Musicians knew who they were, though, thanks to the group’s showmanship. In the liner notes to “The Chrome Collection,” a 2003 boxed set, David Bowie credits the group with the best show he ever saw.
Even a Stevie Wonder-produced 1970 hit, “It’s a Shame,” didn’t help the group at Motown, which had by then assigned them to a minor subsidiary called VIP. The label let them go not long after.
Thanks to advice from fan Aretha Franklin, the Spinners soon got another chance, with Atlantic Records. More importantly, in Thom Bell they had a producer who catered to their musical strengths. Bell was also responsible for arranging or producing a huge number of songs at the Philadelphia International label, owned by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.
“His way of producing was top of the line,” Henderson told CNN in 2003. (Henderson died in 2007.) “With Bell, everything was designed for us.”
For the next several years, it was hit after hit: “I’ll be Around,” “One of a Kind (Love Affair),” “Then Came You” (with Dionne Warwick), “The Rubberband Man,” and “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love.” Smith split the lead vocal duties with Philippe Wynne.
“We had always been promised (by Motown) that, ‘This is your year,’ ” Henderson recalled. Atlantic “moved us into a new circle.”
“The Spinners were the greatest soul group of the early ’70s, creating a body of work that defined the lush, seductive sound of Philly soul,” wrote Stephen Thomas Erlewine on Allmusic.com.
Despite occasional changes, the band was remarkably long-lived. After Wynne left the band in 1977 (he died in 1984), various combinations of Smith, Henderson, Jackson, Fambrough and “It’s a Shame” vocalist G.C. Cameron toured with the Spinners into the early 2000s.
Overall, the band had seven top 10 singles and five gold albums. The Spinners were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999 and have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Smith was diagnosed with lung cancer las
t November, according to the statement. Among his final requests was “to make people aware of his cancer, so as to once again bring to the forefront the many dangers of smoking.”