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Perhaps even more than the Temptations, the Spinners were the dominant vocal group of the 1970s.  Their hits read like the playlist of a classic soul station, with "Sadie," "I'll Be Around," "Mighty Love" and "The Rubberband Man" still receiving consistent airplay thirty years after their release.  That their glory years came after a disappointing stint on Motown had to make their success even sweeter for the Detroit-based group, who became the ideal vehicle for producer Thom Bell's version of Philly soul.

Formed in high school as the Domingos in 1955, the original members were C.P. Spencer, Henry Fambrough, Billy Henderson, Bobbie Smith and Pervis Jackson.  All except Spencer, who was the lead singer, would remain with the group for the entirety of its existence.  For one reason or another, the lead vocalist position was always the least stable and subject to change, such as when George Dixon replaced Spencer following the group's winning of a talent contest in 1957. It was at this point that they became the Spinners, in reference to the popular hubcaps of the time. 

Harvey Fuqua, then of the Moonglows and later Sylvester's producer, offered the group a record contract on his Tri-Phi label in 1961, and "That's What Little Girls Are Made For" (on which Fuqua allegedly sang the lead) was a hit later that year.  The following year, Fuqua sold his label to Motown and the Spinners found themselves with a new home.  By now, Chico Edwards was the main singer and it was be three years before their next single. 

"I'll Always Love You" was a top 10 hit in 1965, but the Spinners did not receive the kind of attention or material offered to other artists. G.C. Cameron became the latest front man and he was highlighted on their biggest hit up to that time, 1970's "It's A Shame," written and produced by Stevie Wonder. But they were unable to capitalize on that momentum, and finally left Motown in 1971.  Good friend Aretha Franklin arranged for them to sign with Atlantic. Cameron chose to stay with Motown as a solo artist. As his replacement, Cameron suggested Philip Walker, a singer from Cincinnati who was briefly affiliated with Bootsy Collins and the Contours.  Walker joined in 1972 and adopted the name Philippe Wynne. 

Even with a fresh start, it seemed like they could not catch a break, for Atlantic rejected the first four songs they recorded. They were about to lose this contract when Bell stepped into the picture and requested the chance to work with them.  Even though Atlantic was ready to let them go, they granted Bell's wish.  Among the changes Bell made to their sound were utilizing Bobbie Smith's lighter voice as an alternating lead with Wynne's gospel-styled pleadings, improving their material thanks to access to excellent writers like Linda Creed, Phil Hurtt, and the team of Jefferson-Hawes-Simmons, and finally, recording the group with MFSB's rhythm tracks. 

The results of Bell's approach were immediate: "I'll Be Around," "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love" and the ballad "How Could I Let You Get Away" became massive hits in late 1972, with two of the three selling over a million copies.  An album was rush released in 1973 and included another million-seller, "One Of A Kind Love Affair." Motown, always slow to admit a mistake but quick to cash in on their extensive vault of material, tried to issue a Greatest Hits set on the Spinners, but nobody was fooled. 

Mighty Love followed in 1974 and continued their rise to superstardom. This album helped make Wynne the face of the group, as his vamps on the title cut and masterful handling of the ballad "Love Don't Love Nobody" catapulted him to the first tier of soul singers. 

For New And Improved, the Spinners performed with Dionne Warwick on "Then Came You," a song that came about as a result of a bet between Bell and Warwick. Although it seemed an unlikely combination, the record was their only song to top the pop charts. But the most enduring cut from the album is "Sadie," the Mother's Day anthem that was revived by R Kelly. According to studio legend, Wynne thought he had nailed his vocals on the first take, but was pushed by Bell to dig deeper. The sentimental lyrics already resonating with the emotional Wynne, each successive take found him closer to the edge of tears, until finally he (and everyone in the studio) was reduced to uncontrollable crying by the end of the final recording. It is that raw emotion that makes the song one of the best "family records" of all time. 

1975's Pick Of The Litter seems to go unrecognized in spite of songs like "Games People Play" and "Wake Up Susan," but for hardcore soul fans it ranks among their best works, as it features  perhaps their best vocal performances from beginning to end. It was another gold album, but arguably marked the peak of their career.

While it was not common knowledge at the time, Wynne's frustration with the Spinners had been growing for a number of years.  Some of it was because he felt he should be making more money than the rest of the group and some of it was due to psychological problems.  He was able to complete one more session with the Spinners, from which two albums were culled, but John Edwards, who had recorded a collectable southern soul album in the early 1970s, began filling in for him at concerts. Edwards made his official debut with the group in 1977, while Wynne began a solo career highlighted by his appearance on Funkadelic's "Knee Deep."  He died while performing in 1984.  Edwards proved to be their longest tenured lead singer. 

The late 70s were not good to the Spinners.  Funk and disco were the popular styles, and Thom Bell's smooth, traditional sound was not able to keep the audience interested. He ended his relationship with the Spinners and they opted to work with Michael Zager, who was primarily a writer and producer but also recorded the "Let's All Chant."  Zager's plan to bring the Spinners back to prominence hinged on a discofied medley of the Four Seasons tune "Working My Way Back To You" with an original called "Forgive Me Girl."  The ploy worked, restoring them to the charts, so they tried it again in 1980 with "Cupid/I've Loved You For A Long Time."  They continued making periodic visits to the charts until 1984.

While the hits have ceased, the Spinners still make the occasional album and can be counted on for a professional show.  Billy Henderson died from complications from diabetes in 2007; he had been estranged from the group since suing their manager in a business dispute.

The Spinners' Deepest Grooves

Second Time Around (VIP, 1970)

Spinners (Atlantic, 1973) 

Mighty Love (Atlantic, 1974)

New and Improved (Alantic, 1974)

Live! (Atlantic, 1975)

Pick of the Litter (Atlantic, 1975)

Happiness Is Being With the Spinners (Atlantic, 1976)

Yesterday Today Tomorrow (Atlantic, 1976) 

8 (Atlantic, 1977)

From Here to Eternally  (Atlantic, 1978)

Dancin' And Lovin' (Atlantic, 1979)

Love Trippin' (Atlantic, 1980)

Labor of Love (Atlantic, 1981)

Grand Slam (Atlantic, 1982)

Cross Fire (Atlantic, 1984) 

One Of A Kind Love Affair: The Anthology (Rhino, 1991)
Barring an unlikely box set, this is the most extensive Spinners collection available, with all the essential cuts and excellent liner notes that provide some insight into the troubled mind of Philippe Wynne.    

The Very Best of the Spinners (Rhino, 1993)

The Chrome Collection (Rhino, 2003)
Turns out that the Spinners get the box set they deserve, after all.  Starts with "That's What Girls Are Made For," ends with 1984's "Memories Of Allison" and includes every major hit and album cut in between.  Also has a lovely 60 page book detailing their fantastic career.

The Definitive Soul Collection (Rhino, 2006)

Copyright 2007  All rights reserved.

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