Motown-style soul quintet
The five young men who would become the Spinners started making doo-wop music together in 1957, under the name The Domingos, while attending Fern-dale High School near Detroit. The Spinners never reached the heights attained by other Motown artists during the label’s heyday in the 1960s, but the group continued to tour and record, releasing a string of hits in the 1970s. “The Spinners distinguished themselves with memorable melodies, rich harmonies, and a musical delivery full of spirit and feeling,” according to the African American Encyclopedia. Despite changes in personnel and recording companies, the Spinners continued to turn out soul-oriented records into the1990s.
The lively, soulful quintet had a polished nightclub act and a new name by 1961, when singer/producer Harvey Fuqua discovered them. Fuqua began recording The Spinners music on Tri-Phi Records, a small Detroit label he founded with his wife Gwen, sister of future Motown Music mogul Berry Gordy. The group’s first single, “What Girls Are Made for,” reached No. 27 on the pop charts and cracked the R&B Top 10. Some sources
Members were G.C. Cameron, replaced Robert Smith in 1968; George W. Dixon, lead and tenor vocals; Edgar Edwards replaced George Dixon in 1962; John Edwards replaced Phillipe Wynn in 1977; Henry Fambrough, baritone vocals, (born May 10, 1935, in Detroit, MI); Billy Henderson, tenor-baritone vocals, (born August 9, 1939, in Detroit, MI); Pervis Jackson, bass vocals, (born May 16); Robert Smith, lead and tenor vocals, (born April 10, 1937, in Detroit, MI); Philippe Wynne (born April 3, 1941, in Cincinatti, and died July 14, 1984, in Oakland, CA) replaced G.C. Cameron in 1972.
Formed in Detroit, Michigan, 1957; released first single, “What Girls Are For,” 1961; released two career retrospectives, early 1990s; released A One of a Kind Love Affair: The Anthology on Atlantic, 1991; released The Very Best of the Spinners on Rhino, 1993.
say Fuqua, who had been a member of the Moonglows alongside Marvin Gaye, sung lead on the Spinners debut. Rolling Stone refuted that, however, saying that lead vocalist Bobby Smith simply borrowed Fuqua’s singing style for the song. The Spinners followed “What Girls Are Made for” with a series of singles, but none of them made a splash.
In 1963, Tri Phi merged with Motown and the Spinners transferred to the larger label, but it was not a fortuitous move. At Motown, the fivesome languished, lost in the crowd, overshadowed by Motown stars such as The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. At times, the Spinners sang back-up on their label-mates records, including Shorty Long’s “Here Comes the Judge” in 1968 and Junior Walker’s “What Does It Take to Win Your Love” in 1969. Other times, members of the group served as chauffeurs.
Although they were not considered a major act by Motown management, the Spinners crafted a handful of hits for the label: “I’ll Always Love You,” which reached No. 8 on the R&B chart in 1965; “Truly Yours” in 1966; and 1970’s “It’s a Shame,” which was written and produced by Stevie Wonder. “It’s a Shame” reached No. 4 on the R&B chart and cracked the pop Top 20 in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
The Spinners original lineup featured Smith, George Dixon, Billy Henderson, Henry Fambrough and Pervis Jackson. The first in a series of personnel changes occurred in the early 1960s, when Edgar Chico Edwards replaced Dixon. In 1968 Smith left the group and lead vocals were handed off to G.C. Cameron. Cameron spent four years with The Spinners before being replaced by the charismatic Philippe Wynne in 1972. After leading the Spinners through its most successful period ever, Wynne left the group in 1977 to launch a solo career. The venture, however, proved dismal. Wynne’s solo debut album, Starting All Over, fared poorly; although he later began performing with George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic. Wynne recorded the album Jammin’ on Clinton’s Uncle Jam label and achieved a minor hit in 1983 with the song “Wait Til Tomorrow.” He died of a heart attack on July 13, 1984, after collapsing onstage at Ivey’s, a nightclub in Oakland, California. The soulful singer was 43 years old.
