An Interview With The Last Original Member Of The Spinners --- Henry Fambrough
Henry Fambrough is the last original member of the Motown group, The Spinners, and has insight to share. Fambrough, who recently turned 80 years old, says that he still feels the same as he did when he was 20. As an 80-year-old, Fambrough is able to share a depth of wisdom and experience with readers.
Fambrough started the interview by reliving the early days of The Spinners originally called The Domingos. The group was brought to the forefront of the musical frenzy with the help of television recalls the singer. In their younger days, The Spinners traveled the country opening for legend Marvin Gaye. Fambrough mentions The 20 Grand, a famous Detroit club where Motown patriarch Berry Gordy saw The Spinners perform and shortly after signing them to Motown.
Success was on the horizon for the group as they received their star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1976 --- a moment that Fambrough shares with great pride.
The ride to the top has not always been an easy one for The Spinners who have been coined The Forgotten group of Motown despite creating hits like “I’ll Always Love You,” “Truly Yours,” and the Stevie Wonder written and produced hit “It’s a Shame.” Fambrough did not disagree when asked about being labeled as forgotten. “That’s a hundred percent true,” responded Fambrough. In 1969, The Spinners left Motown for Atlantic Records because their contract was up and Fambrough says that, “no one was concentrating on The Spinners.” According to Fambrough, acts like The Temptations, The Four Tops, Diana Rose and The Supremes and Marvin Gaye were the highlights and The Spinners became lost in the shadow of these bigger acts.
However, Fambrough assured me that The Spinners have no animosity towards the Motown label and credits Motown for their success by Motown being the group’s “college,” or training ground. However, Fambrough feels the true catalyst of success for the group came from Stevie Wonder (while still at Motown).
“Stevie was a good friend before we recorded with him. He informed us that he had written a song for us. He had written several songs for us.” “It’s a Shame” landed the number four spot on the R&B charts. “It was a big hit across the country,” added the musician. “Our contract ran out… we were planning to leave Motown anyway. Nothing was happening until Stevie produced that song. Everything started happening on a good note.”
With the help of Stevie Wonder and, shortly after, a new beginning at Atlantic Records, The Spinners then met with Producer Tom Bell. Bell was another catalyst to the group taking off. The original member credits Bell for being the first one to concentrate on The Spinner’s unique sound. Fambrough recalls the day that Bell visited Detroit to interview The Spinners. Bell gave the group his undivided attention. “The first thing he did was had each of us sing into our tape recorder,” reminisced Fambrough. Additionally, the 80-year-old shared that Bell wanted the team of writers to write “straight from the voices” of The Spinners rather than from the music they heard in the past.
As Fambrough and I discussed the past, we also spoke of the comparison between the original group members versus the non-original members. “What’s it like performing today without the originals?" I asked.
“Almost the same,” assured the vocalist. “I taught the guys I got now. I taught them all the routines. We do the same type of show. The same songs. We get the same recognition from the audience that we got then. Maybe just a little bit more then than now because it was the originals.”
But, newer territory doesn’t seem to be a concern for this lead Spinner, because overall, he says the group is still getting “all the praises and recognition.”
With changes of record labels, group members, and a passage of time, Fambrough was always be content with the true identity of The Spinners. Fambrough held stern with his belief to never stray far from the original Spinners. “I introduced new guys. I taught them the same way. We didn’t lose anything because I insisted they learn and do it how the original guys did it.”
As time rolled on and members came and went, the message of music in and of itself along with the assitance of Producer Tom Bell, is what kept The Spinners together.
“Music is a worldwide communicator. Once you got a style, it is not going to change. Your style makes you different from any other kind of artists. The Spinners style came out with our Producer Tom Bell. [Tom] made us stand out.”
Another interesting factor that makes The Spinners stand out is how they always drew their inspiration from gospel music. As Fambrough informs me, many fans may not know that the basis of The Spinners sound is derived from the gospel genre.
The Spinners have had decades of success and are still remembered today. Fambrough informed me on how he learned to achieve such success. “The main thing --- you don’t let no one tell you not what you can do.”
The Hollywood Walk of Fame star says that you must find what your audience likes and draw from their wants. “You find what the audience likes from you, you put yourself forward with that. You can’t make an audience love you. You can only present what you present, and if they like it, that’s what you present more, and do what they want you to do.”
To this day, The Spinners are still getting on stage for their audience. As Fambrough reminded me, age is just a number and doesn’t stop this group who is living out their golden years performing and giving back. The Spinner performed a benefit concert at the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park for The Urban League of Greater Cleveland on November 15, 2018. The Spinners pride themselves on giving back and have been giving back ever since they became known according to Fambrough. “That’s part of success, when people love you, you give back the best you can.”
Felicia's background includes public relations writing, celebrity interviews and inspirational writing. Felicia grew up in Parma, Ohio. Her passions include road trips, acting, voiceovers, and writing.