Spencer Davis, Welsh musician and founder of the Spencer Davis Group, died Monday while being treated for pneumonia in the hospital. He was 81.
Bob Birk, his booking agent for more than 30 years, confirmed Davis’ death to Rolling Stone. “He was a very good friend,” Birk says. “He was a highly ethical, very talented, good-hearted, extremely intelligent, generous man. He leaves behind his long-time domestic partner, June, and three adult children.”
Davis was born on July 17th, 1939 in Swansea, South Wales. Fluent in German, French, and Spanish, he was known to musicians as “the Professor,” according to the BBC. He taught for a spell, then gave up that career to form the Spencer Davis Group in 1963 after meeting a teenage Steve Winwood. “I went to a pub in the northern suburbs of Birmingham,” Davis said in 2015. “Somebody said, ‘Go and see the Muff Wood Jazz Band.’ Sitting down at the piano was this young guy [who] played piano like Oscar Peterson and sang like Ray Charles. I said, ‘You, I want you in the band!’ He said, ‘I don’t have a driver’s license.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry about that.’”
The band — Davis on guitar, Winwood on vocals, keyboards and guitar, Muff Winwood on bass, and Pete York on drums — played their first gig at the Golden Eagle pub in Birmingham. They scored several hits throughout the Sixties, including “Keep on Running,” “Gimme Some Lovin,’” “Somebody Help Me,” “Every Little Bit Hurts,” and “I’m a Man.” They also toured with the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Who.
In Birmingham, Davis also met Christine McVie — then known as Christine Perfect — at a pub. The two began dating. “One night in strolls this devastatingly handsome man, who was from Birmingham University,” McVie told Rolling Stone‘s Cameron Crowe in 1977. “It was Spencer Davis. I just fell in love with Spence. I swore I would get thin and go out with him. And I did.”
“I used to trail around religiously,” McVie recalled. “Boy, they were so hot. Nothing was like that. Stevie Winwood played like I’d never heard anybody play before. It just gave me goosebumps. They were just a blues band, but a really, really great blues band. [Winwood] could yell the blues. No one could believe it. The 19-20-year-old girls would have the hots for him.”
Winwood left the band to form Traffic in 1967. They continued without him, releasing the “Time Seller” and “Mr. Second Class,” both hits in Britain. They broke up in 1969.
According to a press bio, Davis moved to America in 1970. He released 1971’s It’s Been So Long with Peter Jameson and the solo album Mousetrap in 1972. The Spencer Davis Group reformed in 1973 without the Winwood brothers — releasing Gluggo that year and Living in a Back Street in 1974 — before disbanding again.
Davis worked as an A&R executive at Island Records in the mid-Seventies — where he signed the reggae band Third World — and later worked for Allegiance Records in the Eighties. He returned to his own music in 1984 with the album Crossfire, which featured Dusty Springfield, Booker T. Jones, and others.
Davis would perform throughout the years, forming the Classic Rock All-Stars in 1993 alongside Sugarloaf’s Jeff Corbetta, Iron Butterfly’s Mike Pinera, and Rare Earth’s Pete Rivera. He left the band two years later, joining an even larger supergroup, World Classic Rockers. The band included the Eagles’ Randy Meisner, Toto’s Bobby Kimball, Paul McCartney and Wings’ Denny Laine, and more.
The Spencer Davis Group toured in various iterations throughout the years, with the songs appearing in films like The Big Chill, Top Gun, Notting Hill, and others. “The songs have taken on a life of their own,” Davis said. “I got a call from one of my grandkids — I have five grandchildren. He said, ‘Grandpappy, Ariana Grande has covered your song! I didn’t say which song, I said, ‘Who?’ She’s kind of a Miley Cyrus, a teen pop idol queen or whatever. She did ‘Gimme Some Lovin,‘ a good job too. The check was nice as well!”
From Rolling Stone US