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Spencer Davis, a Leader in the Shadows

By Marc Zisman |

The guitarist of the Spencer Davis Group, the flagship band of sixties British beat that brought us Steve Winwood, recently passed away at the age of 81…

The band was named after him, but it was Steve Winwood's soulman voice that carried the Spencer Davis Group's hit songs. Welsh guitarist Spencer Davis, who passed away on the 19th of October 2020, will always be remembered as a leading player of the sixties beat scene which saw young British groups, heavily influenced by American R&B, bring an unprecedented energy and vitality to the genre from across the Atlantic.

In the mid 1960s, Davis, Winwood, Winwood’s bassist brother Mervyn and drummer Peter York were propelled into the musical stratosphere, notably thanks to their cover of Keep On Running by Jamaican artist Jackie Edwards (the cover would dethrone The BeatlesDay Tripper at the top of the charts!) as well as singles such as Somebody Help Me, Gimme Some Lovin’ and I’m a Man. After having covered some of the great soul and R&B hits by the likes of Ike and Tina Turner, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter and Brenda Holloway, the group excelled in blending rock’n’roll, blues and rhythm’n’blues, touring the world with The Rolling Stones and The Who among others.

In 1967, when the Winwood brothers jumped ship (Steve went on to set up Traffic and later Blind Faith before opting for a solo career), the Spencer Davis Group’s popularity began to decline until the group’s eventual end in 1969. Spencer Davis then embarked on a solo career that unfortunately never really took off.

The guitarist had more success as artistic director for his friend Chris Blackwell’s label Island Records (Blackwell was the Spencer Davis Group’s first manager), notably signing Eddie and the Hot Rods and reggae group Third World. In 2006, Davis reformed the Spencer Davis Group for a few concerts.



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