Spencer Davis, the guitar player and visionary behind the famed 1960s outfit The Spencer Davis Group, passed away at the age of 81, according to the BBC. The Spencer Davis Group performed multiple hits during the 1960s, including “I’m A Man,” “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “Keep On Running” (originally by Jackie Edwards) and “Somebody Help Me.” He is survived by his long-time partner June, and three adult children.
The Spencer Davis Group formed in Birmingham, United Kingdom back in 1963, and were fronted by Steve Winwood, who would later go on to perform in Traffic and Blind Faith. While the band never toured in the United States they toured alongside legendary groups such as The Who and The Rolling Stones later in their career. As a polyglot, fluent in German, French and Spanish, Davis was able to further the band’s career in Europe before Winwood left the group to form Traffic in 1967.
Their cover of “Keep On Running” became a massive hit upon its release in 1966, dethroning the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper” from the top spot. The Beatles reportedly sent Davis a telegram congratulating him, with Davis remarking in 2009: “It’s in a pile of papers somewhere. It said, ‘Congratulations on reaching number one – The Beatles.'”
Their brief four year career was filled with notable highlights however, in 1966 the group starred in their own musical comedy film called The Ghost Goes Gear and they also penned the iconic theme song for the children’s program Mapgpie under the pseudonym The Murgatroyd Band, in reference to the show’s mascot, Murgatroyd.
Following Winwood’s departure the band soon dissolved while Davis embarked on a brief solo career. By the 1970s he nearly declared bankruptcy (which he claimed was caused by his punitive contract with Island Records), before penning “Don’t Want You No More” alongside Eddie Hardin, which was performed by the Allman Brothers on their Beginnings album. “The damned thing sold six million copies. Suddenly a cheque for £5,000 arrived through the door and I’d never seen so much money in all my life,” Davis explained.
After confronting Island Records’ owner Chris Blackwell he was given a job in artist development, helping promote the careers of Bob Marley, Robert Palmer and Eddie And The Hot Rod. He also worked alongside Winwood who embarked on his solo career. He would go on to reform The Spencer Davis group in 1973 and again in 2006, and performed alongside them for the remainder of his life
“The Spencer Davis Group stuck more to the blues and never became a fully-fledged rock band. Spencer was scholarly and well educated, very gentle and kind and his tastes in music were spot on.” Birmingham International Jazz Festival founder Jim Simpson remarked on Davis’ passing.