Spencer Davis, founding member and namesake of the British rock band The Spencer Davis Group, has passed away at the age of 81. His agent, Bob Birk, confirmed to the BBC that the singer died in the hospital on Monday while receiving treatment for pneumonia. “He was a very good friend,” he said. “He was a highly ethical, very talented, good-hearted, extremely intelligent, generous man. He will be missed.”
Davis was born and raised in Swansea, Wales, and learned to play harmonica and accordion as a child. When he was 16, Davis moved to London and worked as an office clerk before going on to study German at the University Of Birmingham. Davis formed an R&B group called the Saints with future Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, and also collaborated with future Fleetwood Mac singer Christine McVie.
It was in 1963 that Davis enlisted a young Steve Winwood and formed what would eventually become the Spencer Davis Group along with Winwood’s brother Muff and drummer Pete York. The group was originally known as The Rhythm & Blues Quartet, but changed their name in 1964 since Davis was the only member who liked doing press. They scored their first hit in 1965 with a cover of Jamaican musician Jackie Edwards’ ‘Keep On Running’, a single from 1966’s The Second Album. Later that year, they released Autumn ’66, which included another another chart-topping Edwards cover, ‘Somebody Help Me’.
It wasn’t long before the band hit the United States with the rest of the British Invasion, thanks to the success of two originals: 1966’s ‘Gimme Some Lovin’ and 1967’s ‘I’m A Man’. That same year, Steve Winwood left the Spencer Davis Group to form Traffic, and the group disbanded two years later. David moved to California and pursued a solo career that resulted in 1971’s It’s Been So Long and 1972’s Mousetrap. In 1973, Davis revived the Spencer Davis Group moniker with a new lineup and put out a pair of albums before breaking up again. He got a job working as an A&R executive for Island Records throughout the ’70s, helping develop artists including Bob Marley and Robert Palmer.
In the mid-2000s, Davis reformed the Spencer Davis Group, this time as a live project, and performed throughout the next decade. None of the touring line-ups featured the rest of the original members.
“He was definitely a man with a vision, and one of the pioneers of the British invasion of America in the sixties,” Steve Winwood wrote in a statement. “I never went to the U.S. with Spencer, but he later embraced America, and America embraced him. I feel that he was influential in setting me on the road to becoming a professional musician, and I thank him for that. Thank you, Spencer.”