Spencer Davis, bandleader with the Spencer Davis Group, dies aged 81

Guitarist who helped popularise blues and R&B in the UK died while being treated for pneumonia in hospital

Spencer Davis, who as bandleader with the Spencer Davis Group topped the UK charts twice in the mid-60s, has died aged 81 while being treated for pneumonia in hospital.

The group, who formed in Birmingham in 1963 and also featured Steve Winwood, had hits including Gimme Some Lovin’, Keep On Running, Somebody Help Me and I’m a Man. Along with a number of other early British pop groups, they helped popularise the sound of US blues and R&B in the UK.

Winwood left the band in 1967 to form Traffic, with Davis and others disbanding the group in 1969. They partially re-formed for two years in the mid-70s, and again in 2006, when Davis returned to international touring with the group.

The Spencer David Group in 1966, with Davis in pram.
The Spencer Davis Group in 1966, with Davis in pram. Photograph: John Pratt/Getty Images

Born in Swansea in 1939, Davis began learning accordion and harmonica at the age of six. Drawn to the allure of US R&B records, he took up the guitar and formed his first band the Saints with Bill Wyman, who later joined the Rolling Stones.

Davis moved to Birmingham to study German at university, and played in bands on the side, first performing American folk and traditional blues. In 1963, he and drummer Pete York recruited the 15-year-old Winwood and his brother Muff to their band, first called Rhythm and Blues Quartet, then the Spencer Davis Group.

Like the Stones, the Dave Clark Five, the Kinks and others, the Spencer Davis Group were part of the flourishing “beat” scene in the mid-60s, playing music influenced by American rhythm and blues. They, along with another Birmingham band the Moody Blues, were dubbed “Brum beat” to differentiate them from the vibrant scenes in London and Liverpool, though their popularity grew with a residency at London’s Marquee club.

Building their sound around uptempo rhythms and Winwood’s powerfully soulful vocals, their first single, I Can’t Stand It, was released in 1964. They topped the charts the following year with Keep On Running, and in 1966 with Somebody Help Me, both written by Jamaican artist Jackie Edwards. Further hits included the anthemic, Winwood-penned Gimme Some Lovin’, which was also a hit in the US, reaching No 7.

I’m a Man (1967) would be the group’s last major hit, also reaching the Top 10 in both the US and UK and later covered by the band Chicago.

Following their first breakup, Davis moved to the US and struggled financially, later complaining of punitive record contracts. “I didn’t realise what had been going on. I’d sold millions of records and hadn’t seen a penny from them,” he said in 2005.

He switched to an industry role in the 70s, working with his label Island Records to help develop artists including Bob Marley and Robert Palmer. He also helped Winwood’s solo career.

Artists paying tribute to Davis include Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet who tweeted: “He lead a magnificent band, one of the greats of the 60s, along with Muff and Steve Winwood. Keep in [sic] Running and Gimme Some Lovin’ were R&B classics. He drove soul into the white rock sound of the time.”


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Chris Barber, British trad jazz bandleader, dies aged 90
Multi-instrumentalist helped forge the skiffle craze with Lonnie Donegan and recorded with Paul McCartney

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

02, Mar, 2021 @5:05 PM

Article image
Songwriter Jerry Leiber dies aged 78
Along with writing partner Mike Stoller, lyricist was responsible for enduring hits including Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock and Stand By Me

Tim Jonze

23, Aug, 2011 @11:27 AM

Article image
Dean Ford, singer with Scottish pop group Marmalade, dies aged 72
Frontman of first Scottish band to ever top UK singles chart later became limousine driver in Los Angeles

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

02, Jan, 2019 @2:24 PM

Article image
Gary Moore, former Thin Lizzy guitarist, dies aged 58

Belfast-born Moore, whose career spanned blues, hard rock and ballads, found dead in hotel room on Costa del Sol

Ben Quinn

06, Feb, 2011 @8:21 PM

Article image
Bafta-winning composer Carl Davis dies aged 86
Musician best known for BBC’s Pride and Prejudice and 1981’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman also composed for silent film, stage and concert hall

Staff and agencies

03, Aug, 2023 @12:48 PM

Article image
Steve Mackey, bass guitarist for Pulp, dies aged 56
Musician died following three month stay in hospital, with wife Katie Grand describing him as ‘the most talented man I have ever known’

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

02, Mar, 2023 @2:54 PM

Article image
Les McKeown, Bay City Rollers frontman, dies aged 65
Singer died suddenly at home according to family, with no cause of death announced

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

22, Apr, 2021 @7:09 PM

Article image
Legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck dies aged 78
Beck rose to fame with the Yardbirds before fronting the Jeff Beck Group and making forays into the jazz-fusion sound he pioneered

Shaad D'Souza

11, Jan, 2023 @10:01 PM

Article image
Neil Innes, Rutles star and 'seventh Python', dies aged 75
Agent confirms death of comedian-songwriter who co-founded the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and wrote for Monty Python

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

30, Dec, 2019 @1:27 PM

Article image
Alan Hawkshaw, Countdown and Grange Hill composer, dies aged 84
Leeds-born musician and producer worked with artists such as Barbra Streisand and was sampled in numerous hip-hop tracks

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

17, Oct, 2021 @10:47 AM