The Place Is On Fire

The Spencer Davis Group was a mid-1960s British beat group from Birmingham, England.  In their heyday the group consisted of song writer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Spencer Davis, singer, keyboard player and guitar player Steve Winwood, Steve’s older brother five years his senior Muff (Mervyn) Winwood who played bass guitar and drummer Pete York.  Steve Winwood, Muff Winwood and Spencer Davies wrote the song ‘Gimmie Some Lovin’’ and it came out on their 1966 album The Best of the Spencer Davis Group, which charted #2 in the UK and went to #7 in the US.  Muff came up with the name of Spencer Davis Group because Spencer was the only one who enjoyed doing interviews and this allowed the others to stay in bed, or head down to the pub.

They had two #1 hits in the UK, ‘Keep On Running’ and ‘Somebody Help Me’, but their only song to make the US Top 10 was ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’.  Driven by Steve Winwood’s Hammond organ along with Muff’s powerful bass riff the song became an immediate blues classic, and it was covered by The Blues Brothers, Olivia Newton-John, Chicago, Queen, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Traffic, The Grateful Dead and many other groups.  It was ranked number 247 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’ appeared in over 20 Hollywood movies including Notting Hill, Good Morning Vietnam, Days of Thunder, The Big Chill and Sleepers.  It was one of the first songs that Winwood says he wrote which wasn’t derivative of something already recorded, although it does contain a groove from the Homer Banks song ‘(Ain’t That) A Lot of Love’ which was written by Banks and Willie Dean Parker.  In court it was later ruled that they could not have copied the bass riff from that song, because the British rockers did not have a reasonable possibility of accessing it.

In the early 1960s, Spencer Davis was a language scholar at University of Birmingham, England, when he decided he wanted to start a rock band.  As a child he had learned to play harmonica and piano accordion.  In 1960, 19 year old Spencer Davis made some duo appearances with future Fleetwood Mac member Christine McVie, (at the time, she was 17 and known as Christine Perfect).  Pete York started playing drums in Birmingham and when he was 18 and he joined a band with the jazz trumpeter Eddie Matthews.  Pete York saw Spencer Davis sing at Birmingham University and they got to know each other.

Steve was playing guitar with Muff and their multi-instrumentalist father in the Ron Atkinson Band at the age of eight, soon after he mastered drums and piano.  In 1959 while still at school, the Winwood brothers had their first group called Johnny Star and The Planets with 11 year old Steve on guitar, Muff on the drums and his class mate Dave Palmer on the bass guitar.  In 1963, they reorganized into the Muff Woody Jazz Band.  Someone told Spencer Davis to check out the Muff Woody Jazz Band with guitar-player Muff Winwood, who would later switch to bass, and this kid Steve Winwood playing piano at the Golden Eagle in Hill Street.  They joined forces to form the The Rhythm and Blues Quartet in 1963, but soon changed their name to the Spencer Davis Group.

Chris Blackwell visionary music promoter and founder of Island Records discovered the group and he became their producer signing them to Phillips owned Fontana.  Blackwell became interested in the American market for the group, and out of desperation, he rented a rehearsal room at the Marquee Club and told the group not to come out until they’d written an original song that would go over well in the US.  Under pressure to perform, The Spencer Davis Group began to jam while lead singer Stevie began singing, “Gimme some lovin”, by just yelling anything that came to mind.  After about half an hour they stumbled onto a riff that they liked, worked out the middle eight and a short while later they had written and arranged the whole song.  They went down to the pub on the corner for lunch and when Blackwell came to see how they were doing, he found their equipment set up and no one was there, so he stormed into the pub screaming, “How can you do this?”  They told him not to worry, because they were all confident that this new song that they finished was going to be a hit.

Blackwell had them record with producer Jimmy Miller and ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’ was the result of this effort.  Miller sped up the original track slightly to create a brighter sound, and adjusted it to get a live feel and he made the US release more appealing to American taste by adding percussion and gospel-inspired backing vocals provided by members of Winwood’s next band, Traffic.  The song sold over a million copies, eventually going gold, and became the first American hit for The Spencer Davis Group.

