COURTESY HONOLULU SYMPHONY
The Spinners, above, will share the Honolulu Symphony Pops stage with the Four Tops on Friday and Saturday.
Holiday Pops is big on soul
Although it's the holiday season, grooving along to your favorite classic soul songs is as enjoyable as singing Christmas songs.
So this year's Honolulu Symphony Pops Christmas concert should be doubly enjoyable, as the Four Tops and the Spinners join conductor Matt Catingub and the orchestra for what's being billed as "A Motown Christmas."
A Motown Christmas
With the Four Tops, Spinners and Honolulu Symphony Pops, with conductor Matt Catingub
In concert: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Place: Blaisdell Arena
Tickets: $14 to $79, with special rates for military and 20 percent discount for seniors and students
Call: 792-2000 or visit honolulusymphony.com
Also: Bring a toy for Toys for Tots and receive a 20 percent discount on a future concert
While not remembered as a Motor City act, the Spinners, after a brief stint with Harvey Fuqua's Tri-Phi Records label, moved over to Berry Gordy's record company. From 1964 to 1970, the vocal group scored hits with "I'll Always Love You," "Truly Yours" and Stevie Wonder's "It's a Shame."
But with the prompting of the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin, the group joined her at Atlantic Records and, with new co-lead singer Phillippé Wynne, recorded some of soul's most memorable '70s tunes, led by the trifecta of "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love," "One of a Kind (Love Affair)" and "I'll Be Around."
That third song was co-lead's Bobbie Smith's baby. Smith, Pervis Jackson and Henry Fambrough are still singing together, so many years after meeting in high school in Ferndale, Mich.
Now living in Orlando, Fla., Smith said he and his fellow Spinners stay busy with gigs around the country for about three-quarters of the year.
"We still have some energy," he said. "We still maintain a high quality of performance. It may not be like it was in the '70s, but we still put on that same kind of show."
Smith said singing has always been his priority. "There are two things I've loved since I was a kid, music and cars. I'm still collecting old cars. One time it was a pretty big collection. What I have left are an old '67 Mercedes, a 230 SL Rolls Royce and an '88 Rolls that I drive. But it's always been show business for me."
In fact, Smith said he took the group's name from the spinners -- those big chrome hubcaps on Cadillacs in the '50s and '60s.
"I'm from the old school. I like some chrome and some style."
Smith's love of music came from listening to country radio signals from Nashville as he lay in bed at home in Abbeville, Ga. It was the doo-wop craze that sealed the deal to sing with his high school friends.
"In the '50s, I got a chance to check out groups like the Drifters, Moonglows and the Clovers, who were big at the time, at the Graystone Ballroom in Detroit."
COURTESY HONOLULU SYMPHONY
The Four Tops.
During the Spinners' early years, Smith held onto his day job at General Motors, but things changed when producer-songwriter Thom Bell came to Detroit with an offer that was tough to refuse.
"We've done our share of payin' dues," Smith said. "Even after the success of our first record with Harvey Fuqua, 'That's What Girls are Made Of,' there were a lot of misses after that. Whatever glamour and being star-struck we had felt before, we got it out of ourselves early. This is a serious business, and Harvey showed us the ropes and got us on the right track."
After recording a four-song demo for Atlantic, Bell met up with them. "We found out that he had the choice of recording acts to work with and that he used to also be the piano player at Detroit's Uptown Theater, so he knew about us. What helped us is that he said he always remembered the chord changes of our first hit, and that stuck with him."
On tour, the Spinners occasionally run into other vocal groups of their generation, the Four Tops among them.
Only one singer survives of the Tops, one of Motown's biggest and beloved acts. Abdul "Duke" Fakir proudly carries the torch for original members Renaldo "Obie" Benson, Lawrence Payton and the mighty Levi Stubbs.
"We're still a good group, made up of family and close friends," said Fakir, still a resident of Detroit. Even though the group tours year-round, they keep Christmas a true holiday. "After the 15th, it's time for our Christmas. We're going to Aretha Franklin's party on the 21st. She has a big Christmas party every year at her place. It's made up of a who's who of her friends."
But, as Fakir said, "the legacy constantly goes on. We still have a lot of fans and engagements. As long as I'm healthy and mentally fit, I'll be there."
He said the Four Tops are working on a new album, to include a couple of remixes of their old hits.
When they play Honolulu this weekend, not only will they be trotting out such classics as "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)," "Baby I Need Your Loving" and "Standing in the Shadows of Love," but Fakir said they'll also do some songs of the season, especially "Christmas Here With You" and their unique arrangement of "Silent Night."
"The work constantly comes in," he said. "It doesn't diminish. After all these years, you would've thought it would've dried up, but it hasn't, and I'm fairly surprised, to be honest. It still feels good to perform, and it's still the best part of my day."