Life at 33 1/3
By Carl Meyer
The white boy with the black voice
Spencer Davis Group: Their First LP (Fontana)
It took a while before Spencer Davis Group (file under S) turned into pop
stars. They were discovered as they say, in 1964 by Chris Blackwell, the man
behind Island Records and a passionate admirer of Jamaican music. However,
there was nothing Jamaican about this quartet. No blue beat. No ska. They
played the usual brew of British beat and rhythm and blues. Pretty average
What saved them from mediocrity was the slender 16-year-old who sang and
played the guitar and keyboards, Steve Winwood. His voice was tense, hoarse
and blue with a fiery edge to it, making him sound like a blues shouter from
Chicago and not a white twink from Birmingham. When the group hit the big
time in the U.S. the radio stations thought they were black.
Blackwell apparently knew what he was doing, but the band still had a long
way to go. When this album came out, they already had four singles behind
them. None of them hits. The last three had just about scraped the bottom of
the Top 50. Winwood shone on “Every Little Bit Hurts”, but that was hardly
convincing enough to warn anybody about the greater things to come.
The album contains the A and B-sides of the first three singles. The 12
tracks are probably representative of what they did “live” at the time.
Mainly cover versions of American rhythm & blues tunes – made famous or
semi-famous by the likes of John Lee Hooker, The Coasters, Rufus Thomas and
Ike & Tina Turner.
Winwood’s piano stays in the background for this album. What drives the
recordings are the guitars (and some harmonica playing). It is a safe,
slightly boring album that still shows that the band had good tastes in
music. However, if there was something the world did not need it was yet
another version of “Searchin’”. And the only reason for the inclusion of the
nonsense song “I’m Blue (Gong Gong Song)” probably is to expose the whine of
Blackwell’s major discovery, Millie Small (whose career was running out of
Around the bend another of Blackwell’s Jamaican artists was waiting: Jackie
Edwards. He had just written a song, “Keep On Running”, now would that be of
interest to the boys from Birmingham? Indeed it would.
Suddenly The Spencer Davis Group became the hottest act in town, knocking
The Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out”/”Day Tripper” off the top spot. That song
was of course not included on their first LP, but rather on their second.
So what you get, as I said earlier, is a taste of how this band sounded
before they were. It is entertaining, it does have its moments, Steve
Winwood even shows glimpses of coming greatness, but it doesn’t have the raw
punch needed to make it stand out from similar albums from the same period.
It sold a lot though, charting in January 1966, six months after it was
Trivia: They originally called themselves The Rhythm And Blues Quartette. It
was not Spencer Davis himself who initiated the name change, it was bass
player Muff Winwood.
“Spencer was the only one who enjoyed doing interviews, so I pointed out
that if we called it the Spencer Davis Group, the rest of us could stay in
bed and let him do them,” said Muff.
Now for you record collectors out there this is an important fact as it
confirms that Spencer Davis Group is a band name. File under S – and not D.
Released July 1965
(Produced by Chris Blackwell)
“My Babe” (Bob Hatfield/Bill Medley)
“Dimples” (John Lee Hooker/James Bracken)
“Searchin’” (Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller)
“Every Little Bit Hurts” (Ed Cobb)
“I’m Blue (Going Going Song)” (Ike Turner)
“Sittin’ And Thinkin’” (Spencer Davis/Pete York/Muff Winwood/Steve Winwood)
“I Can’t Stand It” (Steve McAllister)
“Here Right Now” (Steve Winwood)
“Jump Back” (Rufus Thomas)
“It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” (Jim Lee/Joe Seneca)
“Midnight Train” (Gary Lynn Hicks/Alvin Roy)
“It Hurts Me So” (Steve Winwood)
Spencer Davis (guitar, vocals & harmonica)
Steve Winwood (vocals, piano, guitar & harmonica)
Muff Winwood (bass & vocals)
Peter York (drums)