Spencer Davis of The Spencer Davis Group dies aged 81 – former bandmate Steve Winwood pays tribute

(Image credit: David Warner Ellis / Getty)

Spencer Davis, founder of The Spencer David Group, passed away from pneumonia on 19 October, aged 81.

He was the Swansea-born vocalist, guitarist and harmonica player in the 1960s beat band who enjoyed consecutive number one UK hits in 1966 with Keep On Running and Somebody Help Me, both written by Jackie Edwards and featuring Steve Winwood on lead vocals. 

But it was Davis on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, Winwood on vocals, lead guitar and organ with his older brother, bassist Mervyn 'Muff' Winwood who would pen what would become the band's signature song the following year with Gimme Some Lovin'. 

Steve Winwood would leave the band that year to form Traffic, but The Spencer David group continued until 1969 before David and drummer Pete York restarted another version of the band between 1973 and 1974. 

"Spencer was an early pioneer of the British folk scene, which, in his case embraced folk blues"

Steve Winwood

Davis would lead various versions of the band over the years, and was touring alongside York and the Miller Anderson Band in 2017. Davis launched a short-lived solo career in the '70s before taking on an executive role at Island Records.  He would go on to work with Island artists as a promoter including Bob Marley and the solo career of his old bandmate, Steve Winwood.  

"I’ve known Spencer since I was about 13, he would have been about 22," said Steve Winwood in a statement paying tribute. "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 Spencer Davis Group were sown.

"Spencer was an early pioneer of the British folk scene, which, in his case embraced folk blues, and eventually what was then called 'Rhythm and Blues'. 

"He influenced my tastes in music, and he owned the first 12-string guitar I ever saw, he was taken with the music of Huddie 'Lead belly' Ledbetter, and Big Bill Broonzy. I’d already got a big brother who influenced me greatly, and Spencer became like a big brother to me at the time.

"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 US 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"

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Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.