The Spinners (American R&B group)
The Spinners in 1965. From left to right: Billy Henderson, Edgar Edwards, Bobby Smith, Henry Fambrough, and Pervis Jackson.
|Also known as||Detroit Spinners|
|Origin||Ferndale, Michigan, United States|
|Genres||R&B, smooth soul, Philly soul, Detroit soul, Doo Wop,|
|Labels||Tri-Phi, Motown, V.I.P. (Motown), Atlantic,|
|Associated acts||Harvey Fuqua, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick|
Jessie Robert Peck
|Past members||Pervis Jackson|
C. P. Spencer
Edgar "Chico" Edwards
G. C. Cameron
Harold "Spike" Bonhart
The Spinners are an American rhythm and blues vocal group that formed in Ferndale, Michigan, in 1954. They enjoyed a string of hit singles and albums during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly with producer Thom Bell. The group continues to tour, with Henry Fambrough as the only original member.
The group is also listed as the Detroit Spinners and the Motown Spinners, due to their 1960s recordings with the Motown label. These other names were used in the UK to avoid confusion with a British folk group also called The Spinners. On June 30, 1976, they received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2015, they were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Music critic Robert Christgau has called the Spinners "a renowned show group whose supersmooth producer inhibits improvisation".
In 1954, Billy Henderson, Henry Fambrough, Pervis Jackson, C. P. Spencer, and James Edwards formed The Domingoes in Ferndale, Michigan, a northern suburb of Detroit. The friends resided in Detroit's Herman Gardens public housing project and came together to make music.
James Edwards remained with the group for a few weeks and was replaced by Bobby Smith, who sang lead on most of the Spinners' early records and their Atlantic Records hits. Spencer left the group shortly after Edwards, and later joined the Voice Masters and the Originals. George Dixon replaced Spencer, and the group renamed themselves the Spinners in 1961.
Early recording years: 1961–71
The Spinners' first single, "That's What Girls Are Made For", was recorded under Harvey Fuqua's Tri-Phi Records. The single peaked at number 27 on the Top 100 chart in August 1961. Smith sang lead vocal on this track, coached by Fuqua. The group's follow-up single, "Love (I'm So Glad) I Found You", also featured lead vocals by Smith. This song reached number 91 that November, and was the last Tri-Phi Records' single to reach the Top 100 charts.
Sources debate the extent to which Fuqua became a member of the group during its stay at Tri-Phi. Fuqua sang lead on some of the singles and considered himself a Spinner. In the credits on Tri-Phi 1010 and 1024, the artist was credited for the first two singles and listed as "Harvey (Formerly of the Moonglows and the Spinners)". However, most sources do not list him as an official member.
James Edwards' brother, Edgar "Chico" Edwards, replaced Dixon in the group in 1963, at which time Tri-Phi and its entire artist roster was bought out by Fuqua's brother-in-law, Berry Gordy of Motown Records.
In 1964, the Spinners made their debut at the Apollo Theater and were received with high favor. "I'll Always Love You" hit number 35 in 1965. From 1966 to 1969, the group released one single a year, but only the 1966 single "Truly Yours" peaked on the Billboard 100 R&B chart at number 16.
With limited commercial success, Motown assigned the Spinners as road managers, chaperones, and chauffeurs for other groups, and even as shipping clerks. G. C. Cameron replaced Edgar "Chico" Edwards in 1967, and in 1969, the group switched to the Motown-owned V.I.P. imprint.
In 1970, after a five-year absence, they hit number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 with writer-producer Stevie Wonder's composition, (the Cameron-led) "It's a Shame" (co-written by Syreeta Wright) and again charted the following year with another Wonder song the composer also produced, "We'll Have It Made" (led by Cameron), from their new album, 2nd Time Around. However, these were their last two singles for V.I.P.
Shortly after the release of 2nd Time Around, Atlantic Records recording artist Aretha Franklin suggested the group finish their Motown contract and sign with Atlantic. The group made the switch, but contractual obligations prevented Cameron from leaving Motown, so he stayed on there as a solo artist and urged his cousin, singer Philippé Wynne, to join the Spinners in his place as one of the group's three lead singers, with Henry Fambrough, and Bobby Smith.
Peak commercial success
When the Spinners signed to Atlantic in 1972, they were a respected but commercially unremarkable singing group who had never had a Top Ten pop hit — despite having been a recording act for over a decade. However, with songwriter Thom Bell at the helm, the Spinners charted five Top 100 singles (and two Top Tens) from their first post-Motown album, Spinners (1973), and went on to become one of the biggest soul groups of the 1970s.
