Tenor from Indianapolis, Indiana, who relocated to Ferndale, Michigan, and co-founded The Domingoes with his high-school chums, Henry Fambrough, Pervis Jackson, and Bobbie Smith. They first performed at the Idlewild Resort on a double bill with a successful local group known as The Four Aims, who would go on to become The Four Tops.
The Domingoes, named after the members’ favourite groups, The Dominoes and The Flamingos, would go on to become The Spinners in 1961. They immediately scored a hit on Tri-Phi Records with “That’s What Girls Are Made For”, which cracked the top thirty on the pop chart.
In 1963, Tri-Phi was gobbled up by Motown impresario Berry Gordy and The Spinners toiled in obscurity for about seven years. They did manage a top-forty hit in 1965 with “I’ll Always Love You”, but it wasn’t until 1970 that they would enter the top twenty with “It’s A Shame”, co-penned and co-produced by Stevie Wonder.
In spite of its success, Motown wasted little energy in promoting the group, and they gravitated to Atlantic, at the behest of Aretha Franklin. Here they hooked up with producer Thom Bell who helped to give them a distinctive sound by playing to their strengths, namely their tight harmonies, and offering equally tight arrangements, fusing horns, strings, and unique rhythms.
“Could it Be I’m Falling in Love” hit the top five, “I’ll Be Around” went to #3, “The Rubberband Man” stretched to #2, and “Then Came You”, with Dionne Warwick, became the first #1 record for Dionne or The Spinners. “The Rubberband Man” became Billy’s nickname, because of his on-stage elasticity.
The Spinners’ hits dried up until 1980, when they made a comeback of sorts with Michael Zager, who produced a pair of medleys, “Cupid/I’ve Loved You for a Long Time” and “Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl”. The latter topped the charts in the U.K. and peaked at #2 in the U.S. “Cupid” reached top-five status in Great Britain.
After this short-lived return to chart success, The Spinners picked up their toys and hit the road to join the burgeoning oldies circuit. Billy continued to perform with the group through the beginning of the new millennium, then filed a lawsuit against their business manager, resulting in his dismissal.
To make matters worse, he was diagnosed with diabetes, which claimed both of his legs and eventually killed him, on 2nd February 2007. At the time of his death, plans were in the works to start up The Spinners Part Too, Inc. His funeral was held at Volusia Memorial Park and Funeral Home on 10th February and he was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Florida.
There are ample opportunities to see and hear Billy performing with The Spinners, on videos such as The Spinners: In Concert and CDs such as The Chrome Collection and One of a Kind Love Affair: The Anthology.
The Spinners recordings
Disco Ride (Jolyon Skinner/Eltesa Weathersby/Michael Zager)
Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl (Sandy Linzer/Denny Randello/Michael Zager)