Steve Winwood left the group in 1967 to form his own band Traffic, and eventually became part of a short-lived supergroup Blind Faith.  Muff simultaneously staged his exit to work as an A&R agent at Island Records.  The Spencer Davis group went on without them, as Spencer and Pete brought guitarist Phil Sawyer (soon to be replaced by Ray Fenwick) and vocalist and keyboardist Eddie Hardin on board to cement the revised outfit.  York and Hardin also left to form their own group Hardin & York and the band never again enjoyed the acclaim that had defined their early years.

The single was released in America on United Artists but it was covered by a Philadelphia band called the Jordan Brothers before the Spencer Davis version was issued in America.  Dave Mason, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood wail away on background vocals for the American version of ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’, while the European version didn’t have background vocals.  Jimmy Miller contributed the opening cowbell on ‘Honky Tonk Women and he was the drummer on ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, working with the Rolling Stones producing some of their best albums Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main St. and Goats Head Soup.  He also worked with Traffic, Blind Faith and several other rock groups and he produced around 100 gold records.

Well, my temperature is rising, got my feet on the floor
Crazy people rocking ‘cause they want to some more
Let me in baby, I don’t know what you got
But you better take it easy ‘cause this place is hot

And I’m so glad you made it, so glad you made it
You got to gimme some lovin’, gimme, gimme some lovin’
Gimme some lovin’, gimme, gimme some lovin’
Gimme some lovin’ everyday

Well, I feel so good, everything’s getting high
You better take it easy ‘cause the place is on fire
Been a hard day and I had no work to do
Wait a minute baby, let it happen to you

And I’m so glad we made it, so glad we made it
You got to gimme some lovin’, gimme, gimme some lovin’
Gimme some lovin’, gimme, gimme some lovin’
Gimme some lovin’ everyday, yeh

Well, I feel so good, everything’s getting high
You better take it easy ‘cause the place is on fire
Been a hard day nothing went too good
Now I’m gonna relax, buddy everybody should

And I’m so glad we made it, hey hey, so glad we made it
You got to gimme some lovin’, gimme, gimme some lovin’ woo ooo
Gimme some lovin’, gimme, gimme some lovin’

Gimme, gimme, gimme some of your lovin’, baby
You know I need it so bad woo ooo
Gimme some of your lovin’, baby

Written for Song Lyric Sunday where the prompt is “Burn/Fire/Flame”.

37 thoughts on “The Place Is On Fire

  1. The first song does have a very similar bass riff, and I love that clip from “To Sir With Love,” one of the best movies ever made about teachers and poor students. Steve Winwood got started young and has given the world a lot of great music. Interesting background info, as always.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Sidney was able to do in films what no black person would have been able to do in real life back in those days. He was a pioneer. Another favorite of mine with him is “A Patch of Blue”. That movie gave me hope as a small child. No lie.

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  2. Great song choice! I haven’t thought of this song in a long time, so it was good to hear it again. Interesting background, especially the part where they were Stevie was yelling out whatever came to mind. haha…it worked out great! 🙂
    I agree with Li, that first one with the “To Sir With Love” clip was super! I love that movie!
    Thanks for a great theme today, Jim!

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  3. Steve Winwood is one of the all-time greats, in my opinion. Just incredibly talented. I recently listened to a live album he did with Eric Clapton and it’s absolutely stunning. And of course the Dead covered ‘Gimme Some Lovin’, sometimes with Steve guesting. An excellent post, Jim, thanks.

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  4. I’ve always enjoyed this song, but I guess I never put two and two together for it to fit this theme. Perhaps I should pay closer attention to the lyrics.

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    1. I cheat with this website that allows me to put a word in a search box and it tells me if the Grateful Dead played any songs with that particular lyric. This song came up and I always liked it.

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    1. Thanks Peter. I put enough time into writing this and the responses are much better than I usually get on most of my posts, but I guess that is attributed to the song and not my writing. It is just a Grateful Dead song to me, but I was happy to find out things about the Spencer Davis Group.

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  5. Thank you for the history of Spencer Davis Group. As a teenager in London in their heyday I was a bit fan. It was many years later here in the US that I saw Steve Winwood perform. I think he is very talented 🙂

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