Soul and gospel singer Percy Wiggins has sent us the sad news that his brother Spencer passed away on 13th February 2023.
Spencer was primarily known for his deep Southern Soul ballads on the Goldwax, Fame and Sounds Of Memphis labels.
In 1964, label-owner Quinton Claunch saw Spencer’s live act and signed him to a recording contract, initially for his Bandstand USA label. His first Goldwax release was the Penn-Oldham song ‘Take Me Just As I Am’; country soul taken at a mid-tempo pace featuring a hard-hitting rap in the middle. Then came ballad 45s of the calibre of ‘Old Friend (You Asked Me If I Miss Her)’, ‘Up Tight Good Woman’ and ‘That’s How Much I Love You’ which put him in a similar league to his better-known stablemate James Carr. That was two amazing talents at one small independent imprint. With Carr gaining chart successes and Spencer falling just short, the company never issued an LP of his songs. In an interview with UK journalist Colin Dilnot, Spencer felt his failure to sign with an effective manager was the main factor to hinder his career. His killer version of ‘I Never Loved A Woman (The Way I Love You)’ was his final 45 for Goldwax.
It was not until the discovery of ‘Let’s Talk It Over’, a 1967 Goldwax recording that was not issued at the time, which was belatedly released on a 1977 Japanese album that the Northern Soul scene got to know his work. The track, recorded in 1967 at Sam Phillips’ Memphis studios, was sold to Fame by Goldwax when they purchased his contract in 1969, but the Japanese label did not know that. The LP was picked up by DJs and played at all-nighters around the country, becoming the biggest sound of its day. His ‘Lonely Man’ also garnered rare-soul plays around this time.
Spencer’s two Fame singles only featured one of the Goldwax-recorded tracks – ‘Love Me Tonight’. ‘Double Lovin’’ proved to be his only chart entry. Other sides were recorded at Fame Studios sessions between late 1969 and early 1972. Yet again the unissued recordings were as important as the actual releases. There were six outstanding numbers, the most commercial being the superb mid-tempo dance track ‘I’m At The Breaking Point’. Like ‘Let’s Talk It Over’, ‘I’m At The Breaking Point’ revived interest in Spencer’s catalogue and it led to him and his brother Percy being invited to sing at the Cleethorpes Rare Soul Weekender in 2010. That concert was notable for the acceptance of Spencer’s deep soul ballads by an audience who initially found their way to soul music via dancefloors.
By 1973, Spencer was back in Memphis on the XL/Sounds Of Memphis label on which three singles were released. His soul music recording career ended and he relocated to Florida where he became a church minister - eventually going back to the studios to record gospel albums. Spencer was so devoted to his Lord that he vowed to only sing for him, but the encouragement of his fans and his younger brother Percy persuaded him to make the trip to England with him in 2010 and he thereafter performed occasionally, including a return to the UK and a 2018 show at the Porretta soul festival in Italy.
Spencer was a kind, strong man who didn’t waste words. He will be greatly missed around the soul music world.