The Spinners have been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three other times — in 2012, 2015 and 2016. But for sole remaining founding member Henry Fambrough, being on the ballot has not lost its thrill.
“It’s a pleasure being selected by this,” Fambrough tells Billboard from his current residence in Virginia. “We’ve been in this position over years and years, but we just haven’t won anything yet. But it’s a pleasure being selected like this. When you’re nominated like that, at least someone is thinking about you. You’re not sitting at home not hearing anything — you know what I’m saying?”
The Spinners were named on Tuesday as part of a class of nominees that also includes Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow, Missy Elliott, Iron Maiden, JoyDivision/New Order, Cyndi Lauper, George Michael, Willie Nelson, Rage Against the Machine, Soundgarden, A Tribe Called Quest, The White Stripes and Warren Zevon.
The quintet, which formed during 1954 and has been known at varying times as the Detroit Spinners and the Motown Spinners, has logged 17 Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, insuring immortality with R&B chart-toppers such as “I’ll Be Around,” “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love,” “The Rubberband Man,” “Then Came You” with Dionne Warwick and others. The group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1976 and was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.
It started out recording for manager/group member Harvey Fuqua’s Tri-Phi Records, then became part of Motown when Fuqua sold the company to his brother-in-law, Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. Its successes there were only modest, with just two R&B chart Top 10s from a pair of albums. “We didn’t have our own producer at Motown, like the Supremes and the really big stars did,” Fambrough recalls. “We’d get (the songs) they didn’t do, or get the other producers who were trying to get in.” The Spinners did tour, often supporting Marvin Gaye and other Motown acts. And the group members had other jobs at Motown, including working in the record packing plant or tour managing other acts. Fambrough, meanwhile, served as chauffeur for Gordy’s mother.
Despite the limited success, however, Fambrough feels the Spinners were well-served by their Motown tenure. “Harvey Fuqua and Cholly Atkins, our choreographer, they taught us,” he says. “(Executive) Maurice King, he told us, ‘Look, we’re gonna build you guys, so once your hit records stop coming you’re gonna be able to work. People are gonna want to hire you because of your act.’ “We hung on to that, and it was true. When our hit records stopped coming we were still going to Vegas and on the cruise ships and stuff, ’cause people wanted to see us.”
The Spinners real success came when it signed to Atlantic Records during the early 70s, at the suggestion of Aretha Franklin. There the group met up with producer-songwriter Thom Bell, who started with “I’ll Be There” and promised the group that “a year from now, you’re gonna be the No. 1 group in the country,” according to Fambrough.
“And we were like, ‘Yeah. Right. Thank you’ — but it was true.” Teamed with Bell, and with the lead vocal triumvirate of Fambrough, Bobby Smith and Philippe Wynne, the Spinners reeled off a hit parade that left its Motown years in the dust and put the group on par with fellow hit-makers such as the O’Jays and Earth, Wind & Fire. The fertile stretch lasted into the late 70s, declining after Wynne left the group and the Spinners subsequently stopped working with Bell.
But the group has never stopped — and doesn’t intend to, according to Fambrough. During 2021 it even released Round the Block and Back Again, its first album of original material in nearly 40 years.
“We made a pact with each other, back in the beginning,” Fambrough says. “We said, ‘We’re gonna make it or we’re not gonna make it, but whatever we do we’re gonna do it together.’ And when one of the guys would pass away we would get somebody else to come in who was thinking like we thought and had the idea of the future that we wanted and just keep it going.
“I’ll stay with them as long as I can — I might be on a stool, but I’ll be on stage,” he adds with a laugh. “And if I’m not on stage, I’ll still be with them. The other guys… are gone, but they’re still with us any time we sing. This group’s bigger than any one of us.”
Inductees will be revealed in May, with the induction ceremony taking place this fall. The top five artists selected through fan voting will be tallied along with the ballots from the Rock Hall’s international voting body to determine the Class of 2023. Fans can vote online every day through April 28 at vote.rockhall.com or IRL at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland.