Published Oct 20, 2020Spencer Davis — a Welsh musician and multi-instrumentalist known best as the founder of 1960s blues-rock band Spencer Davis Group — has died. Per Davis' agent, the bandleader died Monday (October 19) in hospital while being treated for pneumonia. He was 81.
Not unlike Mick Fleetwood, J. Geils and Dave Clark, Davis did not front the group that bore his name, instead playing guitar, harmonica and singing alongside frontman Steve Winwood, bassist Muff Winwood and drummer Pete York. Hits for this classic lineup include "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "I'm a Man," in addition to cover versions of Jackie Edwards' "Somebody Help Me" and "Keep on Running."
Born in Swansea, South Wales, in 1939, Davis began learning to play harmonica and accordion at the age of six, and took an interest in skiffle, jazz and blues as he began playing guitar. He would form the Spencer Davis Group in 1963 after watching the Winwood brothers perform in a pub as members of the Muff Woody Jazz Band.
Continuing to perform as the Spencer Davis Rhythm and Blues Quartette, the band would change its name to Spencer Davis Group ahead of signing a recording contract with Fontana. As Muff Winwood would recall of the change Mojo in 1997, "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."
In 1965, Spencer Davis Group earned their first British No. 1 with a cover of Edwards' "Keep on Running," and released debut album Their First LP through Fontana that same year. In 1966, they returned with The Second Album and scored another hit with the Edwards-penned "Somebody Help Me."
The group would close 1966 and begin 1967 with the release of "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "I'm a Man," which both proved to be their biggest chart successes in the United States. The former would be famously covered by the Blues Brothers in 1980, while Chicago would record and release a cover of the latter in 1970.
Steve Winwood would leave Spencer Davis Group in 1967 to form Traffic, while brother Muff would begin working in the industry as an A&R for Island Records. Davis disbanded the group in 1969 and made a move to California the following year, launching a solo career with acoustic 1971 album It's Been So Long with Peter Jameson.
Davis reformed the Group in 1973, releasing albums albums Gluggo and Living in a Back Street in 1973 and 1974, respectively, before breaking up the band again. The mid-'70s also saw him enter the industry in an executive role with Island, working with the likes of Bob Marley and Robert Palmer.
In the '80s and '90s, Davis would record and appear live with the Grateful Dead, Levon Helm, Springsteen's E Street Band, Downchild Blues Band, Dusty Springfield, Flo and Eddie, Booker T. Jones and more. Throughout the 2000s, he toured as the Spencer Davis Group with different lineups for American and European treks.
Davis' most recent solo album is 2006's So Far.