David Nathan talks to the guys as they unfurl the dawning of a new era with the addition of John Edwards to replace lead singer Philippe Wynne...
WHEN the news first came through that lead singer Philippe Wynne was leaving the super Spinners to enter the ministry, many folks were concerned as to exactly what that would mean in terms of the group's ever-flourishing career. Worry no longer, people! Mr. Wynne has been succeeded by an equally capable, very talented and vocally inspiring young man by the name of John Edwards.
To true soul fans, the name is not new: Mr. Edwards has enjoyed several r&b records on G.R.C.'s Aware label, now, of course, defunct. In addition, a David Porter produced album on Cotillion was released towards the end of 1976, indicating the full vocal potential of the young man.
He stepped in for Philippe during 1975 for about eight weeks and according to all and sundry, no one asked for their money back! Hardly surprising because the talented young man has the power to mesmerize everyone and with four equally talented and truly professional gentlemen like Pervis Jackson, Bobby Smith, Henry Fambrough and Billy Henderson working with him, how could he possibly fail?
We managed to catch up with the ever-busy Spinners a few weeks prior to their European tour, just a couple of nights after opening to packed houses at the Latin Casino in New Jersey. As usual, the group had sold out — now a fact of life wherever they go.
That the group have reached a particular peak in their career is unquestionable but they all feel that with the addition of Mr. Edwards, a whole new era is opening up for them.
"We all feel that it just couldn't be better," reply the four gentlemen who have been the backbone of the group from the very beginning. "We feel that in John we have someone with a strong voice, more class than ever before and we're hanging in stronger than ever before. Plus, we're happier because John has become part of the group, part of the family.
"Philippe's departure wasn't exactly a surprise and it was just a matter of time before he finally made up his mind that he was ready to leave. Right up to the end, though, we must say that Philippe still did his best. It's like our last night, he worked as hard as ever he's ever worked with us and that's a completely professional attitude to have."
Joining a group like the Spinners when they continue to be as hot as ever can be no easy feat for anyone. How did Mr. Edwards adjust to it?
"Well, of course, I was familiar with much of the group's material from working with them before, I knew the lyrics and the melodies. But I had to loosen up these ankles and toes," he laughs.
"It took a lot of time and practise for me to get into the group's choreography because there's a lot of it and I had never been accustomed to doing too much myself before. You know, I'd do a little bit but mostly, it would be the band that I was with that would be into it.
"But actually fitting into the group? I'd never sung with a group before, in fact, my only experience with harmonies had been whilst I was in church. So it could have been really hard, especially with a group of the calibre of the Spinners. But they have been so patient and made me feel so good.
"Yes, they're perfectionists — which is why they're so big. And all the people around them are perfectionists — Buddy Allen, our manager, Maurice King, our musical conductor and of course, Thom Bell. But that kind of attitude comes out of maturity and you must respect and go along with it. And I do!
"On top of that, there's been no ego problem for me, which, yes, surprises me too! It would be easy to slip and take your position out of the context of what it really is but being surrounded by the guys in this group, there's no way you could!
"People have wondered how I would deal with the guys especially since they all grew up together and I'm coming in from the outside, but it's been really fantastic. Sure, we have our little squabbles — any family does — but after the shows, hey, we're right back together again and those squabbles are few and far between."
Of course, aside from his appearance, onstage, the one question strong in everyone's mind is how Mr. Edwards arrival is going to affect what is now unquestionable the Spinners' own particular "sound". You can actually sample that on the group's latest album, "Yesterday, — Today — and Tomorrow" by listening to the cut, "Honey I'm In Love With You", the first track which John has overdubbed since joining the group.
In fact, by the time you read this, the group with John will have been back in the studious cutting material, that they've already been rehearsing with their genial genius of a producer, Mr. Thom Bell.
John says: "I was something in awe of Thom because I've grown up with his records — seen his name here, there and everywhere and I didn't know how he would be. But it's so refreshing to work with a producer who has a master plan and Thom has it!"
Other members are quick to add their own comments about the man. "You've got to bear in mind that Thom is an excellent musican in his own right, which means he can explain exactly what he wants and he has his concept of what he wants ready long before we get to the studio. Plus what most people don't know is that the man can sing! He has a fantastic voice and he can show us exactly what he wants because his range is incredible.
"And yet, he leaves us enough room to freewheel and ad-lib wherever it's practical and makes sense.
"The secret of what Thom does is that he produces specifically for the group — in other words, he picks the material designed for each voice, the arrangements are tailor-made. It's just incredible because he can hear the strings, the horns and what they're playing long before we ever get to that stage in recording. He knows exactly what he's aiming for."
Which must certainly explain why Mr. Bell's aim always seems to be right on target.
"With the addition of John, the group's sound won't change but it will give Thom a whole other voice to work with," comments the group. "The material we're working on now is very exciting because it shows a progression and Thom is very excited about working with John because it will give him a whole new area to work in."
Which should answer all those folk who were claiming that the Spinners/Thom Bell sound was beginning to get just a little stale.
Not that anyone who gives a close listen to the latest album from the group will be able to say that. "What has really contributed so much to us continuing to be successful record-wise has been Thom's consistent policy of changing. His whole attitude has always been to keep changing.
"Look at the difference just between "Rubberband Man" and "Throwing A Good Love Away"! He's always aimed for variety throughout our albums and people are constantly commenting on that. The basic themes may stay the same but Thom varies the songs.
"Like on this album, we have "You're The Love Of My Life" which should appeal directly to teenagers. And there's "Beg, Steal Or Borrow" which is in the "Love Don't Love Nobody" vein. And the track John leads, "Honey, I'm In Love" that's for the discos — it's totally funky, something you don't normally associate with the Spinners."
Certainly, the album's immediate acceptance suggests that it will find its way into the collection of gold that the group has amassed since joining Atlantic — they now have a staggering collection of eleven gold records, with two on the horizon if the current pattern of their album and new single's sales continues the way it has.
So to the future. The Spinners must be amongst the busiest performers around and they don't complain. Recalling their Motown days, the group says, "We were on an eight-year vacation so having been out on the road almost non-stop since 1972 doesn't bother us at all! Sure, we look forward to the day when we'll have time off but it's not going to be here any time soon!
"We still have so much to accomplish and when we did have time off earlier in the year, it was really to work and rehearse with John. But we have so much ahead of us — a lot of television dates coming up and we've got to really wait until everything settles back down now that we have a new member with us. It's going to take a little bit of time but it means we won't be slowing up any time soon."
Yesterday may have been spent in preparation, today has proven the group's incredible ability and tomorrow looks dazzling for the soulful Spinners.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.