LINER NOTES – THE SPINNERS: THE PHILIPPE YEARS

All performers don’t have the privilege of sticking around long enough to become legends.  Some performers stay in our presence for decades but still wouldn’t be thought of as legendary.  And then there are performers like the Spinners.  They made their biggest mark in the 70’s and became legends in the same decade… especially during the Philippe Wynne years.  The phenomenal one-two punch of Philippe and Bobby Smith was a match made in Heaven.  Bobby’s velvety smooth lead vocals set many of the songs up and Philippe’s Otis Redding-like gift of ad libbing a song’s vamp ‘til the cows came home was the knock-out punch that made the Spinners truly “one of a kind.”  That’s not to make light of John Edwards and G.C. Cameron’s contributions but I choose to focus on the flat-out glory days when the Spinners were dropping hits like General Motors was crankin’ out cars.  This edition of LINER NOTES celebrates the heyday in the careers of one of the finest groups to ever come out of Detroit… the Spinners.

The Spinners formed back in 1954 and were originally called the Domingoes.  Ferndale, Michigan friends Henry Fambrough, Billy Henderson, Purvis Jackson (life-long members), C.P. Spencer and James Edwards were the original members of the group.  After a short time, James was replaced by life-long member, Bobby Smith, who quickly became the lead singer for most songs.  C.P. left the group shortly after Bobby Smith joined; he went on to sing with the Motown group that Marvin Gaye discovered, the OriginalsC.P. was the high-voiced first tenor of the four man group.  C.P. Spencer was replaced by George Dixon and in 1961 they renamed themselves the Spinners, after spinning hubcaps.  This name was more than appropriate for a group that would soon sign with the record label whose name became synonymous with the Motor City… Motown.

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The Spinners had left Motown for Atlantic Records and hopes of a better-promoted future.  With the release of their first Atlantic album, Spinners, I thought this 1972 song, my favorite Spinners record to-date, would surely redefine them.  I’ll never forget my reaction to hearing “I’ll Be Around” for the first time.  My reaction was very similar to the reaction I had when I first heard “Still Waters” by the Four Tops.  Wow!  I mean, WOW!  It was one of those things where you knew it was gonna be a gigantic hit halfway through the first listen.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  Mind you, I couldn’t get the immediate gratification of hearing it when I wanted to; I couldn’t download it or seek it out on YOUTUBE.  In 1972, you just had to wait for the radio DJ’s to play it again.  Come on Donnie Simpson at WJLB… play the song!  Maybe Fred Goree will spin it on WCHBPaul ChildsNat MorrisRon WhiteBig Soul RockerButterball, Jr…. anybody?  Sure, I could’ve gone to Whites Records in Detroit and bought it but with no dough or transportation, that wasn’t gonna happen.  But hey, this was no Motown record.  This sound was new, extremely different from the Music For Young America, this was Grown Up Music… even though I was still a kid myself.  The dynamics of this Thom Bell music drove the song and my emotions into an absolute frenzyBobby Smith’s voice on lead vocals was never better and more congealed to the music and soul of the song.  Yeah, I was more than impressed, I was sold on this new, cooler than cool sound.  For my money, life after Motown was gonna be just fine for the Spinners.

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Harvey Fuqua had a record company called Tri-Phi Records and in ’61 the Spinners signed on with the Moonglows singer.  In ’63, Motown Records bought out Tri-Phi Records and its roster of performers, including the Spinners.  This same year, James Edwards’ brother, Edgar “Chico” Edwards, replaced George Dixon and in 1967, G.C. Cameron replaced “Chico.”  Now being distributed on Motown’s lesser known VIP label, the Spinners hit it big right before their exit to Atlantic.  This is 1970 and G.C. Cameron was placed up front to lead the hit song written by husband and wife, Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright.  The song was the classic, “It’s A Shame.”  Finally, on their way out the Motown door, they hit paydirt with this JAM.  Another lesser-known G.C.Cameron-Stevie & Syreeta hookup was when G.C. sang in duet with Syreeta Wright on her first album, Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta in 1974.  The song was produced by Stevie Wonder and if you’ve never heard, “I Wanna Be By Your Side,” do yourself a great big favor and give that slammer a listen. 

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Motown gave the Spinners low priority attention so in ’71, the Spinners headed for greener pastures… Atlantic RecordsGeorge “G.C.” Cameron decided to stay with Motown as a solo artist.  His greatest success came when he sang the cult classic Motown soundtrack recording, “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday,” from the 1975 movie, Cooley HighEric Monte was the writer of Cooley HighEric also served as Co-Creator of the TV show, Good Times, along with Mike Evans who played the original “Lionel” on the Jeffersons.  These guys were responsible for bringing “Thelma” into my young teenage life, for which I am still truly grateful (impish smile goes here).  Monte also created the character, George Jefferson, which Sherman Hemsley played so incredibly well and the sitcom, What’s Happening, a take-off on his movie, Cooley High.  After G.C. Cameron’s departure from the Spinners, Philippe “Soul” Wynne, G.C.’s cousin, joined the group to share lead singing with Bobby Smith and occasionally, Henry Fambrough.

