Billy Henderson

Stalwart of the Detroit Spinners


William Henderson, singer: born Detroit, Michigan 9 August 1939; married (three sons); died Daytona Beach, Florida 2 February 2007.

Berry Gordy Jnr might have given the Sound of Young America to the world but he didn't put all the artists at his label Motown Records on an equal footing. Even more than the Isley Brothers and Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Detroit Spinners always felt that, despite a six-year-long association with Motown, they were way down the pecking order and that their career blossomed once they left the label, shortly after their hit "It's a Shame", co-written and produced by Stevie Wonder, in 1970.

The vocal group subsequently signed to Atlantic Records and embarked on a fruitful relationship with the Philadelphia producer Thom Bell, who turned them into one of the biggest soul groups of the Seventies with "I'll Be Around", "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love", "Ghetto Child", "Then Came You" - a US No 1 with Dionne Warwick in 1974 - and "The Rubberband Man", complete with the hilarious elastic band dance routine at which Billy Henderson, a founder member of the group, particularly excelled.

Originally known in the UK as the Motown Spinners and then the Detroit Spinners to avoid confusion with the Liverpool folk group the Spinners, the smooth harmony quintet even topped the British charts in February 1980 with a medley of the Four Seasons' "Working My Way Back to You" and a new composition entitled "Forgive Me Girl", recorded under the aegis of the disco producer Michael Zager, who repeated the trick for the Spinners with a revival of Sam Cooke's "Cupid" segued into his own "I've Loved You for a Long Time".

Henderson remained with the Detroit Spinners until 2004 when he alleged mismanagement and sued the group's corporation and business manager to obtain financial records. He then formed Spinners Part Too, Inc with two of his sons.

Born in Detroit in 1939, Henderson (tenor) founded the Domingoes in the mid-Fifties with fellow Ferndale High School students Bobbie Smith (lead tenor), George Dixon (tenor), Henry Fambrough (baritone) and Pervis Jackson (bass). In 1960, they met Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows who was dating Berry Gordy's sister Gwen, and also intended to launch his own label, Tri-Phi. Fuqua and his future wife wrote the ballad "That's What Girls are Made For", and Fuqua sang lead backed by his new discoveries, renamed the Spinners.

The first Tri-Phi single made the US Top Thirty in 1961 but, after "Love (I'm So Glad) I Found You", on which Fuqua also appeared, Smith took over the lead spot and the Spinners struggled. In 1963, Tri-Phi was brought under the Motown umbrella and the Spinners recorded a single a year for Motown, briefly charting with "I'll Always Love You" in 1965, and losing Dixon, who was replaced by Edgar Edwards, and then G.C. Cameron. They honed their harmonies and choreographed their live act, even including a Fab Four routine of dubious taste. "We had one act, which we did for four or five years, in which we called ourselves the Brown Beatles," recalled Henderson. "We had props, wigs. We just imitated the Beatles. I was Ringo."

By 1968, the Spinners had been shuffled off to Motown's subsidiary label V.I.P., which was anything but, though they got to work with the producer Johnny Bristol, and then Stevie Wonder, who helped them back into the US charts with "It's a Shame" and "We'll Have It Made" in 1970. "We had always been promised: this is your year," Henderson said. "There were so many hits coming out of Motown at that time, somebody had to get lost."

When other labels like Stax expressed an interest in signing the Spinners, Berry Gordy invoked a clause in their contract which tied their lead vocalist G.C. Cameron, the newest recruit, to a solo deal with Motown. Undeterred, the Spinners replaced him with Phillipe Wynne, took the advice of their friend Aretha Franklin and signed to Atlantic Records.

Henderson, for one, couldn't believe the change in their fortunes when they started working with Bell at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia in 1972. Bell had been a fan of the Spinners since their Tri-Phi days and went out of his way to match the success he had had with the Delfonics and the Stylistics. "His way of producing was top of the line," Henderson said:

With Thom Bell, everything was designed for us. He had such good taste. I think the first batch of songs he brought us had three gold records in it. Nobody predicted that many hits in a row. That moved us into a new circle.

Indeed, once DJs flipped "How Could I Let You Get Away" and began playing "I'll Be Around", originally the B-side, the Spinners' first single for Atlantic became their first million- seller. In 1973, "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love", recorded at the same session, also made the US Top Five. Smith and Wynne shared lead vocals on "One of a Kind (Love Affair)" (1973), while all five Spinners took their turn singing lead on "(They Just Can't Stop the) Games People Play" (1975). The Spinners scored one of their biggest hits in 1976 with "The Rubberband Man", a track co-written by Thom Bell and inspired by his son Mark, a rather chunky boy, much like Henderson, the most jovial and shortest member of the group, who took to the track instantly.

In 1988, the Spinners performed at a concert held at Madison Square Garden in New York to celebrate Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary. Lauded by David Bowie and Elvis Costello for their fantastic harmonies and their impeccable stage shows, the Detroit Spinners had moved seamlessly through the doo-wop, rhythm'n'blues, Tamla Motown, Philadelphia Sound, funk and disco eras and were back in the UK Top Thirty in 1995 when Rappin' 4-Tay sampled "I'll Be Around".

Pierre Perrone

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk