If you were anywhere next to a radio in the 1970’s, you know the music of the Spinners, one of the greatest soul/R&B/pop groups the decade had to offer and one that came to define the “Philly Sound.” Their hits, including “It’s a Shame,” “I’ll Be Around,” “Could it be I’m Falling in Love,” “The Rubberband Man,” “Games People Play,” “Working My Way Back to You” and “Then Came You” (with Dionne Warwick) brought them twelve gold records, six Grammy® nominations and numerous appearances in the Billboard Top Ten.
The Spinners grew up in Royal Oak Township, near Detroit, in the 1950’s. It was an era dominated by vocal harmony groups, and the Spinners cite the Dells, the Moonglows and Flamingos as early influences. These close harmonies were also found in vocal jazz, a style they also reference as a source.
The group – then Bobbie Smith, Henry Fambrough, Pervis Jackson, Billy Henderson and George Dixon – first recorded as the Spinners in 1961 for the Tri-Phi label. Berry Gordy’s Motown Records bought out Tri-Phi, and the Spinners became Motown artists. However, it was with Atlantic Records that they achieved their greatest success to-date, working with producer/arranger/composer Thom Bell (Delfonics, O’Jays).
Bell’s arrangements complemented the Spinners’ distinctive harmonies with inspired, melodic strings, and a solidly grooving rhythm section: classic pop, with sing-along choruses and a dance feel. It was a sound that set off hundreds of imitators, but the Spinners had a special magic that set them apart from the rest.
The magic translated equally well on stage, as they moved as if one in time to the music in true chorus line fashion, executing complex synchronized dance routines. This combination was unbeatable, and the Spinners – already a popular live act – became more popular than ever, not only in America but internationally.
In 1979, the Spinners worked with producer Michael Zager (Whitney Houston, Peabo Bryson), generating several more hits, including “Working My Way Back To You” and “The Cupid Medley,” and bringing them another gold record. They also provided guest vocals on a project with Elton John. Collaborations with the writing/producing team of Philadelphia’s James Mtume and Reggie Lucas followed (best known for their work with Roberta Flack and Lou Rawls; Lucas also co-produced Madonna’s first record). The Spinners sang on several film soundtracks during this period, including Twins and Spaceballs.
The Spinners made frequent TV appearances on programs such as The Midnight Special, American Bandstand and Soul Train, as well as performing twice as part of the Grammy® Awards ceremony. Dick Clark presented the Spinners with the Black Gold Award for their many achievements in the recording industry, and they were awarded the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Award for their contribution to R&B. They’ve also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The Spinners have now been around for fifty-seven years, and as might be expected, there were some personnel changes along the way. However, what’s remarkable is their longevity – bass singer Pervis Jackson performed with the Spinners until his death in 2008, and founding members Bobbie Smith and Henry Fambrough are still leading the group, with Charlton Washington, Jessie Peck and Marvin Taylor adding their voices to complete the quintet.
What’s also remarkable is how the music of the Spinners has in some ways transcended era and genre, in the way that great music eventually does. The magic – it’s still there.
Will you be dancing to the Philly Sound of the Spinners when they close out the Main Stage Sunday? Priority seats are still available to those who prefer the best seats in the house! Connect with other fans of the Spinners by commenting on our Facebook post!