Still Spinnin’

If you haven’t been to a Spinners concert in a while, it’s probably about time that you did. These guys don’t just move to the choreographed steps and sing hit after nostalgic hit. They are first and foremost entertainers, giving the music a vitality and energy, continually breathing fresh life into their timeless hits.
During their performance last time inside the Edgewater’s E Center, it didn’t take long for people to get into songs like “I’ll Be Around,” or “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love,” dancing in their seats and in the aisles, while the guys delivered these fan favorites.
One of the show highlights was their use of human-sized “rubber bands” choreographed into their hit, “Rubberband Man”— which was a very clever touch. If audiences are lucky, maybe the Spinners will do that again on their return trip to the Edgewater on Saturday, June 16.
The Spinners are proof it is possible for high school friends to bond together as a “garage” band and continue on throughout their lives as a unit. Forget egos, solo wannabes, money problems or just plain boredom. The majority of the original members of the Spinners stayed together delivering soulful tunes for their entire lives.
Billy Henderson, Henry Fambrough, Pervis Jackson, C.P. Spencer and Bobbie Smith started out as school friends, lived in the same neighborhood, sang together as youngsters, and continued singing…well, until all but one of them have passed. Henry Fambrough has the belief that it is the power of the music that keeps him going, collecting newer guys as partners along the way still keeping the Spinners music out there and their legacy alive.
Though they formed in 1954, The Spinners didn’t hit the top of the national charts until the mid ’60s. Even after a foray into the Motown stable of artists, it wasn’t until they signed with Atlantic Records in 1972, that they saw their careers take off. There were too many horses in the Motown stable, and the Spinners got lost in the shuffle. But with Atlantic, they charted their first Top 10 hit in “I’ll Be Around.” Follow-up singles included “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”, “One of a Kind (Love Affair)” and their 1974 collaboration with Dionne Warwick, “Then Came You.”
By early 1980, the single, “Working My Way Back to You,” was topping pop and R&B charts giving the group its 12th gold record and it’s sixth Grammy nomination.
While their chart career ended some time ago, they continue to bring the music that charmed a nation through live concerts and shows like the one they bring to the Edgewater. And that is thanks to the perseverance and dedication of Fambrough that the Spinners are still spinning.
“I’m still here and that’s a beautiful thing, but it’s also kind of sad,” Fambrough told the Laughlin entertainer. “All my guys are gone. We lost Billie Henderson in ’07, Pervis Jackson in ’08 and Bobbie Smith in 2013. I’m the last one of the originals. From the time we left school we were together, we stayed friends and we sang together. Along the way one fell off, but the nucleus kept going. We stayed together a majority of the time. Like the Four Tops, The Temptations, The Whispers and The Ojays, we lost members through time, but that’s the way it is—that’s life and you have to keep going.”
And the good news is Fambrough is still going strong.
“I thank the Lord for that,” he said. “I keep myself in shape, I eat the right foods and try to live a life that’s good, and that helps a lot. It’s just like a car, you put the wrong fuel in and it ain’t gonna run right. It’s gonna mess up. I try to eat right, exercise. I also have a swell bunch of guys with me and that helps ease things.
“Our bass singer is Jessie Peck; our lead singer is Charlton Washington; the youngest member is Marvin Taylor and Ronnie Moss is the newest member of the group.
“All the guys are good. They have the same outlook for the Spinners’ future as I have — and that’s what I was looking for when I went to replace my fellows. They had to have good values.
“They bring the same energy, the same drive and the same enthusiasm all the rest of the guys brought. In fact, they have more energy because they’re younger,” he added. “Some things are new to them and that really brings home the impact the group had on music. I put together a DVD that showed them a lot of the TV shows we did in the past. Our manager Buddy Allen put us on everything, every TV show on every network at the time. We did “Dinah Shore,” the “Midnight Special,” you name it. When we did the Dick Clark tribute in Las Vegas, they really, really loved that. They’ve never been into the entertainment world like that.”
Because the guys all focused on the music and the friendship that was in place since the beginning, they didn’t become prey to the seedy side of the music business like many fellow musicians did throughout the years.
“We had people who wanted to make a movie about the Spinners,” Fambrough said. “They came and interviewed us for two weeks — we went through everything and at the end they told us that if they made a movie about us it would have to be a documentary. ‘You’re clean,’ they told us. It takes a little dirt to sell movies. We didn’t do dope or whatever else was going on. But that’s what sells scripts — other people’s homes on fire. I didn’t do that stuff out of respect for my mother. My mom didn’t raise me like that and the guys in the group were the same way. We all lived in the same neighborhood and went to school together. Our parents knew each other. When they say it takes a neighborhood to raise a kid, that is very true. At least, it was in our case. It all comes back on your teaching.”
