The Spinners are an American soul music vocal group, active for over 50 years, who enjoyed a string a major hit singles and albums during the 1970s. The group, originating from Detroit, still tours regularly as of 2014 although Henry Fambrough is the only original member.
The group is also listed as the Detroit Spinners, and the Motown Spinners (for their 1960s recordings with the Detroit label). These group names were used in the UK to avoid confusion with a British folk group also called the Spinners.
In 1954, a group of friends who grew up together in Ferndale, Michigan, a northern suburb bordering Detroit, came together to make music. For a time, several of the band members resided in Detroit's Herman Gardens public housing projects. Billy Henderson, Henry Fambrough, Pervis Jackson, C. P. Spencer, and James Edwards called themselves The Domingoes. However James Edwards lasted only a few weeks. He was replaced by Bobby Smith, who sang lead on most of the Spinners' early records (and many of their biggest Atlantic hits). C. P. Spencer left the group shortly afterwards, and later went on to be a member of the Voice Masters and the Originals. He was replaced by George Dixon. The group renamed themselves the Spinners in 1961. This name was chosen after looking at popular car hubcaps and noting how they spun around on a car's wheel.
Early recording years: 1961-1971:
The Spinners first hit the charts in August 1961 on Harvey Fuqua's Tri-Phi Records, with "That's What Girls Are Made For", peaking at number 27. Bobby Smith sang lead vocal on this track, coached by Fuqua. (Some sources report Fuqua sang lead vocal on this track, but both Smith and Fuqua have stated at various times that it was Smith.) The group's follow-up, "Love (I'm So Glad) I Found You", also featured lead vocals by Smith, although again some sources credit Fuqua. This track reached number 91 that November, but none of their other Tri-Phi singles charted.
The extent to which Fuqua became a member of the group during their stay at Tri-Phi is debated. Fuqua apparently sang on at least some of the records, and at minimum considered himself a Spinner, as made explicit by the credits on Tri-Phi 1010 and 1024--the artist credit on both these 1962 singles reads "Harvey (Formerly of the Moonglows and the Spinners)". However most sources, while respecting Fuqua's contributions to the group, 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 the entire artist roster was bought out by Fuqua's brother-in-law Berry Gordy of Motown Records. The Spinners were then assigned to the Motown label.
In 1964, the Spinners made their debut at the Apollo Theater and won instant acclaim, a rare feat at the time. But with the exception of "I'll Always Love You" (led by Smith), which hit number 35 in 1965, success mostly eluded them during the 1960s. After "I'll Always Love You", they released one single a year from 1966 to 1969 inclusive, but none charted on the Billboard Hot 100, and only their 1966 song "Truly Yours" (led by Smith) hit the Billboard R&B chart, peaking at number 16.
With commercial success virtually non-existent, during much of this decade the Spinners were used by Motown 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. (The label name is somewhat ironic, given that V.I.P. was generally considered a substandard imprint behind Motown, Gordy, Tamla, and Soul).
In 1970, after a five-year chart absence, they hit number 14 with writer-producer Stevie Wonder's composition (the Cameron-led) "It's a Shame" (co-written by Syreeta Wright), and charted again the following year with another song Wonder wrote and 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, legend has it that Atlantic Records recording artist Aretha Franklin suggested the group finish out their Motown contract and sign with Atlantic. The group made the switch but due to his contractual obligations, Cameron was unable to leave Motown so he remained with Motown as a solo artist and suggested his cousin, singer Philippé Wynne, join the Spinners as Cameron's replacement and the group's new lead singer. However, original lead singer Bobby Smith also retained his lead position.
The hit years with Philippé Wynne:
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, under the helm of producer and songwriter Thom Bell, the Spinners charted five top 100 singles (and two top tens) from their first post-Motown album, Spinners (1972), 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 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 #3 and "How Could I Let You Get Away" reaching #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 by Smith), "One of a Kind (Love Affair)" (led by Wynne), and "Ghetto Child" (led by 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) as a 1973 A-side. In the midst of their Atlantic hits, it crawled to number #91 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 and Warwick), which hit #1 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-led "They Just Can't Stop It (The Games People Play)" (Billboard #5) and the Wynne-led "The Rubberband Man" (Billboard #2). "Games People Play" featured guest vocalist Barbara Ingram (though producer Bell disputed this in a UK based interview, claiming Barbara's line was actually group member Henry Fambrough - his voice sped up) and led to a nickname of "12:45" for bass singer Jackson, after his signature vocal line on the song.
The post-Wynne years:
Philippé Wynne left the group in January 1977 and was replaced by John Edwards. Though this version of the group had minor hits from 1977-79, they failed to hit the pop Top 40 for three years and parted ways with Thom Bell.
