VAN WERT — You may not know the name, but you surely know the music. “Rubberband Man,” “I’ll Be Around” “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love,” and “Working My Way Back To You,” are some of the more popular songs he has made famous with his vocal group, The Spinners.
Henry Fambrough is the last remaining original member of the group which began performing in 1954 and is still going strong. The Spinners will be performing Saturday night at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center in a 7:30 p.m. performance. Fambrough claimed that the Spinners are still working hard to bring that familiar sound to the people.
“We still have the same audience. The people who liked us then are still here with us. They still like the music,” he said in a strong baritone voice. “Most of them will say, ‘We raised our kids on your music, and our kids are raising their kids on your music!’ The people are still coming to see us. We still get the same reception.”
Fambrough has no idea how many concerts he has given, but he has been performing since some school kids started singing together in the outskirts of Detroit in the mid-1950s.
He remembered, “We started when we were in school back in ‘54. Actually we were playing basketball. The guys would playing and somebody would start humming around, and somebody would start singing a song, and somebody listening would come in, and that’s how we started. People started saying, ‘Why don’t you all start a group? You sound good, why don’t you start a group?’ They kept on doing that and we said, ‘Let’s try it out!’ So we started rehearsing and went on from there.”
They sang as amateurs until meeting up with a man named Harvey Fuqua, the leader of the doo-wop group, the Moonglows.
“We met him, and he started a record company called Tri-Phi Records, and we were the first artist on the label. Him and his wife Gwen wrote this song, That’s What Girls Are Made For, and they released it and it went up to #27 across the nation.”
The Spinners recorded for Tri-Phi Records through the 60s with only slight chart success. The group became very well-respected, but a hit didn’t come until after the Spinners signed with Motown in 1969. The first taste of success was, It’s a Shame, a song produced by Stevie Wonder. But the association with Motown did not last.
Fambrough continued, “We left Motown when our contract was up. We got with Atlantic, and they put us with Thom Bell. Thom Bell started writing for the voices, not just giving us songs like they were doing at Motown. He had his writing team produce for each individual voice. That’s how they came up with the different songs and how they came out great, man! We never had anyone to concentrate on the Spinners’ sound at Motown.”
According to Fambrough, it was Bell who really appreciated the Spinners’ musicianship.
“When we first met Thom, he remembered us from the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia. He was the keyboardist with the house band there who plays with all the groups that come in. He said he remembered the Spinners from our sound because no one else was singing the notes we were singing, and he said we had it down pat because it was a little bit different. But he said he remembered that one note that no one else was singing… He was a musician, and he appreciated it.”
There was something about the Spinners that made them stand out to Bell.
“Atlantic Records had come after us,” Fambrough noted. “They gave Thom Bell the list of all the artists on Atlantic. We had just signed, so our name was last. But he said, ‘I want the Spinners.’ They said, “Wait a minute! We got Aretha Franklin. We got all these artists, and you want the Spinners?’ And he said, “Yup.’ So that’s how we got with Thom.”
Under Bell’s direction, the Spinners hit a streak of hits and became famous for their smooth sound and their smooth dance moves. Those moves are still a part of the show even though Fambrough will soon celebrate his 76th birthday.
“I’ll keep going until I can’t go no more! I have no plans to retire, I mean what would I do sitting down at home?” Fambrought laughed. “As long as I can move and as long as my voice will hold out there.”
So which will go first: His moves or his voice?
“I hope neither one!” he chuckled. “But most likely it will be the voice. The vocal chords get weaker as you get older, so you have to keep it in good trim because if you don’t treat it right, it won’t treat you right.”
After all those years since the musical basketball games of grade school, Fambrough has found himself the last survivor of the original quintet. As new group members were hired, it was the responsibility of the veterans to teach the dance routines to the new members of the Spinners. Fambrough was called into service again, teaching the dance moves to the newest member, Ronnie Moss.
“We’re back to five guys now in the Spinners,” Fambrough reported. “I had to teach each one that came in all the routines to all the songs we are doing. It’s just as exciting now as it was then because the groups out there now, and even back then, are not moving with the same dance style that the Spinners have. We have a different dance style.”
In fact, when asked to describe the Spinners in one move, Fambrough went with “different.” Different dance moves, a different sound. Part of the reason for the group’s uniqueness Fambrough credited to former record producer Thom Bell.
“The songs and the things Thom wrote for us with his writing team concentrated on our sound. That sound that we have,” he said.
Fambrough is joined by tenors Moss and Charlton Washington, bass Jessie Peck, and baritone Marvin Taylor. The group is performing around 60 percent of the year — not near what the pace was like during the hit years of the 70s.
“Back in the 70s it was 110 percent of the time!” joked Kimbrough.
The dance moves and the songs will be familiar when the music starts Saturday night, after all that’s what the people want, Kimbrough reasoned.
“The people want to hear what you put out, the records that they bought, and the songs that they like. As the years go along, they still want to hear that,” he stated.
The reason the audience comes is obvious, but why does Kimbrough still enjoy singing and dancing after nearly 60 years of performing?
“It’s the people. To see the excitement in their eyes, and to see how they are enjoying the show and just to be up there making someone happy,” he shared. “You can see it in their eyes and you can see them looking around, and when they give you a standing ovation! That’s because they enjoy the sound and the show you put on for them. I still enjoy doing it.”