Detroit, Michigan, who joined The Domingoes in
1955, along with Henry Fambrough and Pervis Jackson.
The Domingoes were the brain child of Billy
Henderson and C.P. Spencer and the name was a fusion of The Dominoes and
The Flamingos. It was a little
too alike, however, and in 1961, they set themselves apart by renaming
themselves The Spinners, after the hubcaps on Smith’s car.
They inked a
deal with Harvey Fuqua’s Tri-Phi records and scored an immediate hit
with “That’s What Girls Were Made For” which reached #5
on the R&B chart in the summer of 1961. A young Marvin Gaye played
drums. The Spinners would later
open for him at the Apollo Theatre in New York. In 1963, Tri-Phi was gobbled up by
Motown impresario, Berry Gordy, and The Spinners toiled in relative
anonymity for about seven years.
They were a
hit as a live act, however, doing parodies of The Beatles, replete with
drums, guitars, and wigs.
Another facet to their stage performances was their choreography,
originally designed by Smith, but later fine-tuned by dance masters such as
Charlie Atkins and Diane Blanche.
Their unified dancing and harmonies led to live dates at venues like
New York’s Lincoln Center.
On the recording front, however, they were languishing under the big
tent of Motown.
wasn’t until Stevie Wonder took an interest in the group and offered
them one of his songs, co-penned with Lee Garrett and Syreeta
Wright, that The Spinners would enjoy their first
big Motown hit.
“It’s a Shame” gathered dust for about a year
until Motown finally released it in 1970. It went to #4 on the R&B chart
and #14 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In spite of this success, the group still wasn’t getting any
respect. Murray the K invited
them onto his program only to tell them that he had wanted them to do their
In 1972, at
the behest of Aretha Franklin, they moved to Atlantic Records, and it
turned out to be the best move of their career. Teamed with producer Thom Bell, The
Spinners became a hit-making machine, cranking out R&B #1s such as
“Could it Be I’m Falling in Love”, “I’ll Be
Around”, and “One of a Kind (Love Affair)”. All three songs appear on their
eponymous 1973 album, which rocketed to #1 on the R&B chart and stayed
there for three weeks, going gold in the process.
Child” went to #4 on the R&B chart and the title track of Mighty Love went to #1. “Then Came You”, with
Dionne Warwick, gave them their first and only #1 on the pop chart. “Living a Little, Laughing a
Little” and “Sadie” both reached #7 on the R&B
chart. The Spinners showed off
their gift for mimickry on their Live! album
in 1975, lampooning artists ranging from Louis Armstrong to Elvis
releasing studio albums throughout the ‘70s, but the hits dried up
until Michael Zager took them under his wing and
co-wrote and produced a pair of medleys that temporarily returned them to
the top of the charts. “Cupid/I’ve
Loved You For a Long Time” cracked the top five in the U.K. and
“Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl” topped the charts
there and reached #2 in the States.
latest flurry, The Spinners more or less left the recordings behind and
focused on their live performances, joining the ever popular oldies
circuit. With plenty of
repertory in their arsenal, The Spinners enjoy semi-retirement, performing
mainly on the weekends.
Amazingly, Henry Fambrough and Bobbie
Smith continued to lead the group, nearly fifty years after its inception.
2012 he was diagnosed with lung cancer and in March 2013 Bobbie contracted
influenza and pneumonia, passing away from complications of them in Orlando, Florida.
He was 76 years old.
The Spinners recordings
Disco Ride (Jolyon
Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me,
Girl (Sandy Linzer/Denny