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Philippe Wynne… what can I say about this super duper talent?  He was a wonderful counterpoint to Bobby Smith’s silky smooth voice.  I loved it when Bobby would start a song and Philippe would finish it with a flourish of ad libs that were so good it made you wanna slap your mommaPhilippe brought an Otis Redding-like energy to this charismatic group.  I say “Otis Redding-like” because he had a hard time holding still when singing; the music got deep into his bones, pushed through his flesh and that un-repressible soulfulness oozed out of his very being to everybody’s delight.  In my opinion, Philippe was one of the greatest Soul Singers ever.  His style was untouchable, un-refutably unique.  This human cannonball had a very distinct rock and sway that just floored me when he merely strutted across the stage.  Otis Redding was the only other person who had that effect on me by just moving in performance.  Yep, Philippe was a bad, bad boy!  To demonstrate his enormous talent as a song interpreter and performer, check him out in a live televised performance from ’76 singing the Spinners emotionally touching dedication to mothers.  This incredible singer ad libs for 4 minutes on a 7 minute song and never gets boring or repetitive… no way.  Check out this musical genius in action on the classic, “Sadie.”

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Fambrough was a very snazzy dancer.  His movements were always precise and naturally flowingBobby Smith, of course, was even more animated when he did the group’s choreography.  Pervis and Billy never missed a step either , for that matter.  However, Philippe’s Soulful Strut on stage was immeasurably entertaining.  Though the Spinners left Motown Records, they took all the slick training with them.  Their nice, fun, story-telling routines on stage were never more present than with their choreographic interpretation of, “Rubberband Man.”  A close second was this staged moment at the 1975 Grammy Awards where their acted out antics got them a standing ovation from this audience of mostly White music performers when they kicked out the Thom Bell produced jam, “Mighty Love.”

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Thom Bell put a dynamic songwriting team together; Joseph B. Jefferson, Bruce Hawes and Charles Simmons.  Together or separately, they cranked out some smash hits for the Spinners like, “Mighty Love,” “Games People Play,” “One Of A Kind Love Affair,” “Love Don’t Love Nobody” and “Sadie.”  They also wrote some lesser known album cuts that true Spinners fans love like, “Ain’t No Price On Happiness,” “Smile, We Have Each Other” and the incredibly soulful and beautiful, “I’m Glad You Walked Into My Life,” all one-two punches where Henry Fambrough and Philippe “Soul” Wynne share the lead vocals; an equally dynamic combination to Philippe and Bobby’s awesome interpretations.  I couldn’t find a live performance video of, “I’m Glad You Walked Into My Life,” but do yourself a favor… even if you never heard it before… give the AUDIO VIDEO a listen on YOUTUBE; this should have been a smash hit for them and your ears will verify this statement.  If you’re not paying attention, you could overlook Henry Fambrough’s contribution but through the years he was the smoothest dancer in the group, sang Baritone to Falsetto first tenor, even singing the Dionne Warwick part of the song, “Then Came You” in live performances.  Henry has been the cornerstone for the Spinners since day one back in 1954.

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The Supremes, Phyllis Hyman and Will Downing have recorded covers of the Thom Bell & Linda Creed song, “I Don’t Want To Lose You.”  Phyllis Hyman and Will Downing’s re-makes have been widely accepted as classic songs.  However, this beautiful love song began in the capable hands of the man with the handlebar mustache, Henry Fambrough.  The Spinners released this song on their Pick Of The Litter album in 1975.  This super smooth JAM marked the rare occasion when Henry Fambrough sang a song all the way through by himself.  And boy, did he sang it!  Yep, the Spinners are totally at the top of the heap of singing groups from days gone by.  John Edwards, Philippe’s replacement in ‘77, made a tremendous contribution to the longevity of the Spinners on the third leg of their extensive run.  I’m a big fan of the Atlantic/Philippe years but the beginnings at Motown and the “Working My Way Back To You/Cupid” era of John Edwards are also significant.  Then came the passing away of this institution’s great singers.  Philippe was the first to go after three solo albums brought moderately played JAMS like, “Like A Loser Needs A Winner (You’re All I Need),” “Starting All Over,” “That’s Alright Too” and the beautifully soulful, “Take Me As I Am.”  He also had an unlikely successful collaboration with Parliament/Funkadelic with songs like, “(Not Just) Knee Deep.”  In 1984 Philippe was performing onstage in Oakland, California when he suffered a heart attack; he died the next day.  Billy Henderson passed in 2007 and Bass singer, Pervis Jackson, left us in 2008.  Early on members C.P. Spencer, George Dixon and Chico Edwards passed away in 2004, 2005 and 2011 respectively.  Original members Henry Fambrough and Bobby Smith still tour with replacement members.  The Spinners… going into their 59th year of existence.  Unbelievable longevity, unbelievable talent, unbelievable history.  Peace!

Musically yours,

Reuben Yabuku

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