In its original incarnation, the Spencer Davis Group was one of the best R&B or pop bands of the British Invasion. Unfortunately, that incarnation only stayed together long enough to record two albums. Fortunately, Sundazed has reissued both on CD, each with eight bonus tracks.
The reason the lineup was so short-lived was, of course, because it was inevitable that the youngest but most talented member of the band, Steve Winwood, would take the reigns of his own group, Traffic, and an eventual solo career. But while with Davis, this triple-threat phenom (singer/songwriter/instrumentalist) recorded some truly astounding music, including the hits “Gimme Some Lovin'” and “I’m a Man” – which only becomes more astonishing when you consider that he was in his mid teens at the time.
Ironically, Winwood’s formidable vocal and keyboard strengths overshadow his guitar playing in discussions of the British blues revival, but a listen to “Stevie’s Blues,” cut when he was 17, clearly shows he earns a spot alongside Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor. A warm, distorted tone, perfectly intonated bends, and a visceral intensity belie his age or nationality.
“On the Green Light,” its title obviously a nod to Booker T & The MGs, gives Winwood a chance to trade solos with himself, on Hammond organ and lead guitar – atop a swinging groove provided by drummer Peter York and brother Muff Winwood, the bassist pumping away on the aforementioned hits and “Keep On Running.” The latter displays the Jamaican influence of songwriter Jackie Edwards, whom the band also tapped for “I Can’t Stand It” and “When I Come Home” – both co-written by Steve.
As for Davis himself, he supplies the folk element of the group, as on his solo piece “Midnight Special” (the American folk song, mysteriously credited to him) and “The Hammer Song,” with his acoustic 12-string backing another fine Winwood vocal.
The band is first-rate, but lest there be any doubt who makes it so special, check out the quartet’s cover of the Righteous Brothers’ “My Babe.” The verses are sung by the group, with Stevie transforming the ditty as he blasts in on the choruses. Imagine the Kingsmen backing Ray Charles.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.