The man who gave his name to the Spencer Davis Group celebrated his 80th year in 2019. If you don`t know the group, you probably know some of their most famous songs like “Gimme Some Lovin`” or “I`m A Man”. Several famous musicians have played with Spencer – people like Steve Winwood, Nigel Olsson, Ray Fenwick, Colin Hodgkinson and a host of others. Go on and have a listen to them!
Spencer Davis: It`s time I did more in the group!
– he tells Keith Altham
SPENCER Davis to sing lead on the group`s next single — an assault upon `the mind fields`of the U.S. in April and new images all round. These were the new projects to emerge from an Italian meal with Spencer (the conversational Welshman, sporting dark circular glasses, shaggy woollen jacket and luxuriant sideburns) and his manager, Chris Blackwell (the somnolent Englishman with immaculate manners, suede jacket, open-neck shirt, blue jeans and a BBC announcer’s voice).
“I don’t feel my musical contribution to the group has been enough,” said Spencer, “and I’m naturally pleased about the prospect of my singing the vocal on our next single which is slightly more ‘poppy’ and more suitable for my voice than Steve’s.
Not so much in Britain, but on the Continent we are suffering from a kind of Stevie Winwood Quartet image — and while I would never under-estimate the importance of Stevie’s vocals — we are a group!
“I believe our records are bought as a product of an over-all sound and not for particular talent of any one individual.
“Muff for example is very underrated — he’s certainly one of the best bass players in Britain and as all our singles have had very heavy bass patterns, he is as responsible for our success as anyone. I would certainly like to see him get greater recognition.
“Pete should be brought out far more as a character. Given the chance in a TV interview, he could get the audience rolling on their stomachs.
“Now is the time to start publicising the individuals in the group more fully.”
In addition to their current NME chart-leaper, “I’m A Man,” which incidentally was written by Stevie initially as the background music for a documentary U.S. film about “Swinging London,” there is great excitement over the group’s smash through the U.S. beat barrier with “Gimme Some Lovin'” currently high in America.
“We don’t want to rush into a U.S. tour prematurely,” said Spence and Chris blinked, which apparently signified approval, “both Chris and I believe the Lovin’ Spoonful may have made that mistake in Britain.
“If the current good luck holds, we will be making a tour of U.S. colleges and universities in April. I’d like to get established in ‘the mind fields’ first.”
‘Why?’ seemed an obvious question.
“No real reason,” said Spence, “except that the U.S. is such a vast country that I believe we have something of a following on the college circuit already and it would be easier to build on that foundation than launch on a massive nation-wide tour where in some districts they may never have heard of you.”
On the question of appealing to ‘a musically instructed, intellectual or hip audience’ or catering to what one journalist referred to recently as ‘the lowest common denominator’ Spencer was effusive.
“I don’t concede that the `moronic masses’ exist — the public have never been idiots. There are simply those people who regard music as less than art form and get their entertainment from pop in a simplified form — there’s nothing wrong with this.
“The Troggs spearheaded a re-interest in music as pure distillation of pop music, while everyone else was running about wrapped up in their own egos slapping labels like ‘psychedelic’ and ‘freak-out’ on everything as though they were detergent packets with extra free gifts.
“People like the Troggs and now the Monkees who have really brought it on home are simply saying — ‘here’s some happy music, go away and enjoy it’ — good luck to them!
“The only thing I deplore is when a group or a producer deliberately tries to foist a product they know to be inferior upon a market they believe to be susceptible.
“The Beatles have something to offer and the public buy — same with us. We believe in what we do as do the majority of other groups. We never go into the recording studio with the idea of compromising a record buying public. What we like happens to be commercial.
“Sometimes we can’t get our own way over a release — for example we wanted ‘Till The End Of The Day’ on the ‘Autumn ’66 ‘ LP released as a single because we simply believed it was a good recording. That’s the way we feel about any release.”
Because of the deplorable lack of initiative and originality on the part of television — particularly ITV — in producing anything original in the presentation of pop music, Spencer has now reached the point where he finds it necessary to produce an independent film — incorporating some original ideas — to promote his records.
Mr. Blackwell spoke over his glass of orange juice!
“To begin with, anyone making a film for TV of a pop group loses money. What we gain is time. For example the film shown on last week’s ‘Top Of The Pops’ shot for us by the Indian gentleman who takes all the photographs of my groups — Vic Singh — will be shown all over the Continent.
“This means that whereas it might have been necessary for the group to fly to Germany for a TV promotion —involving air fares, travelling expenses, etc. — we can now stay in Britain.”
Spencer continued enthusiastically over his glass of rosé.
“Since the decline of Dave Clark the industry seems to have got cold feet over presenting pop – all the producers are worried about the budget.
“Now every group I know is sick of appearing on the box holding on to their instruments like garden rakes and opening and shutting their mouths like goldfish. The answer is do it yourself — we can put our own ideas into practice with our own camera man and director.”
On the brink of breaking the beat barrier in the U.S. and consequently finding himself with a few dollars rolling in I questioned Spencer as to how he might contend with a position of affluence and time to kill in the years to come.
“The prospect of having a lot of money has never really occurred to me,” admitted Spencer. “Maybe I’d go to Kenya or somewhere new and just start afresh there. Money shouldn’t dictate — the Beatles have managed to find new things without getting bored.
“McCartney surrounds himself with unaffected people like Jane Asher, John Mayall, Pete Townshend while others like Charlie Watts preserve perspective.”
Spencer is one of the few people I have met who has anything intelligent to say about the so-called `harmless drug’ situation existing in certain pop circles.
“It frightens me to see people I know taking them — you snap your fingers under their nose – and they’re not there — another world.
” What worries me is not whether they are organically harmful but whether they are psychologically harmful — no one has really closely examined the mental side of things — just how do you determine the effect on the brain.
“There was one girl I saw under the influence of a drug, and she looked in a mirror on the wall, screamed, and threw a vase which smashed it.
“I asked why she had done it and she said — ‘when I looked into the mirror it was smashed already.’ That kind of thing frightens me.”
We left the restaurant — Chris with his copy of a Ravi Shanker EP — Spence with his copy of the NME. We dropped Chris off at his record shop in the West End — which was a surprise to Spencer who did not know he owned one, and we continued on to a music store.
That was my mistake for ’67. Spence got the entire stock of radio mikes, video-tapes and stereo recorders out and the last I saw was him vanishing behind a bank of amplifiers with the salesman launching into the patter — “Now I sold this same model recently to Eric Burdon. . . .”