The Bobby Smith-led "I'll Be Around", their first top ten hit, was actually the B-side of their first Atlantic single, (the Fambrough and Wynne-led) "How Could I Let You Get Away". Radio airplay for the B-side led Atlantic to flip the single over, with "I'll Be Around" hitting number 3 and "How Could I Let You Get Away" reaching number 77. "I'll Be Around" was also the Spinners' first million-selling hit single. It was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA on October 30, 1972.
The 1973 follow-up singles "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love" (led by Smith and Wynne), which was another million-seller, "One of a Kind (Love Affair)" (led by Wynne), and "Ghetto Child" (led by Fambrough and Wynne) cemented the group's reputation, as well as further that of Bell, a noted Philly soul producer.
Following their Atlantic successes, Motown also issued a "Best of the Spinners" LP which featured selections from their Motown/V.I.P. recordings. They also remixed and reissued the 1970 B-side "Together We Can Make Such Sweet Music" (led by Smith, originally co-led by Cameron) as a 1973 A-side. In the midst of their Atlantic hits, it crawled to number 91 in the US.
The group's 1974 follow-up album, Mighty Love, featured three Top 20 hits, "I'm Coming Home", "Love Don't Love Nobody", and the title track. Their biggest hit of the year, however, was a collaboration with Dionne Warwick, "Then Came You" (led by Smith, Warwick, and Wynne), which hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming each act's first chart-topping "Pop" hit. The song also reached the Top 3 of Billboard′s R&B and Easy Listening charts.
The Spinners hit the Top 10 twice in the next two years with the Smith and Jackson-led "They Just Can't Stop It (The Games People Play)" (Billboard number 5) and the Wynne-led "The Rubberband Man" (Billboard number 2). "Games People Play" featured guest vocalist Evette L. Benton (though producer Bell disputed this in a UK-based interview, claiming Evette's line was actually group member Henry Fambrough – his voice sped up), and led to the nickname "Mister 12:45" for bass singer Jackson, after his signature vocal line on the song.
The post-Wynne years
Philippé Wynne left the group in January 1977 and was replaced by John Edwards, who had recorded a number of R&B hits as a solo singer. Though this version of the group had minor hits from 1977 to 1979, they failed to hit the pop Top 40 for three years and parted ways with Thom Bell. They contributed two songs to Bell's film The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh and appeared in the film as a band. In 1979, Motown released a compilation album on both sides of the Atlantic. From the Vaults, (US Natural Resources label NR 4014 and in the UK on Tamla Motown STMR 9001), included the song "What More Could a Boy Ask For" (Fuqua & Bristol), which was recorded circa 1965.
The group did have a brief resurgence at the dawning of the new decade, scoring two big hits in 1980 with Michael Zager medleys of "Working My Way Back to You"/"Forgive Me, Girl" (number two in March–April, number one UK) and "Cupid"/"I've Loved You for a Long Time" (number four in July–August, number four UK). However, success once again waned in the years that followed. The group's last Hot 100 hit was a remake of Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away", which peaked at number 67 in 1983. In 1984, the group had their last R&B hit with "Right or Wrong", from that year's Cross Fire album. They would go on to release a pair of albums, in addition to performing the title track to the 1987 hit film Spaceballs, during the latter half of the 1980s, though none of these efforts were commercially successful. In 1983, the group guest starred as themselves on the TV sitcom Laverne and Shirley.
After some years spent collaborating with Parliament/Funkadelic and working solo, Wynne died of a heart attack while performing in Oakland on July 14, 1984.
In a 2014 interview, Henry Famborough, the group's last surviving original member stated: "Bobby (Smith) was always our major lead singer for all those years. Had always been. Always will be," despite the fact that Fambrough has received little credit for the many Spinners songs on which he sang or shared lead vocals, including: "I Don't Want to Lose You", "Ghetto Child", "Living a Little, Laughing a Little", "Ain't No Price on Happiness", "Smile We Have Each Other", "Just as Long as We Have Love", (a second Spinners duet with Dionne Warwick) and "Now That We're Together".
The Spinners today
After their chart career ended, the Spinners continued touring for decades. They are big draws on the oldies and nostalgia concert circuits, playing the music that made them famous.
In their box set, The Chrome Collection, the Spinners were lauded by David Bowie and Elvis Costello. They were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. On July 27, 2006, the Spinners performed on the Late Show with David Letterman.
