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Spencer Davis, Spencer Davis band leader, dies at 81

Guitarist who helped popularize blues and R&B in the UK died in hospital pneumonia

Spencer Davis, who led the UK charts twice in the mid-60s as bandleader of the Spencer Davis Group, died at age 81 while being treated for pneumonia in hospital.

Spencer Davis Group, dies aged 81
R&B pioneer Spencer Davis, dies aged 81

The party, which formed in 1963 in Birmingham and also included Steve Winwood, had hits like Gimme Some Lovin', Keep On Going, Please Help Me, and I'm Man. Along with many other early British pop groups, they helped popularize the UK sound of US blues and R&B.

Winwood left the band in 1967 for Traffic, with Davis and others disbanding in 1969. In the mid-70s, they partly re-formed, then again in 2006, when Davis returned to international touring with the party.

Established in Swansea in 1939, at age six, Davis started playing accordion and harmonica. He took the guitar and formed his first band The Saints with Bill Wyman, who later joined the Rolling Stones.

Davis traveled to Birmingham to study German at university, playing in side bands, first featuring American folk and traditional blues. He and drummer Pete York added Winwood and his brother Muff to their band in 1963, first renamed Rhythm and Blues Quartet, later Spencer Davis Group.

1966 Spencer Davis Party, Davis in pram
1966 Spencer Davis Party, Davis in pram

Like the Stones, the Dave Clark Five, the Kinks and others, the Spencer Davis Group was part of the mid-60s thriving "beat" scene, playing music inspired by American rhythm and blues. They were nicknamed "Brum beat" along with another Birmingham outfit, the Moody Blues, to distinguish them from the lively scenes in London and Liverpool, though their fame rose with a residency at London's Marquee Club.

Building their sound around uptempo rhythms and strong vocals from Winwood, their first single, I Can't Bear It, was released in 1964. The next year they topped the charts with Keep On Going, and in 1966 with Somebody Support Me, all composed by Jamaican artist Jackie Edwards. Other songs included the anthemic, Winwood-penned Gimme Some Lovin, which was also a U.S. success, reaching No 7.

I'm a Guy (1967) will be the last big hit of the band, even reaching the top 10 in both the U.S. and UK, and later covered by Chicago.

After their first split, Davis moved to the US and suffered financially, later lamenting punitive album contracts. "I didn't know what happened. I sold millions of albums and didn't see a cent of them, "he said in 2005.

In the 70s, he turned to an industry job, working with his Island Records label to help grow artists like Bob Marley and Robert Palmer. He helped Winwood's solo career, too.

Artists paying tribute to Davis include Spandau Ballet's Gary Kemp tweeted: "He's leading a splendid bunch, one of the 60's greats, along with Muff and Steve Winwood. Running and Gimme Some Lovin' were R&B songs. He pushed soul into time's white rock sound.

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