The Spinners (Part 1)
One of the most influential
groups to migrate the sweet harmony essence of Detroit and
cross-fertilize the sophisticated sounds of Philadelphia into a
milestone of quintessential soul was none other than the Detroit
Spinners. The group consisted of lead tenor Bobbie Smith,
baritone Henry Fambrough, bassist Pervis Jackson and
tenors Billy Henderson and C. P. Spencer. All hailed from Royal
Oak Township in Ferndale, Michigan northwest of Detroit.
In 1955, Henderson and Spencer
formed the Domingoes after viewing a local TV show called,
‘Saturday Evening Dance Party’. They recruited friends Pervis,
Bobbie and Henry and sang at neighborhood bars and storefront
churches. After winning a local talent show, they renamed
themselves the Spinners, when DJ’s mispronounced their name as
the Flamingos or the Dominoes. The name change was inspired by
Bobbie Smith’s big chrome
hub caps on his car. The quintet
was discovered on a talent show, ‘Make Way For Youth’, on WJR in
Detroit, by Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows. He groomed and
cultivated the group and later deemed them ‘the new
Moonglows’. Fuqua signed the Spinners on his Harvey / Tri-Phi
labels and release their first single, ‘That’s How I Am Without
You’ b/w ‘Little Ole Boy’ on Harvey. The A side above is
credited as Loe & Joe & The Spinners.
Second tenor George Dixon
replaced C. P. Spencer in 1960. Spencer later resurfaced as a
member of the Originals.
Their breakthrough hit, ‘That’s
What Girls Are Made For’ b/w ‘Heebie Jeebies’ zoomed to the No.
5 position, on Billboard’s R&B singles, in June 1961. A few
uncharted singles released on Tri-Phi including the underground
classic ‘What Did She Use’ b/w ‘Itching For My Baby’ (March
1961) were not properly promoted by the label, nor were
the quintet were paid any royalties, so bassist Pervis Jackson
return to his old job at the car wash.
Harvey Fuqua married Gwen Gordy,
sister of Berry Gordy and merges his Harvey / Tri-Phi labels
with Motown’s corporation in 1963. While serving as road
managers and chaperones for Hitsville artists, the Spinners
recruited new member Edgar ‘Chico’ Edwards replacing George
Dixon and released their first uncharted Motown single ‘Sweet
Thing’ b/w ‘How Can I’ in Sept 1964.
Their next single ‘I'll Always
Love You’ b/w ‘Tomorrow May Never Come’ charted (No. 8 on the
R&B singles on July 10, 1965). The gorgeous, ‘Truly Yours’ b/w
‘Where Is The Girl’ hit (No. 16 R&B June 11, 1966).
Under the direction of musical
director Maurice King and choreographer Cholly Atkins, the
quintet polished their stage show presentation and performed at
such prestige places as the Philharmonic Hall in Lincoln Center
in New York , as opening acts for the Supremes and Marvin Gaye.
While 3 million viewers were
entranced by the final episode of The Fugitive on Tuesday
August 29, 1967 ‘The Original Spinners’ LP was released,
featuring most of the previous early Motown A and B singles,
including the classic ‘That’s What Girls Are Made For’ and the
uncharted single, ‘ I Cross My Heart’ b/w ‘ For All We
Know’. G. C. (George Curtis) Cameron replaced tenor Chico
Edwards in Sept 1967 and contribute as lead singer on most of
their Motown singles, including ‘Bad Bad Weather’ b/w ‘I Just
Can't Help But Feel The Pain’ (Oct 1968).
The Spinners would again fade
back into obscurity and resume their jobs at Motown, including a
position at the company’s shipping department, taking
inventory to make ends meet. Motown released a 1955 Moonglows
classic, ‘In My Diary’ b/w ‘At Sundown’ on
Motown’s subsidiary label, V.I.P.
in October 1969.
Stevie Wonder, a long admirer of
the Spinners, gave the group its long awaited gem ‘It’s A
Shame’. Composed by Stevie, childhood friend, Lee Garrett and
Syreeta Wright (Stevie’s wife at the time), had all the
ingredients in a recipe of soul. With its classic jingly intro
by the late guitarist Robert White, Stevie played majority of
the instruments on the track. Recorded in 1969, the song was
in the can for a nearly a year. ‘It’s A Shame’ b/w ‘Together We
Can Make Sweet Music’ hit (No. 4 R&B Sept 19, 1970). One must
take note on the magnificent lead vocals performed by G. C.
Cameron . The song was revived and sampled by female rapper
Monie Love in 1990.
