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Spencer Davis dead at 81

A portrait of Spencer Davis
(Image credit: Evening Standard/Stringer/Getty Images)

Spencer Davis has died aged 81while being treated for pneumonia in hospital.

The news was confirmed by Spencer Davis group drummer Pete York, who broke the news to close friends on Tuesday October 20 – including former Black Sabbath manager Jim Simpson. "I took Pete's call half an hour ago and thought: 'What a shame'," Simpson told Birmingham Live.

"Spencer was a lovely man - always very courteous and a purist about music."

Davis formed the Spencer Davis Group in 1963, with Steve Winwood (keyboards, guitar), his brother, Muff Winwood (bass guitar) and Pete York on drums. The Birmingham four-piece’s electrifying mix of jazz, soul and R&B scored them two early No.1 hits – Keep On Running and Somebody Help Me, both written by Jamaican songwriter Jackie Edwards – and their first three albums had all gone Top 10. 

But the band were to strike gold on both sides of the Atlantic with Gimme Some Lovin’ that same year – an exhilarating three minutes of prime 60s pop which has been covered by a range of artists including The Grateful Dead and Thunder. And remarkably, the whole thing came together in less than an hour.

Speaking about its creation, Davis said: “Muff Winwood played this bass riff at me. I thought it was nice, so I added some ascending chords while I told him to keep playing it.  I started playing minor chords, but guitarist and vocalist Steve Winwood went, ‘No, play majors.’ Then… bang! - it worked. There were no lyrics at that point.”

“Sometimes there’s that little bit of magic that you can’t put your finger on, but it happens and it just works. Gimme Some Lovin’ came really fast”, said Muff.

The Spencer Davis Group split in 1969, but reformed in the early 70s for the albums Gluggo and Living In A Back Street. Davis later hooked up again with Spencer Davis Band pianist Eddie Hardin in 2005 for live shows.

Steve Winwood released a statement on his website, saying, "I’ve known Spencer since I was about 13 – he would have been about 22. I was playing a show at Birmingham University with my brother and his band. Spencer who was a student at Birmingham, was playing with a small group of musicians. We met and the the seeds of The Spencer Davis Group were sown.

"He was definitely a man with a vision, and one of the pioneers of the British invasion of America in the sixties. I never went to the U.S. with Spencer, but he later embraced America, and America embraced him." 

Further tributes have started to pour in via social media, including from friend and Radio Caroline presenter Suzy Wilde, who took to Twitter to call Davis a "a lovely man, generous and kind, warm and funny, and will be much missed."

Michael Des Barres wrote, "Spencer Davis will be remembered for a lot more than discovering Steve Winwood. He and a handful of others created British blues.A great musician & executive. He exemplified the notion that a nice guy can survive in a 3 chord world. RIP".

Edgar Broughton said, "RIP Spencer Davis. Iconic music. Keep On Running was the song that introduced me to the wonderful world of fuzz guitar. Spencer was one of the first white men to capture the essence of the blues and introduce it to a wider audience."