The Spinners - Motown To Philly
August 7, 2020
Two of my favorite tunes of all time. And the story of why the Spinners are sometimes referred to as the "Detroit Spinners."
The Spinners are an American R&B vocal group that formed in Ferndale, Michigan, in 1954. They enjoyed a string of hit singles and albums during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly with producer Thom Bell.
The group is also listed as the Detroit Spinners and the Motown Spinners, due to their 1960s recordings with the Motown label. These other names were used in the UK to avoid confusion with a British folk group also called The Spinners.
In 1954, Billy Henderson, Henry Fambrough, Pervis Jackson, C. P. Spencer, and James Edwards formed The Domingoes in Ferndale, Michigan, a northern suburb of Detroit. The friends resided in Detroit's Herman Gardens public housing project and came together to make music.
James Edwards remained with the group for a few weeks and was replaced by Bobby Smith, who sang lead on most of the Spinners' early records and their biggest Atlantic Records hits. Spencer left the group shortly after Edwards, and later joined the Voice Masters and the Originals. George Dixon replaced Spencer, and the group renamed themselves the Spinners in 1961.
Early recording years: 1961–71
The Spinners' first single, "That's What Girls Are Made For", was recorded under Harvey Fuqua's Tri-Phi Records. The single peaked at number 27 on the Top 100 chart in August 1961. The group's follow-up single, "Love (I'm So Glad) I Found You" reached number 91 that November, and was the last Tri-Phi Records' single to reach the Top 100 charts.
Sources debate the extent to which Fuqua became a member of the group during its stay at Tri-Phi. Fuqua sang lead on some of the singles and considered himself a Spinner. In the credits on Tri-Phi 1010 and 1024, the artist was credited for the first two singles and listed as "Harvey (Formerly of the Moonglows and the Spinners)". However, most sources do not list him as an official member.
James Edwards' brother, Edgar "Chico" Edwards, replaced Dixon in the group in 1963, at which time Tri-Phi and its entire artist roster was bought out by Fuqua's brother-in-law, Berry Gordy of Motown Records.
In 1964, the Spinners made their debut at the Apollo Theater and were received with high favor. "I'll Always Love You" hit number 35 in 1965. From 1966 to 1969, the group released one single a year, but only the 1966 single "Truly Yours" peaked on the Billboard 100 R&B chart at number 16.
With limited commercial success, Motown assigned the Spinners as road managers, chaperones, and chauffeurs for other groups, and even as shipping clerks. G. C. Cameron replaced Edgar "Chico" Edwards in 1967, and in 1969, the group switched to the Motown-owned V.I.P. imprint.
In 1970, after a five-year absence, they hit number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 with writer-producer Stevie Wonder's composition, (the G.C. Cameron-led) "It's a Shame" (co-written by Syreeta Wright) and again charted the following year with another Wonder song the composer also produced, "We'll Have It Made" (led by Cameron), from their new album, 2nd Time Around. However, these were their last two singles for V.I.P.
Shortly after the release of 2nd Time Around, Atlantic Records recording artist Aretha Franklin suggested the group finish their Motown contract and sign with Atlantic Records. While recording an album that Stevie Wonder was producing for them, their Motown contract expired, leaving the LP unfinished. The group then made the switch, but contractual obligations prevented Cameron from leaving Motown, so he stayed on there as a solo artist and urged his cousin, singer Philippé Wynne, to join the Spinners in his place as one of the group's three lead singers, with Henry Fambrough, and Bobby Smith.
Peak commercial success
When the Spinners signed to Atlantic in 1972, they were a respected but commercially unremarkable singing group who had never had a Top Ten pop hit — despite having been a recording act for over a decade. However, with songwriter Thom Bell at the helm, the Spinners charted five Top 100 singles (and two Top Tens) from their first post-Motown album, Spinners (1973), and went on to become one of the biggest soul groups of the 1970s.
The Bobby Smith-led "I'll Be Around", their first top ten hit, was actually the B-side of their first Atlantic single, the Fambrough and Wynne-led "How Could I Let You Get Away". Radio airplay for the B-side led Atlantic to flip the single over, with "I'll Be Around" hitting number 3 and "How Could I Let You Get Away" reaching number 77. "I'll Be Around" was also the Spinners' first million-selling hit single.
The 1973 follow-up singles "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love" (led principally by Smith, with Wynne leading on the tune's fade out), which was another million-seller, "One of a Kind (Love Affair)" (led by Wynne), and "Ghetto Child" (led by Fambrough and Wynne) cemented the group's reputation, as well as further that of Bell, a noted Philly soul producer.
Following their Atlantic successes, Motown also issued a "Best of the Spinners" LP which featured selections from their Motown/V.I.P. recordings. They also remixed and reissued the 1970 B-side "Together We Can Make Such Sweet Music" (led by Smith, originally co-led by Cameron) as a 1973 A-side. In the midst of their Atlantic hits, it crawled to number 91 in the US.
The group's 1974 follow-up album, Mighty Love, featured three Top 20 hits, "I'm Coming Home", "Love Don't Love Nobody", and the title track. Their biggest hit of the year, however, was a collaboration with Dionne Warwick, "Then Came You" (led by Smith, Warwick, and Wynne), which hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming each act's first chart-topping "Pop" hit. The song also reached the Top 3 of Billboard′s R&B and Easy Listening charts.
The Spinners hit the Top 10 twice in the next two years with the Smith and Jackson-led "They Just Can't Stop It (The Games People Play)" (Billboard number 5) and the Wynne-led "The Rubberband Man" (Billboard number 2).
Philippé Wynne left the group in January 1977 and was replaced by John Edwards, who had recorded a number of R&B hits as a solo singer. Though this version of the group had minor hits from 1977 to 1979, they failed to hit the pop Top 40 for three years and parted ways with Thom Bell. They contributed two songs to Bell's film The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh and appeared in the film as a band.
In 1979, Motown released a compilation album on both sides of the Atlantic. From the Vaults, (US Natural Resources label NR 4014 and in the UK on Tamla Motown STMR 9001), included the song "What More Could a Boy Ask For" (Fuqua & Bristol), which was recorded circa 1965.
The group did have a brief resurgence at the dawning of the new decade, scoring two big hits in 1980 with Michael Zager medleys of "Working My Way Back to You"/"Forgive Me, Girl" (number two in March–April, number one UK) and "Cupid"/"I've Loved You for a Long Time" (number four in July–August, number four UK). However, success once again waned in the years that followed.
The group's last Hot 100 hit was a remake of Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away", which peaked at number 67 in 1983. In 1984, the group had their last R&B hit with "Right or Wrong", from that year's Cross Fire album. They would go on to release a pair of albums, in addition to performing the title track to the 1987 hit film Spaceballs, during the latter half of the 1980s, though none of these efforts were commercially successful.
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