British Rocker Spencer Davis Dies at 81

The Spencer Davis Group, 1965.
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GAB Archives/Redfern

Rock guitarist Spencer Davis, whose eponymous group was part of the British beat scene in the mid-'60s and helped launch the career of Steve Winwood, died yesterday (Oct. 19). He was 81 years old.

The Guardian and other outlets reported the cause of death as pneumonia.

Born in Wales, Davis founded the Spencer Davis Group in Birmingham alongside teenage singer/keyboardist Steve Winwood, his brother Muff on bass and drummer Pete York. Originally, the band was called The Rhythm and Blues Quartet. "Spencer was the only one who enjoyed doing interviews," Muff told Mojo in 1997, "so I pointed out that if we called it the Spencer Davis Group, the rest of us could stay in bed and let him do them."

Alongside bands like The Rolling Stones (whose bassist, Bill Wyman, had been a member of Davis' first band, The Saints) and The Kinks, the Spencer Davis Group were part of a wave of British bands in the wake of The Beatles' breakthrough who were taking on the rock and blues styles of America. In 1965 and 1966, the band recorded a pair of songs by Jamaican songwriter Jackie Edwards. "Keep On Running" and "Somebody Help Me" both reached the top of the charts in England.

In 1966, Davis and the Winwoods wrote and recorded a new original, "Gimme Some Lovin'," reportedly in under an hour. "[Chris] Blackwell [the band's manager] came to see how we were going on, to find our equipment set up and us not there, and he storms into the cafe, absolutely screaming, 'How can you do this?'" Muff Winwood later recalled. "Don't worry, we said. We were all really confident. We took him back, and said, how's this for half an hour's work, and we knocked off 'Gimme Some Lovin'' and he couldn't believe it."

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"Gimme Some Lovin'" reached No. 2 in England and No. 7 in the United States. A follow-up, "I'm a Man," was another international Top 10 the following year, later covered by Chicago. Shortly thereafter, both Winwoods left: Steve joined Traffic while Muff became an employee of Blackwell's new label Island Records. The Spencer Davis Group continued briefly before Davis too joined the Island staff in the '70s, where he helped promote Steve Winwood's solo career in America.

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