The Spinners’ fortunes changed in 1972, when the group left Motown for Atlantic Records at the urging of Aretha Franklin. At Atlantic, the Spinners teamed with writer/producer Thorn Bell, who was known for his work with the doo-wop group the Stylistics. G.C. Cameron chose not to leave Motown, however, and Wynne, who previously had worked with Catfish and Bootsy Collins, replaced him. Wynne’s “expressive falsetto lent an air of distinctiveness to an already crafted harmony sound and… the Spinners completed a series of exemplary singles which set a benchmark for 70’s sophisticated soul,” according to the 1984 version of the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. The “quintet deftly pursued a sweet, orchestrated sound which nonetheless avoided the sterile trappings of several contemporaries.”
In the next seven years, the Spinners’ brand of soul and dance music racked up five gold albums. The group reached the R&B Top 20 more than a dozen times and the No. 1 spot with six million-selling singles. Hits included “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” in 1972, “One of a Kind Love Affair” in 1973, “I’m Coming Home” in 1974, “They Just Can’t Stop It (The Games People Play)” in 1975, “The Rubberband Man,” in 1976, and “If You Wanna Do a Dance” in 1978. In 1974 the Spinners and Dionne Warwick collaborated on the single “Then Came You,” which hit No. 1 on the pop chart a first for both of them. The Spinners were second only to the O’Jays as the era’s most popular black vocal group and achieved immense popularity in the United Kingdom, where they went by the Detroit Spinners to avoid confusion with the British folk group called the Spinners.
After Wynne’s departure he was replaced by John Edwards, and it took the Spinners nearly three years to return to the top of the charts. The 1979 medley coupling a remake of the Four Seasons’ “Working My Way Back to You” with “Forgive Me Girl,” was a huge hit, reaching No. 1 in the United Kingdom and No. 2 in the United States. It was followed by another medley, “Cupid” and “I’ve Loved You for a Long Time” which broached the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic the following year. Bell stopped working with the Spinners and the group’s success waned in the 1980s. While several singles reached the R&B charts, none cracked the Top 20.
A Spinners anthology released in 1992 called A One of a Kind Love Affair was well -received. “The great black vocal groups of the 70s were no less great for using a cliched dance beat,” reviewer Ira Robbins wrote in Entertainment Weekly. “Hearing the Spinners now, it’s painfully obvious how incidental a dance beat is to their magnificent delivery of American pop standards like ‘Mighty Love,’ ‘I’ll Be Around,’ and ‘Could It Be I’m Falling in Love’…. The combination of rich voices, uplifting lyrics, and lush production makes these songs a lasting, soul-satisfying pleasure.”
The Original Spinners, Motown, 1967.
Second Time Around, V.I.P., 1970.
Best, Motown, 1973.
The Spinners, Atlantic, 1973.
Mighty Love, Atlantic, 1974.
New and Improved, Atlantic, 1974.
Pick of the Litter, Atlantic, 1975.
Live, Atlantic, 1975.
Happiness is Being with the Spinners, Atlantic, 1976.
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, Atlantic, 1977.
8, Atlantic, 1977.
From Here to Eternally, Atlantic, 1979.
Dancin’ and Lovin’, Atlantic, 1979.
Love Trippin’, Atlantic, 1980.
Labor of Love, Atlantic, 1981.
Can’t Shake This Feelin’, Atlantic, 1981.
Grand Slam, Atlantic, 1983.
Cross Fire, Atlantic, 1984.
Lovin Feelings, Mirage, 1985.
Down to Business, Volt, 1989.
Smash Hits, Atlantic, 1977.
The Best of The Spinners, Atlantic, 1978.
Superstar Series, Volume 9, Motown, 1981.
One of a Kind Love Affair: The Anthology, Atlantic, 1991.
The Very Best of The Spinners, Rhino, 1993.
Helander, Brock, ed., The Rock Who’s Who, second edition, 1997.
Hitchcock, H. Wiley and Stanley Sadie, eds., The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Vol. 4, 1987.
Larkin, Colin, ed., The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Vol. 1, 1993.
Romanowski, Patricia and Holly George-Warren, eds., The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, 1996.
Williams, Michael W., ed., The African American Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, 1994.
Entertainment Weekly, January 31, 1992.
Playboy, April 1992.
Rolling Stone, August 30, 1984.