Q&A: Henry Fambrough keeps The Spinners rolling

The Spinners

The Spinners hit the stage at the Carson Valley Inn on Saturday, July 8.

The Spinners are working their way back to Northern Nevada. The group has been a R&B radio force since the 1960s with songs such as “The Rubberband Man,” “Then Came You,” “One of a Kind (Love Affair)” and “Working My Way Back to You.”

Five friends from a Detroit suburb started a band in 1954. For five years, it was called the Domingoes, a name that people mispronounced, misspelled or couldn’t remember. When they decided to rename the band, each member presented a suggestion. Bobby Smith, who restored cars as a hobby, came up The Spinners, named for a Cadillac hubcap.

“It worked out pretty good,” Henry Fambrough said.

Smith sang lead on the band’s first single, “That’s What Girls Are Made For,” released in 1961. Two years later, The Spinners signed a record deal with Motown, and in 1964 it debuted at the Apollo Theater and soon thereafter had a hit song, “I Will Aways Love You.”

Fambrough, 79, is the only surviving original member of The Spinners, which he says performs 75 percent of the year. The other members are Jessie Peck, Marvin Taylor, Ronnis Moss and Charlton Washington.

The Spinners will play at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 8, in TJ’s Corral at the Carson Valley Inn. Tickets start at $39.

Here are excerpts of Fambrough’s recent interview with Tahoe Onstage:.

Do you recall the performing in the Apollo Theater?
Oh yeah, the Apollo Theater was our second home. We went to New York two or three times a year. The Apollo Theater was a fun place to work. They had a helluva back-up band at the Apollo that would play for just about all the artists who went through there. It was the Reuben Phillips Orchestra. Just before we left Motown, we started using our own support group.

How long was your set?

They would have six or eight acts on the show so you just performed your hit songs at the time. We didn’t put on a whole show.

Was it competitive?

Not directly but everybody did try to outperform the other artists. You wanted to do your best because you didn’t want anybody to outshine you.

Why was Detroit the Mecca for soul music?

Even before Motown they had a couple of recording companies there. When Berry (Gordy) started his company, he took it in another direction. That little twist he had going and the artists he developed, that moved Motown to the top of the list across the country.

Henry Fambrough

Henry Fambrough

Did you ever know which of your songs was going to become a hit?

No. We tried to figure out which will be the hit but we never could do it. But (Atlantic Records producer) Thom Bell had it right all the time. When we recorded “And Then Came You” with Dionne Warwick, that was the second song we recorded with her. The first song was a ballad. I was singing the lead with her, “Just as Long as We Have Love.” We kept saying, “That’s going to be a big hit.” And Thom said, “I don’t know. We’re going to have to wait and see.” Then we put out “And Then Came You,” and that was the biggest record we ever had. That was the first time we scored No. 1 on the Billboard chart.

Didn’t “It’s a Shame” come out earlier? Wasn’t that a huge hit, too?

Oh yes. “It’s a Shame” was the last song we recorded at Motown. When our contract ran out, “It’s a Shame” was a big hit for us. Then we signed with Atlantic. We left Motown with a big hit, which was a good thing.

Stevie Wonder wrote that song, right?

Stevie Wonder was the sole producer of that record. He recorded it. He played drums on it and he played a couple of more instruments on it. We recorded it in 1969 but they didn’t release it until 1970. It sat on a shelf in Motown. Stevie Wonder had to go directly to Berry to get them to put it out.

You say it was good to leave Motown?

The whole time we were there, we got lost in the shuffle. All the artists, all the writers, they were writing for the acts that were already there. They were writing for Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Supremes, Four Tops, just to name a few. And if you are a producer and writer, quite naturally you would want your song to go to one of the top acts that was there. So we got lost in the shuffle for nine or 10 years. When our contract ran out, we just kept going.

The Spinners collaborated with Rappin’ Forte in the early 1990s on “I’ll Be Around.” How did that come about?

You know what? My manager at the time was Buddy Allen. With the people that were handling that Forte, we didn’t want to do it but Buddy said, “Let’s just go ahead and do it. It might help us out a little bit. So we did it but we didn’t hang around with that too much. Because that wasn’t right. I think after he made the song with us, I think he went back to jail.

What is your take on rap and hip-hop and how does it relate to soul and R&B?

You’ve got so many different kind of raps out there. You’ve got the one that is OK lyric wise. But then you’ve got the other ones that are not OK that I wouldn’t want anybody to listen to with the kind of language they use. I’m just not into it all because half the time you can’t understand what the hell they’re saying anyway. At least I can’t. Most of the time it’s nothing original. They’re always grabbing something that’s already been done.

But doesn’t that get you some royalties when they sample Spinners music?

Oh yes. Anytime they use our music, the producers and the writers get paid for that.

How have you been able to keep your voice in shape?

I have no problem with it. I do my scales all the time and I get my rest, that’s the main thing. And I try not to strain when I sing. I did have a voice coach back in early ’60s, so that’s helped out a lot, singing correctly.

There are so many Spinner songs, how do you come up with your set list?

We do about a 75 minute show and we can’t do everything. So at the end of the show, we compile a medley of songs that were hits, and then we finish with “Rubberband Man.” … That choreography keeps us in shape.

What’s your favorite Spinners song?

I love everything we’ve done but I’m kind of partial to the “Mighty Love” album.

What do you like to listen to?

When I’m home I play spiritual music, like the Blind Boys (of Alabama). That’s how I got started, singing in the church.

Do you still live in Michigan?

Yes, I am in Troy, Michigan. I like California, but not all that shaking they got going on out there. I got caught in one. I was at the Continental Hotel. I was on the seventh floor and when I looked out of the window, the houses looked like little ships on the water. It scared the hell out of me.

-Tim Parsons


About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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