In 1979 Motown released a compilation album on both sides of the Atlantic. "From the Vaults", US Natural Resources label NR 4014 & in the UK on Tamla Motown STMR 9001, contained the Spinners' "What More Could a Boy Ask For" (Fuqua & Bristol) circa 1965. The group did manage to have two big hits in 1980, charting with Michael Zager medleys of "Working My Way Back to You"/"Forgive Me, Girl" (#2 in March-April, #1 UK) and "Cupid"/"I've Loved You for a Long Time" (#4 in July-August, #4 UK). The group's last Hot 100 hit was a remake of Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away", which peaked at #67 in 1983. In 1984 the group had their last R&B hit with "Right or Wrong", off the Cross Fire album. The group also released a pair of unsuccessful albums during the latter 1980s.
After some years spent collaborating with Parliament/Funkadelic and working solo, Wynne died of a heart attack while performing in Oakland on July 14, 1984.
Despite the public's continued erroneous public perception about who the Spinners' main lead singer was, Henry Famborough, the group's last surviving original member, in a 2014 interview, stated: "Bobby (Smith) was always our major lead singer for all those years. Had always been. Always will be."
The Spinners today:
After their chart career ended, the Spinners continued touring for decades. They are big draws on the oldies and nostalgia concert circuits, playing the music that made them famous.
In their boxed set, The Chrome Collection, the Spinners were lauded by David Bowie and Elvis Costello. The Spinners were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. On July 27, 2006, the Spinners performed on the Late Show with David Letterman.
A voice from their past, G.C. Cameron, rejoined the group as lead vocalist from 2000 to 2002 (replacing John Edwards, who left due to a stroke that left him wheelchair-bound), but he left them in 2003 to join The Temptations. Frank Washington, formerly of The Futures and The Delfonics, joined for a few years, before being replaced by Charlton Washington (no relation).
In 2004, original member Billy Henderson was dismissed from the group after suing the group's corporation and business manager to obtain financial records. He was replaced by Harold "Spike" Bonhart. Henderson died due to complications from diabetes on February 2, 2007 at the age of 67. Another early member, C.P. Spencer had already died from a heart attack on October 20, 2004; and another, George Dixon, died in 1994.
Original member Pervis Jackson, who was still touring as a member of the group, died of cancer on August 18, 2008. The group continued for a short time as a quartet before Jessie Robert Peck (born in Queens, New York, December 17, 1968) was recruited as the group's new bass vocalist in February 2009. In 2009, Bonhart left the Spinners and was replaced by vocalist Marvin Taylor. The group lost another member from their early days, when Edgar "Chico" Edwards died on December 3, 2011.
The Spinners were put into the limelight again in 2003 when an Elton John track was re-issued featuring them on backing vocals. In 1977, the Spinners had recorded two versions of "Are You Ready for Love" at the Philadelphia studios. One had all of the Spinners, the other with only lead singer Phillipe Wynne on backing vocals. Elton John was not happy with the mixes and sat on the tapes for a year before asking for them to be remixed to give them an easier on the ear sound. Finally in 1979, the Wynne version was released as a single but it only made it to number 42 in the UK. The track was then remixed by Ashley Beedle from Xpress-2 in 2003 after becoming a fixture in the Balearic nightclubs and being used by Sky Sports for an advertisement. It then went to number 1 in the singles chart after being released on DJ Fatboy Slim's Southern Fried record label.
In September 2011, 57 years after forming in Detroit and 50 years after "That's What Girls Are Made For", the group was announced as one of 15 final nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, their first nomination.
Lead singer Bobby Smith died on March 16, 2013. The group, which still tours actively, consists of Henry Fambrough (the only surviving original member), Charlton Washington, Jessie Peck, and Marvin Taylor.
Henry Fambrough (1954-present),
Charlton Washington (2009-present),
Jessie Robert Peck (2009-present),
Marvin Taylor (2009-present),
Ronnie Moss (2013-present),
Pervis Jackson (1954-2008; died 2008),
Billy Henderson (1954-2004; died 2007),
C. P. Spencer (1954-1956; died 2004),
James Edwards (1954),
Bobby Smith (1954-2013; died 2013),
George Dixon (1956-1963; died 1994),
Edgar "Chico" Edwards (1963-1967; died 2011),
G. C. Cameron (1967-1972, 2000-2003),
Philippé Wynne (1972-1977; died 1984),
John Edwards (1977-2000),
Frank Washington (2003-2009),
Harold "Spike" Bonhart (2004-2009)
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license