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||Detroit, Michigan, U.S.|
|Genres||R&B, smooth soul|
|Labels||Tri-Phi, Motown, Atlantic, Tamla|
|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 1954 and are still active. They enjoyed a string of hit singles and albums during the 1960s and 1970s. Formed in Detroit, Michigan, the group still tours regularly as of 2015, although Henry Fambrough is the only remaining original member.
The group is also listed as the Detroit Spinners and the Motown Spinners (for their 1960s recordings with the Detroit label). These other names were used in the UK to avoid confusion with a British folk group also called the Spinners. In 2015, they were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 1954, a group of friends who grew up together in Ferndale, Michigan, a northern suburb of Detroit, came together to make music. For a time, several of the band members resided in Detroit's Herman Gardens public housing project. Billy Henderson, Henry Fambrough, Pervis Jackson, C. P. Spencer, and James Edwards called themselves The Domingoes. But James Edwards remained with the group only a few weeks. He was replaced by Bobby Smith, who sang lead on most of the Spinners' early records (and many of their biggest Atlantic hits). C. P. Spencer left the group shortly afterwards and later went on to become a member of the Voice Masters and the Originals. He was replaced by George Dixon. The group renamed themselves the Spinners in 1961.
Early recording years: 1961–71
The Spinners first hit the charts in August 1961 on Harvey Fuqua's Tri-Phi Records with "That's What Girls Are Made For", peaking at number 27. Bobby Smith sang lead vocal on this track, coached by Fuqua. (Some sources report Fuqua sang lead vocal on this track, but both Smith and Fuqua have stated at various times that it was Smith.) The group's follow-up, "Love (I'm So Glad) I Found You", also featured lead vocals by Smith, although again some sources credit Fuqua. This track reached number 91 that November, but none of the group's other Tri-Phi singles charted.
Sources debate the extent to which Fuqua became a member of the group during its stay at Tri-Phi. Fuqua apparently sang lead on at least some of the releases and at minimum considered himself a Spinner, as made explicit by the credits on Tri-Phi 1010 and 1024—the artist credited on both these 1962 singles reads "Harvey (Formerly of the Moonglows and the Spinners)". However, most sources, although respecting Fuqua's contributions, do not list him as an official member.
James Edwards's 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. The Spinners were then assigned to the Motown label.
In 1964, the Spinners made their debut at the Apollo Theater and won instant acclaim, a rare feat at the time. But with the exception of "I'll Always Love You" (led by Smith), which hit number 35 in 1965, success mostly eluded them during the 1960s. After "I'll Always Love You", they released one single a year from 1966 to 1969 inclusive, but none charted on the Billboard Hot 100, and only their 1966 song "Truly Yours" (led by Smith) hit the Billboard R&B chart, peaking at number 16.
With commercial success virtually non-existent, during much of the decade the Spinners were used by Motown as road managers, chaperones, and chauffeurs for other groups; 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. (The label name is somewhat ironic, given that V.I.P. was generally considered a substandard imprint behind Motown, Gordy, Tamla, and Soul).
In 1970, after a five-year absence, they hit number 14 on the top 40 charts 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 out 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 lead singers, with Henry Fambrough, and actual main & original lead Bobby Smith.
The hit years with Philippé Wynne
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, under the helm of producer and songwriter Thom Bell, the Spinners charted five top 100 singles (and two top 10s) from their first post-Motown album, Spinners (1972), 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 Wynne & Fambrough-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 #3 and "How Could I Let You Get Away" reaching #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 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 #1 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 #5) and the Wynne-led "The Rubberband Man" (Billboard #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 a nickname of "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. Though this version of the group had minor hits from 1977–79, they failed to hit the pop Top 40 for three years and parted ways with Thom Bell. 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" (#2 in March–April, #1 UK) and "Cupid"/"I've Loved You for a Long Time" (#4 in July–August, #4 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 #67 in 1983. In 1984, the group had their last R&B hit with "Right or Wrong," off 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.
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.
Despite the public's continued erroneous public perception about who the Spinners' main lead singer was, Henry Famborough, the group's last surviving original member, in a 2014 interview, stated: "Bobby (Smith) was always our major lead singer for all those years. Had always been. Always will be," despite the fact that Fambrough himself 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) "Now That We're Together," and many more.
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 boxed set, The Chrome Collection, the Spinners were lauded by David Bowie and Elvis Costello. The Spinners 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.
A voice from their past, G.C. Cameron, rejoined the group as lead vocalist from 2000 to 2002 (replacing John Edwards, who left due to a stroke that left him wheelchair-bound), 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 of 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 Phillipe 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 to give them an easier on the ear sound. 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 1 in the singles chart after being released on DJ Fatboy Slim's Southern Fried record label.
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.
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.
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- An interview with a new bass singer for the Spinners, Jessie Peck, at Soul Express – February 24, 2009
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- A November 2013 interview with Henry Fambrough and the new co-lead, Ronnie Moss, at Soul Express