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Spencer Davis Exhibition

Exhibition Dedicated to the Spencer Davis Group to Open at Catalina Island Museum 

With Steve Winwood singing such hits as “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m a Man,” the Spencer Davis Group was one of the most respected bands that invaded America during the 1960s.  Inspired by the soulful blues music of the American South, the group received the 1966-67 New Musical Express Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Group over runners up The Rolling Stones.  That same year their hit “Keep on Running’” became number one on the British charts, replacing “We Can Work it Out” and “Day Tripper” by the Beatles. 

The exhibition Gimme Some Lovin’: The Spencer Davis Group opens on June 30th at the Catalina Island Museum and is the first exhibition dedicated to the band.  The exhibition draws from Spencer Davis’ own archive of photographs, memorabilia and recorded interviews.

“Unlike so many groups coming out of Britain in the mid-1960s, the Spencer Davis Group was not a pop band trying to emulate the Beatles,” Michael De Marsche, director of the museum and curator of the exhibition recently stated.  “They were a band heavily indebted to American blues.  They incorporated that sound with greater authenticity than any other band of the time—British or American.  My question was: how did a bunch of white guys from England and Wales create music that sounded like it came from rural Mississippi or Alabama?”

To answer the question De Marsche sought out Spencer Davis, a long-time resident of Catalina Island.  The two met during a visit to the island by Pattie Boyd, former wife of George Harrison and Eric Clapton, whose photographs were exhibited at the Catalina Island Museum in 2011.

“I’ve been interested in the influence of the blues on British rock for a long time.  I thought I knew a thing or two until I met Spencer.  His knowledge is absolutely encyclopedic, and his interest started when he was a kid.  He had exotic tastes for his native Wales, and he developed early an abiding love for black musicians from the American South.  The raw emotion of the blues was far different than anything he could hear on BBC radio.  The music inspired him to pick up the guitar and sing.  After he enrolled in college, he realized that he could make a little money singing and playing the blues in little pubs and coffee shops.”

It was during Spencer Davis’ earliest days as a musician that a single comment from a pub owner changed his life.

“He was told that the trend was toward hiring groups like the Beatles, who were now all the rage in Britain,” states De Marsche.  “He’s living in Birmingham and begins to search the city for a few musicians who might share his interest in American blues.  He finds himself one night in a dark, little back room and hears a boy of 15 who is, in Spencer’s words, playing the piano like Oscar Peterson and singing like Ray Charles.  He recognized immediately that Steve Winwood was something special.  But, as Spencer is fond of saying, the important thing was that they had similar record collections.”

Spencer Davis’ discovery of Steve Winwood’s immense talent is a defining moment in rock history.  Joined by Steve’s brother Muff on bass and Peter York on drums, the Spencer Davis Group exploded onto the rock scene, releasing within a startling brief period of time a series of hits, including “Somebody Help Me,” “Keep on Running,” “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m a Man.”  The band rocketed from obscurity into instant stardom.  Much of the group’s popularity was based on Winwood’s voice, which seemed to strain plaintively for every note.  Few bands incorporated better the emotion of the blues with the driving beat, lilting rhythms and melodic lyricism of the Mersey Sound.  But just as the group was ready to hit the very heights of success and tour America, Steve Winwood suddenly left the Spencer Davis Group.  With little fanfare or explanation, he formed the band Traffic.  His departure was friendly and without rancor.  But many wonder if everything surrounding the break-up was fully revealed.

“The end came so abruptly that people had to ask ‘why?’  The group’s work was pioneering,” De Marsche states.  “Listen to the recordings.  Every member contributed, and it was a very tight band.  When Winwood left, they never had a number one hit again.  It’s a melancholy conclusion to that phase of the band’s history.  But I thought the story was fascinating.  And I asked Spencer if he had any photographs that might document various moments of the story.  He soon brought out box after box of not only photographs but a vast array of newspapers, magazines, awards, notes and record albums related to the early years of the group.”

It has taken six months to evaluate it all.  A documentary film accompanies the exhibition and is focused on interviews conducted with Davis while De Marsche organized the exhibition. 

“The film is shown in the gallery, where all the photographs are exhibited.  You can literally hear Spencer tell the story of the band while viewing the photographs,” De Marsche explains.  “His commentary reveals aspects of the group’s history never told before.  And it shouldn’t be forgotten that nearly all of the photographs haven’t been seen in over 50 years.  It’s a unique exhibition, offering a rare glimpse into one of the era’s most celebrated bands.“

The opening reception for the exhibition Gimme Some Lovin’: The Spencer Davis Group will take place on June 30th at 6:00 p.m at the Catalina Island Museum.  The reception is free to museum members and $10 for non-members.  The exhibition runs through August 22nd.  A symposium with Spencer Davis, Martin Lewis, Peter Asher, Micky Dolenz and Emperor Rosko entitled “The British Invasion Rocks America” will take place on Saturday, June 30th at 4:00 p.m. in the theater of the Avalon Casino.  Immediately following the symposium at 6:30 p.m., symposium participants will be available for a signing in the museum’s Harbor Room.  The signing is free to the public.    Spencer Davis and the Catalina Island All-Stars will perform during a Fourth of July Concert and Fireworks at The Point at the Avalon Casino.  The concert begins at 6:00 p.m.

For more information or to purchase tickets to the symposium, exhibition or concert, the museum may be reached by phone at 310-510-2414 or at its website: CatalinaMuseum.org.

The Catalina Island Museum is Avalon’s sole institution devoted to art, culture and history.  The museum, its digital theater and store are located on the ground floor of Avalon’s historic Casino and are open 7 days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 

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The Chicago Cubs trained on Catalina Island from 1921 to 1951.