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  1. #1

    The Spinners: Q&A with Bobbie Smith

    The Spinners are appearing in York, PA on 2/25/2012 at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center. In conjunction with promotion of this appearance, the Patriot News PennLive published a story on 2/24 written by David N. Dunkle of the Patriot News.

    I would like to share what he wrote, but I do not know how to upload the article. I am not that computer literate, so for the benefit of all, I will have to retype the small story.

    The Spinners got caught in the wash at Motown Records during the 1960's, lost in the star studded linup of soul groups like the Temptations, Miracles, and the Supremes, not to mention the Four Tops, the Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye.

    The vocal quintet out of Detroit, which took its name from a style of spinning wheels that were popular on automobiles in its hometown, scored some minor hits early on, starting with 1961's "That's What Girls Are Made For," which featured vocals by a young singer named Bobbie Smith.

    But the Spinners couldn't gain much traction at Berry Gordy's legendary studio, despite the labels enviable track record of opening doors for African-American musical groups. Motown artists scored 110 Top 10 hits on the Billboard charts between 1961 and 1971. "We did have some hits at Motown, but what always happened is that we'd have to wait a year or so to get another record out," Smith said during a recent interview. "Once you get a hit, you have to follow it up. With us, by the time we could get a new song out it was always like we were starting over."

    It got so bad at one point that Smith was reduced to playing chauffeur and chaperone on the road for Martha and the Vandellas, another Motown act, just to get some spending money. By the time the Spinners finally scored a big hit on Motown with "It's a Shame" group members were already looking for the exits. At the suggestion of "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin, the group made a move to the Atlantic label in 1972, where it was paired with producer Thom Bell. The results were magic.

    Under Bell's guidance, and with new singer Phillipe Wynne on board, the Spinners twirled out a string of hits record, starting with "I'll Be Around," and continuing with "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love," "One of a Kind Love Affair," "Then Came You" (with Dionne Warwick), "The Rubberband Man" and "They Just Can't Stop the Games People Play.

    Decades later, the Spinners are still performing their soulful hits on the nostalgia circuit. Original members Smith and Henry Fambrough are still on board, along with three younger members, Charlton Washington, Jessie Peck, and Marvin Gaylot. The other original members have mostly passed away, most recently Pervis Jackson, who died of cancer in 2008.

    Here's what else Smith had to say from his home in Florida:

    You've been part of the Spinners since 1954. Why are you still doing this at age 71?

    Basically beause that is what I do with myself. I like golf and I love old cars. I tinker with my cars. But what would I do with myself? Basically, we work weekends now because I don't like being out there for a long period of time. I look at this like semiretired. I would miss my fans. As long as I feel good and feel like I can do it, I'm going to keep on. I would be afraid to quit. When people retire, that's when they die.

    Looking back now, was the time at Motown a good experience?

    Motown had a lot of groups of the same caliber as the Spinners, so we felt like we were always getting lost in the shuffle. But it was a good learning experience. To me, it was like going to college and coming out an A student.

    Did you leave under a cloud?

    The Spinners happen to be a group that is very loyal. Sometimes you can be too loyal for your own good. At Motown, we never envied anybody or got angry. When we got to Atlantic and got with Thom, we were ready. When things do happen for you, like they did for us at Atlantic, it just seems like your time and everything just falls into place.

    Did fame change you?

    I was making a good living and not having to worry about where the next rent was coming from. Other than that, I don't see that I've changed.

    What's life like for your now?

    I still cut my own grass, do my own electrical work. I'm not into material things. Right now, I'm working on my sprinkler system. That doesn't make you feel like a star.

    Any thoughts of doing a Spinners album of new material?

    We haven't been in the studio for quite awhile. I had a throat operation, which set me back. But it's something that is in the works. We've already recorded a few songs. We'd like to see it happen, but I can't give you a release date.

    Do you ever get tired of singing those old Spinners hits?

    Sometimes you feel like you'd like to do something new. We had great songs on our albums other than the ones that were hits on the radio. But it just doesn't work that way. Our fans want to hear those hits. They'd be disappointed if they didn't. We know our fans made us what we are, so we feel obligated to give them what they want to hear. Plus, they are great songs.

  2. #2
    This is a great article! Thank you very much Woodward for sharing it with us!!!

  3. #3
    I LOVE the Spinners. I am firmly of the belief that they are easily the most under-rated group from that era. You should visit the TV-One site and watch the "Unsung" about them. It's one of the few episodes of that series that is not as depressing as it is informative and uplifting.

  4. #4
    Yes a great piece on one of the great vocal groups of all time,i remember reading about them driving other motown groups around it's very big of them not to be bitter,and i was very glad they went to atlantic and had success no group deserved it more ironically my favorite by them is from the motown period[i'll always love you]great song,great group!

  5. #5
    The Spinners were one of the most successful groups of the seventies and one of the greatest of all times!

  6. #6
    Thanks woodward, I hope that their complete Motown recordings will soon be on the way.

  7. #7
    Thom Bell was a godsend for the Spinners. Every once in awhile, a producer or writer just meshes with an act and the result is fantastic.

  8. #8
    my fave Spinners records will always be "I'll Always Love You" & "Truly Yours".

  9. #9
    My favorites by the Spinners (include but not limited to):

    How Could I Let You Get Away
    Love Don't Love Nobody
    Mighty Love
    Games People Play
    I Don't Want to Lose You

  10. #10
    I'll Be Around
    Games People Play
    Love Don't Love Nobody
    (I could take a bunch as my fourth favorites.)

  11. #11
    How dare you mention Atlantic product on this website. Go to your rooms and don`t come out until have listened to "Original" and "2nd Time Around" ten times!

  12. #12
    LOL. Not just Atlantic, but Philly music to make it worse! Beat me ten times with a Temps "Ball of Confusion" 45.

  13. #13
    Great interview to read. I saw the Spinners live in England when they toured with the Four Tops in the Seventies. Although they had moved to Atlantic by then, I remember them doing quite a few of their Motown recordings and then had a segment during their act when they impersonated other Motown acts including the Tops, Supremes (with wigs) and Stevie. They were very entertaining and obviously made a big impact. I continued to buy all their releases which were always quality recordings. I don't think they ever made a bad record.


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Ralph Terrana

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