The group’s sophomore LP on V.I.P.
‘2nd Time Around’ was issued in late 1970. ‘We'll
Have It Made’ (Stevie & Syreeta’s composition) b/w ‘My Whole
World Ended’ the quintet’s second and last release on Motown /
V.I.P. charted (No. 20 R&B Feb 27, 1971).
Unhappy with their unfair
treatment at Hitsville, the Spinners decided not to renew their
contract. G. C. Cameron announced his departure with the group
because he signed a separate contract that was not up. Cameron
inked a deal with Mowest Records (Motown’s subsidiary label) in
1971 and release 3 singles, including the hit ‘Act Like A
b/w ‘Girl I Really Love You’ (No.
50 R&B Oct 30, 1971). The late songwriter /producer, Freddie
Perren and Christine Yarian composed a heart wrenching ballad
entitled, It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday’ for the
1975 classic film and soundtrack, ‘Cooley High’. Gwen Gordy
(G. C’s wife) arranged to have G. C. record the song where he
received first billing towards the end of the movie. This
masterpiece recording charted (No. 38 R&B Oct 1975). Boys
II Men would achieve international stardom with their acappella
rendition of the song featured in their 1991 multi-platinum LP
With connections through a
longtime friend Aretha Franklin, The Spinners signed with
Atlantic Records in early 1972. The quintet had a new member
Jimmy Cheers as a new lead but G. C recommended his friend
Philip Walker (nee’ Philippe’ Wynne) to audition and was hired
after the first rehearsal. Wynne was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.
He was a part of a group called the Pacesetters with members
including Bootsy and Catfish Collins. When they left to become
James Brown’s JB’s in 1969, Philippe’ went to stay with his
sister in Europe. While in Switzerland, he joined a Liberian
group called the Afro-Kings. Wynne returned to the U.S. and
failed an audition with the Contours which led to his meeting
with G. C Cameron.
Atlantic Records teamed the
Spinners with Jimmy Roach who was a former songwriter/ producer
at Motown. Jimmy cut 4 sides with the quintet including ‘(Oh
Lord) I Wish I Could Sleep’ in January 72’. The session didn't
fair to well with the promotion department and was terminated.
Vice-president Henry Allen called songwriter /producer Thom Bell
offered him a choice of any artist
on Atlantic’s roster sheet to work with. Bell saw on the
bottom of the list the word ‘spinn’ and asked Allen if it was
the Spinners (Thom’s favorite group). Henry confirmed it was
them and Bell agreed to produce them.
On June 12, 1972 Thom cut 4
tunes with the Spinners at Sigma Studios in Philadelphia. The
first was a beautiful haunting dreamy ballad compose by Yvette
Davis entilted, ‘How Could I Let You Get Away’. The second
was a unfinished song compose by Bell where lyrics were needed.
Linda Creed, Thom’s writing partner was getting married and was
busy making preparations for her wedding and Thom was in
desperate need of material. So with Linda’s blessing, he
found a songwriter named Phil Hurtt who was occupying Bunny
Sigler’s room at Sigma. Bell asked Phil if he could provide him
with the melody, could he come up with some lyrics. The next
day, Hurtt came in with the title ‘ I'll Be Around’ and the
‘I'll Be Around’ b/w ‘ How
Could I Let You Get Away’ charted (No. 1 R&B Oct 14,
1972). Originally, Atlantic promoted ‘How Could I Let You Get
Away’ as the A side and ‘ I'll Be Around’as the B side. Radio
jocks disagreed and flipped the single and made ‘I'll Be
Around’ as the A side, where it became a doubled sided
masterpiece hit and sell a million copies. The third was a song
Bell heard on tape sent by two brothers, Mervin and Melvin
Steals titled, ‘Could It Be I'm
Falling In Love’. After reconstructingthe lyrics, Thom Bell
designed a switch-off lead formula for Bobbie and Philippe’ and
combine the voices of the group to match those of the background
singers. The songwriting credits on the 45 single
in parenthesis read ‘Mystro
and Lyric’. They were pen names used by Mervin and Melvin
‘Could It Be I'm Falling In Love’
b/w ‘Just You And Me Baby’ another classic Yvette Davis
composition and the 4th tune recorded, became the
Spinners second (No. 1 single on
the R&B charts Feb 10, 1973). A
gold single was presented to the the Spinners by Henry Allen,
at the famous 20 Grand ballroom in Detroit. Their fifth follow
up was written by a native Virginia songwriter, Joseph
B. Jefferson. Joseph was on tour with the Manhattans when he
met Tony Bell, who introduced him to his brother Thom. The
meeting took place between the two men where Bell gave Jefferson
a office and a piano to write.
