the last few years. RIP to the most interesting Welshman I ever met.”
The Spencer Davis Group, formed in 1963, is best remembered as the launching pad for its keyboardist and lead vocalist, Steve Winwood, who was only 15 when he joined the band and 18 when “Gimme Some Lovin’” was recorded.
Spencer David Nelson Davies was born July 17, 1939, in Swansea, Wales, and began learning to play various instruments as a child. In 1963, while in Birmingham, England, he met Steve Winwood, who was performing in a band with his older brother, bassist Muff Winwood. Along with drummer Pete York, Davis and the brothers formed the Rhythm and Blues Quartet; Davis played harmonica, guitar and sang, although Steve Winwood handled the majority of the lead vocals.
By 1964, the quartet had changed its name to the Spencer Davis Group and had landed a headlining gig at London’s Marquee club. Signed to Fontana Records in the U.K., they scored a few minor hits before sending “Keep on Running” (written and originally recorded by Jackie Edwards) to the #1 spot in 1965. (Released in America on Atco, the single only peaked at #76 in the spring of 1966.)
*In the late fall of 1966, the group released “Gimme Some Lovin’,” a powerful, pulsating blues-based track co-written by Davis and both Winwood’s, in England, where it rose to #2. With a switch to the United Artists label, the track was released in the U.S. in December 1966 and by February of ’67, it had peaked at #7. “Gimme Some Lovin’” is today considered a classic of the British Invasion era and remains a staple of Winwood’s live performances.
The follow-up single, “I’m a Man,” credited to Steve Winwood and producer Jimmy Miller, went to #9 in the U.K. and #10 in America, but that song was to be Winwood’s last hit with the band. In April 1967, he left to form the influential Traffic, and Davis continued to lead the band that bore his name into 1969, after logging three more minor chart hits in the U.S., including the #47 “Somebody Help Me.” (He briefly revived the Spencer Davis Group, minus the Winwoods, in 1973-74.)
Davis launched a solo career in the wake of the band’s split and released a number of solo albums, none of which charted. He also served for some time as an executive with Island Records in the 1970s. Davis moved to California in the ’70s and continued to perform with various lineups of the Spencer Davis Group (many including York) until late in his life.
Watch a live performance of “I’m a Man” featuring Winwood on lead vocal