G.C. Cameron rejoined the group as lead vocalist from 2000 to 2002 (replacing John Edwards, who left due to a stroke), but he left them in 2003 to join The Temptations. Frank Washington, formerly of The Futures and The Delfonics, joined for a few years, before being replaced by Charlton Washington (no relation).
In 2004, original member Billy Henderson was dismissed from the group after suing the group's corporation and business manager to obtain financial records. He was replaced by Harold "Spike" Bonhart. Henderson died due to complications from diabetes on February 2, 2007, at the age of 67. Another early member, C. P. Spencer, had already died from a heart attack on October 20, 2004; and another, George Dixon, died in 1994.
Original member Pervis Jackson, who was still touring as a member of the group, died from cancer on August 18, 2008. The group continued for a short time as a quartet before Jessie Robert Peck (born in Queens, New York, December 17, 1968) was recruited as the group's new bass vocalist in February 2009. In 2009, Bonhart left the Spinners and was replaced by vocalist Marvin Taylor. The group lost another member from their early days, when Edgar "Chico" Edwards died on December 3, 2011.
The Spinners were put into the limelight again in 2003 when an Elton John track was re-issued featuring them on backing vocals. In 1977, the Spinners had recorded two versions of "Are You Ready for Love" at the Philadelphia studios. One had all of the Spinners, the other with only lead singer Philippé Wynne on backing vocals. Elton John was not happy with the mixes and sat on the tapes for a year before asking for them to be remixed so they would sound easier on the ear. Finally, in 1979, the Wynne version was released as a single, but it only made it to number 42 in the UK. The track was then remixed by Ashley Beedle from Xpress-2 in 2003 after becoming a fixture in the Balearic nightclubs and being used by Sky Sports for an advertisement. It then went to number one on the singles chart after being released on DJ Fatboy Slim's Southern Fried Records.
In September 2011, 57 years after forming in Detroit and 50 years after "That's What Girls Are Made For", the group was announced as one of 15 final nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, their first nomination, they were also nominated in 2014 and 2015.
Lead singer Bobby Smith died on March 16, 2013. The group, which still tours actively, consists of Henry Fambrough (the only surviving original member), Charlton Washington, Jessie Peck, Marvin Taylor and Ronnie Moss.
In 2017, the Spinners were inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame.
Top forty singles
The following singles reached the top 40 on the US or UK charts:
|Year||Song title||US Billboard Hot 100||US R&B Chart||UK Singles Chart|
|1961||"That's What Girls Are Made For"||27||5||–|
|1965||"I'll Always Love You"||35||8||–|
|1970||"It's a Shame"||14||4||20|
|1972||"How Could I Let You Get Away" (A-side)
"I'll Be Around" (B-side)
|"Could It Be I'm Falling in Love?"||4||1||11|
|1973||"One of a Kind (Love Affair)"||11||1||–|
|"I'm Coming Home"||18||3||–|
|"Then Came You" (with Dionne Warwick)||1||2||29|
|"Love Don't Love Nobody"||15||4||–|
|1975||"Living a Little, Laughing a Little"||37||7||–|
|"Games People Play"||5||1||–|
|"Love or Leave"||36||8||–|
|1976||"Wake Up Susan"||56||11||29|
|"The Rubberband Man"||2||1||16|
|"Working My Way Back to You" / "Forgive Me, Girl" (medley)||2||6||1|
|1980||"Cupid" / "I've Loved for a Long Time" (medley)||4||5||4|
|1995||"I'll Be Around" (Rappin' 4-Tay featuring The Spinners)||39||37||30|
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- Billboard, November 10, 1979, Vol. 91, No. 45: "The Spinners recently reteamed with producer Thorn Bell to do two songs for his upcoming film score to The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. The group sings 'Do It Cause No One Does It Better,' a mid-tempo tune which may be a single, and...."
- "The Originals". OLDIES.com. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
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- The Spinners interview by Pete Lewis, Blues & Soul, February 2009
- The Spinners at AllMusic
- 'The Spinners' Vocal Group Hall of Fame Page
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- "Spinners singer Billy Henderson dies", Yahoo! News, February 3, 2007
- "Spinners singer Pervis Jackson dies", Detroit Free Press, August 19, 2008
- An interview with a new bass singer for the Spinners, Jessie Peck, at Soul Express, February 24, 2009
- A July 2009 interview with a new member, Marvin Taylor, at Soul Express], August 28, 2009
- A November 2013 interview with Henry Fambrough and the new co-lead, Ronnie Moss, at Soul Express