The Spinners weren’t always the Spinners.
“Our first name was the Domingoes and we changed it in about ’56, to the Spinners,” he said. “Bobbie came up with that name. While the rest of us collected girls, Bobbie collected old cars. At that time, Cadillac hubcaps had a ‘spinning’ quality to them and that’s where he came up with the name.”
Then a guy by the name of Harvey Fuqua came into the Spinners’ lives and changed their path and their story.
“Harvey Fuqua was the leader of the Moonglows in the late ’50s and became our first manager,” Fambrough explained. “Harvey knew music and how to arrange our harmony right — he taught us. We signed with him in ’59 and he started a record company called Tri-Phi Records. He was dating Berry Gordy’s sister at the time and he wrote our first record ‘That’s What Girls Are Made For’ in ’61. We came out of the gate into the Top 40 right away. That was a big hit for us.
“Tri-Phi merged with Motown. It was a small label and couldn’t sustain itself, so that’s how we signed with Motown in 1964. I think our first release was ‘Sweet Thing’ by Harvey Hunter and a later release called ‘I’ll Always Love You,’ by Mickey Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter. They didn’t chart like we wanted them to. By that time, in ’66, Motown came into its own. Berry (Gordy) had the Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, and Smokey Robinson. Radio could play just so many songs in an hour by one company. We got lost in the shuffle.
“In 1968 or ’69, Stevie Wonder wrote and produced a song for us, ‘It’s A Shame,’ and it sat for a year before Motown released it. Stevie had to raise hell to get them to release it and it was a big hit for us, one of our biggest hits. It was a good thing because in 1970, our contract ran out with Motown and we had the chance to leave the company on a hit.
“We were traveling with Aretha Franklin, who told us that Atlantic Records would be a good move for us. After we signed with them, Thom Bell became our producer. He told us we had to sing on his tape recorder, each of us separately, to get our voice texture. No one had ever done that. No one had ever written specifically for our voices. If a producer at Motown had a song, they gave it to the top artists, it didn’t matter about who could sing it better.
“Thom wrote a group of songs for us, ‘Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,’ ‘I’ll Be Around,’ ‘Just You and Me Baby,’ and ‘How Could I Let You Get Away,’ and three out of four of them were million sellers. It was our first album on Atlantic Records so we were crossing our fingers, crossing our legs, crossing our eyes hoping to get another chance…and the hits kept coming,” he said.
“We told Thom the first time we released our first song, that if it’s a hit, ‘we’ll buy you a Cadillac.’ He also told us that he believed within a year we would be the No. 1 group in the country, and we were like, ‘yeah, ok, good,’ not really believing it. When the song took off, we were in the studio getting ready to start recording again and Thom comes on the mic and says, ‘By the way, I need my car!’ Come to find out, he couldn’t even drive.”
Fambrough and his guys were men of their word then and remained that way throughout their career, with values and standards that didn’t waiver with the changing times.
“From the time we were school kids, all of our music has been about love and happiness. There was never a derogatory thing about anyone or anything. If I was raising kids I don’t know that there’s anything on the radio now I’d want them to listen to,” he said.
An example of that honor…
“We worked with Burt Bacharach in Las Vegas and he wrote a song for us that we didn’t get a chance to record because of scheduling conflict or timing,” Fambrough said. “I always regretted that we didn’t do the song because you never know what would have been. Quincy Jones wanted to work with us, too, but it was the same thing. We were dedicated to our schedule.
“We may have been too loyal. I guess that’s the way to put it. Where there’s an opportunity to jump ship a lot of guys are like, ‘forget you, I’m going over here.'”
The Spinners’ dedication to the live show is another thing that has never faltered.
“People want to hear our hits and we give it to them,” Fambrough said. “We can’t do everything — if we did, we’d be there three or four hours. All the things we can’t get to in their entirety, we put in a medley, so we get most of it in there so people can say they heard their song.
“We know we get people that come out to see us who want to forget the problems they might be having. When we’re on stage and we look out and see joy on their faces — see them jumping up, their eyes light up and they’re clutching their chest like they’re having a heart attack — when we see that, we can see that we’re touching a lot of people out there and that makes you feel damn good.”


THE SPINNERS

The E Center at the Edgewater

Saturday, June 16 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for tickets