Inspired by a heartbroken
relationship with a former girlfriend, Joseph came home from
road trip to find that she had left him, leaving a startling
message on the kitchen wall, ‘I'm in love with you, I can't
stay with you’. Thom called Jefferson and asked did he
come up with anything. He said yes and called the song ‘One Of
A Kind (Love Affair)’. The 1-2-3 boom rhythm kick pattern was
devised from the roots of down home gospel, designed especially
for Bobbie and Philippe’s lead vocals.
‘One Of A Kind (Love Affair)’
backed by the jazzy ‘Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You’ hit
(No. 1 R&B June 9, 1973) for 4 weeks. ‘The Spinners’
self-titled LP released in the spring
of 1973, zoomed straight to the
No. 1 position on the R&B LP charts for 3 weeks , earning them
their first gold album. ' Ghetto Child’ the quintet’s
fifth single release, charted (No. 4 R&B Aug 1973).
Two new songwriters, Charles
Simmons and Bruce Hawes would join songwriting forces with
Joseph B. Jefferson and compose tunes that tell the deep tales
of true love affairs. Their first collaboration together was
‘Mighty Love’. Issued as a two parted single, on
Dec 20, 1973, the song earned the
Spinners their 4th number one R&B single, the week
ending Sat March 2, 1974. The ‘Mighty Love’ LP was released
in January 3, 1974 and issued two classic singles, the
feel good churchly ‘I'm Coming Home’ b/w ‘ He'll Never
Love You Like I Do’ (No. 3 R&B May 1974) and the song that
described the coldhearted facts of about love, ‘Love Don't
Love Nobody’ b/w ‘(Part 2)’ (Sept 1974). The self-tilted LP
became the quintet second gold album. The decorative front
cover illustration was designed by artist Stanislaw Zagorski and
liner notes written by Louise Williams, describing each members
astronomical sign, with Billy Henderson’s Leo the Lion sign
interestingly being displayed on the bottom of the front
cover, since being the founding member of the group.
Dionne Warwick would enjoy a
comeback success with her duet with the Spinners. Adding the
‘e’ to her last name as a sign of good luck, she signed with
Warner Bros. and released a single titled, ‘(I'm) Just
Being Myself’ (No. 62 R&B July 1973). With no hits to
her avail, Dionne continued to be a draw in concerts all over
the world. She began a five week tour in
Las Vegas with the Spinners as an
opening act. Dionne asked the quintet if producer Thom Bell
would be interested in doing something with her. Thom was
reluctant at first but said that he would cut two singles with
her and the group.
‘Then Came You’ was first and
‘Just As Long As We Have Love’ was the second. In Leo Sacks
interview with Thom Bell, Bell quoted ‘that Dionne made a face
after the session and didn't care for the songs very much. So,
Thom ripped a dollar in two and signed each half and exchanged
them. Bell told her that if the song doesn't go to number one,
I'll send you my half. ‘Then Came You’ b/w ‘Just As Long As
We Have Love shot straight to number one spot on Billboard’s Top
100 list and No. 2 R&B (Kool & the Gang’s ‘Higher Plane’
prevented it from the number one spot) making this Dionne’s
first No. 1 in four years and the Spinners first and only No. 1
pop hit in October 1974. Dionne sent back the half torn dollar
bill toThom Bell with an apology.
The Spinners next project was
yet another masterpiece. The ‘New And Improved’ LP was issued
in November 1974. Atlantic vice-president Henry Allen
collected a collage of baby photographs from each member and
displayed it on the front cover on the album, designed as a
guessing game for adoring music fans to identify each member.
‘Living A Little, Laughing A
Little’ b/w ‘Smile, We Have Each Other’ was the first single
issued in February 1975, charted (No. 7 R&B). ‘Sadie’ b/w
‘Lazy Susan’ was a tribute to
mothers from all walks of life.
Sadie was the name of co- writer Charles Simmons’ mother.
Released in May of 75’ the song hit (No. 7 R&B) became a radio
Mother’s Day. ‘Then Came You’
was added as the 3rd track on side A. ‘New And
Improved’ became the Spinners 3rd gold album.
The hits just kept on coming and
everything the Detroit quintet touched seem to turn to gold
instantly. No longer were they on the bottom of the hitless
totem pole. But success didn’t come
Continued Part II
(Chancellor of Soul)
not be used or altered without expressed permission
of the author,
Mike Boone (Chancellor of Soul)