Spencer Davis 1939 – 2020
Spencer Davis died on Monday, October 19 at 81. According to the AP, Davis died in a hospital while being treated for pneumonia.
Davis is most well-known for being the titular member of the Spencer Davis Group who were part of the 1960s British Invasion. Davis was born in Swansea, South Wales, on July 17, 1939. He began playing harmonica and accordion when he was just six. His prowess as a musician was perhaps only matched by his proficiency in languages. After a brief stint in the civil service in the London area when he was 16, Davis would return to school to take his A-Levels in languages and was head boy in 1959. His moniker in music circles was the “Professor.”
By the time he was in the civil service, Davis was already playing guitar. Like many of his generation in the UK, Davis was influenced by skiffle, jazz and the blues. But as rhythm and blues began to make its way across the Atlantic, Davis took notice and began forming R&B groups, most notably one called the Saints with Bill Perks, later known as Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones. He would also perform with Christine Perfect, later known as Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac.
In 1963 Davis formed the Spencer Davis Group along with drummer Pete York, bassist Muff Winwood and his brother, a teenaged Steve Winwood who sang lead and played keyboards as well as guitar. The group quickly found success and had hits with songs like “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “Somebody Help Me,” “I’m A Man” and “Keep On Runnin.”
The Spencer Davis Group continued on in various formats after Steve Winwood left in 1967 to form Traffic. Davis also worked as a record executive for Island Records and was involved in the careers of Bob Marley, Robert Palmer and the solo career of his former bandmate Winwood. In the 1980s, Davis would return to performing and guested with a number of notable bands and artists including the Grateful Dead, Levon Helm, Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band and more.
Davis would continue to play in various groups throughout his life, living on Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. In 2012, the Catalina Island Museum put up an exhibit called “Gimme Some Lovin: The Spencer Davis Group,” which went along with a symposium on the British Invasion. Davis complimented the museum pieces with a 4th of July performance where he sang his hits with a band called The Catalina All Stars.
Davis was a highly respected and influential member of the music community. Since his death on Monday tributes have poured in. Steve Winwood released a statement regarding the passing of Spencer Davis. Read it below
Statement On The Passing of Spencer Davis
I’ve known Spencer since I was about 13–he would have been about 22. I was playing a show at Birmingham University with my brother and his band. Spencer who was a student at Birmingham, was playing with a small group of musicians. We met and the the seeds of The Spencer Davis Group were sown.
Spencer was an early pioneer of the British folk scene, which, in his case embraced folk blues, and eventually what was then called “Rhythm and Blues”. He influenced my tastes in music, he owned the first 12-string guitar I ever saw, and he was taken with the music of Huddie “Lead belly” Ledbetter, and Big Bill Broonzy. I’d already got a big brother who influenced me greatly, and Spencer became like a big brother to me at the time.
He was definitely a man with a vision, and one of the pioneers of the British invasion of America in the sixties. I never went to the U.S. with Spencer, but he later embraced America, and America embraced him.
I feel that he was influential in setting me on the road to becoming a professional musician, and I thank him for that.
Thank you, Spencer.
– Steve Winwood
The Grateful Dead also released a tribute. Check it out below: