While it produced some of the most dynamic R&B singles of the Sixties, the Spencer Davis Group is perhaps best known as the musical launching pad for rock icon Steve Winwood.
Spencer Davis was born in Wales and moved to Birmingham in 1960 to study. At night, he would play his 12-string guitar in the clubs and for a short time formed a duo with future Fleetwood Mac member Christine McVie.
Davis met the Winwood brothers, Steve and Muff, in early 1963 when they were performing as the Muff-Woody Jazz Band. Muff played bass, and Steve — then 15 years old — possessed a vocal style that was way beyond his years and already was a remarkably good instrumentalist. Davis joined them and brought in drummer Pete York.
Their first release, a remake of John Lee Hooker’s “Dimples,” failed to track, probably because Hooker himself released the same record in the UK at the same time. After three more singles, all R&B covers, also failed, the Spencer Davis Group turned to original material. Songwriter Jackie Edwards penned the group’s next three releases. The first was “Keep On Runnin'”, a high powered R&B number featuring Steve Winwood’s organ playing with a memorable bass riff and and a fuzztone guitar. The single became Britain’s #1 record in the fall in 1965 and reached the top 40 in the US.
A European tour followed. The Davis group’s next single, “Somebody Help Me”, also reached #1 in the UK. Edwards’ final song, “When I Come Home” got to #12. By the start of 1967, the band released two more hits: “Gimme Some Lovin'” and “I’m a Man”. These tracks proved to be their two best-known successes, especially in America.
But in 1967, the Winwood brothers left. Muff became a record producer, and Steve formed Traffic with Dave Mason, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood. The departure was amicable: Muff was working for Island, the Davis group’s record label, and for a time the two bands performed together.
The Spencer Davis group’s final release with the Winwoods, “I’m A Man” came out in the spring of 1967 and reached the top 10 on the UK charts.
Spencer Davis found replacements, but the new band’s first effort, “Time Seller,” failed to make it above #30 in the summer of 1967. The group eventually faded and Davis moved to the US to become a record producer.
Where Are They Now?
Spencer Davis lives on Catalina Island, off the Southern California coast, and tours with a new incarnation of his group as well as some big names on the oldies circuit. In 2014, he recorded with Latin Rock legends El Chicano.
Steve Winwood went on to fame and fortune with Traffic and later with Blind Faith. In July 2007, Winwood shared the stage with Eric Clapton at Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival. Among the songs they played together were “Presence of the Lord” and “Can’t Find My Way Home” from their Blind Faith days. They followed that up with a sold-out three night stand at Madison Square Garden in February of 2008, marking the release of a collaborative EP through iTunes titled Dirty City. Winwood now lives in Nashville with his wife and four children. He also owns a manor house in Gloucestershire, England.
Muff Winwood became an executive at Sony Records in 1978 and then worked at EMI records London in the 90’s.
Pete York has been an in-demand drummer since the band’s breakup. He’s still recording and touring in Europe.
Spencer Davis Group Videos
“Keep on Runnin'” (with Steve Winwood), live version, 1966.
“Gimme Some Lovin” 2005, performed live in Germany.
Spencer Davis Group Discography
Title | Release Date | UK chart position
Dimples May 1964 –
I Can’t Stand It October 1964 (47)
Every Little Bit Hurts January 1965 (41)
Strong Love May 1965 (44)
Keep On Running November 1965 (1)
Somebody Help Me March 1966 (1)
When I Come Home August 1966 (12)
Gimme Some Lovin’ October 1966 (2)
I’m A Man January 1967 (9)
Time Seller July 1967 (30)
Mr Second Class December 1967 (35)
After Tea March 1968 —
Short Change December 1968 —