SPENCER WIGGINS-ONE OF SOUL MUSIC’S BEST KEPT SECRETS.
Spencer Wiggins-One Of Soul Music’s Best Kept Secrets.
Although Spencer Wiggins is nowadays, widely recognised by critics as one of the finest exponents of deep soul, sadly, he’s still one of soul music’s best kept secrets. Spencer Wiggins at the peak of his powers, had the ability to breath life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics of a song. Sadly, talent alone didn’t guarantee commercial success and critical acclaim for Spencer Wiggins, whose singles failed to find the audience they so richly deserved. Meanwhile, James Carr and Bobby Bland who grew up in the same part of Memphis, were enjoying successful careers while he struggled to make a breakthrough first at Goldwax and then Fame. Ironically, that was when Spencer Wiggins released the best music of his career. His story began in Memphis in 1942.
Spencer Wiggins was born on January the ‘8th’ 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, and for much of the forties and fifties, the Wiggins’ family lived in Homer Street. That was where Spencer Wiggins’ love of music blossomed, which his parents encouraged in the hope that it would save their son from getting into trouble.
Both parents wanted their young family including Spencer Wiggins to embrace different types of music, and in the evening they settled down and listened to jazz, gospel and R&B on the radio. However, it was gospel music that Mrs Wiggins was particularly interested in, as she regularly sung in the choir at the New Friendship Baptist Church. Soon, she was encouraging her family to attend services on a Sunday, and succeeded in doing so.
Before long, the choir at the New Friendship Baptist Church was a family affair, with Spencer and Percy Wiggins plus their sisters all joining their mother. By then, Spencer Wiggins had been introduced to Sam Cooke, who for a while was his favourite singer.
Soon, Spencer Wiggins who was still a high school student, decided to start singing outside of the confines of the New Friendship Baptist Church. Before long, he had discovered BB King Bobby Bland and Ray Charles who Spencer Wiggins quickly became his favourite singers. By then, he had introduced songs by BB King Bobby Bland and Ray Charles into his sets. This was fitting.
Bobby Bland was one of a number of singers who grew up in the same part of Memphis as Spencer Wiggins. Others included James Carr, Homer Banks, Maurice White and of course Spencer Wiggins’ brother Percy. All of these singers would go on to enjoy different degrees of success during their career.
Meanwhile, music was a constant throughout Spencer Wiggins’ schooldays. He sung at elementary school and then at Booker T. Washington High School which produced many famous musicians. During Spencer Wiggins’ time at Booker T. Washington High School, Booker T. Jones, Carl Hampton, David Porter, Gene Miller, Homer and James Banks, The Mad Lads, Maurice White and William Bell. Many of these singers, songwriters and musicians would become part of the Memphis music scene. That was all in future.
Before that, Nat D. Williams a history teacher Booker T. Washington High School started arranging talent nights for amateur musicians in Beale Street, which was situated in downtown Memphis. For aspiring musician including Spencer Wiggins, this was an opportunity to a make a breakthrough.
It was around this time that the Wiggins family formed a new five piece gospel group, the New Rival Gospel Singers. Initially, they played at the New Friendship Baptist Church before playing in churches across Memphis. Then in 1957, the New Rival Gospel Singers made their radio debut on Bless My Bones, but never got as far as recording a single or album.
During this period, Spencer Wiggins was a member of the Booker T. Washington High School’s sixty strong Glee Club, which featured his brother Percy, David Porter and Dan Greer. Three of this group Dan Greer, Percy and Spencer Wiggins were close friends from the early fifties right through to the early sixties. However, in 1961 nineteen years old Spencer Wiggins who had been held back a year, graduated high school. Now he had to decide what to do with his life.
Spencer Wiggins had no doubt about what he wanted to do with his life,…become a singer. Not just any singer, but one who enjoyed success coast to coast. Initially, Spencer Wiggins started singing on the local Memphis club scene, where he soon became a popular draw at venues like The Flamenco Club. He worked five nights a week, and earned $9 a night, which soon rose to $15. Before long, Spencer Wiggins was sharing the bill with Al Green, and other nights, opened for Elvis Presley. For Spencer Wiggins the whole experience was a roller coaster, but one he was thoroughly enjoying.
Some nights when he finished at 2am, Spencer Wiggins headed to another venue like the WC Handy Club where he and has friends would shoot the breeze. Then as a new day dawned, Spencer Wiggins and the band wold practised for anything up to three hours. Spencer Wiggins was determined to make a career out of music, and was already making an impact in Memphis’ vibrant soul scene.
One night when Spencer Wiggins appeared at The Flamenco Club, he met Quinton Claunch the founder and owner of Goldwax Records after he had finished his set. By then, Spencer Wiggins was a regular performer in Memphis’ clubs, and it was possible that someone had told Quinton Claunch about the young soul singer Spencer Wiggins who many thought had a bright future ahead of him. So must have Quinton Claunch who offered Spencer Wiggins his first recording contract.
Soon, Spencer Wiggins was in Sam Phillips Madison Avenue studio, where he recorded his debut single for the Bandstand imprint. This was the Isaac Hayes composition Lover’s Crime which featured a hurt-filled vocal. However, when Lover’s Crime was released in April 1964, it failed to trouble the charts.
In the spring of 1965, Spencer Wiggins returned to Sam Phillips’ studio on Madison where he recorded his sophomore single Take Me Just As I Am which was written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. It features one heartfelt and emotive vocal from Spencer Wiggins whose at his most soulful . Considering Spencer Wiggins was just twenty-three, he shows a remarkable maturity on Take Me Just As I Am. Despite that, when Take Me Just As I Am was released as a single, lightning struck twice and the single failed to trouble the charts.
Despite his first two singles failing commercially, Spencer Wiggins continued to play the clubs around Memphis where he was still a popular draw. If anything, his popularity was rising, so Quinton Claunch sent him to Madison to record his third single.
The song that was chosen was Old Friend (You Asked Me If I Miss Her a collaboration between Jimmy Webb and George Jackson who wrote the B-Side Walking Out On You. When Old Friend (You Asked Me If I Miss Her was released on Goldwax Records, in December 1966, it featured the best performance of Spencer Wiggins’ career on a soul-baring slice of deep soul. Despite the quality, Spencer Wiggins’ single failed commercially and he was was no nearer that elusive hit single.
Four months later, and Spencer Wiggins returned with his fourth single Up Tight Good Woman, which was written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. It’s a song that could’ve only been recorded in Memphis in the late-sixties, as Spencer Wiggins delivers an impassioned vocal while elements of Southern Soul and Deep Soul melt into one. Sadly, when Up Tight Good Woman was released in April 1967, it too, failed commercially and Spencer Wiggins’ search for his first hit single continued.
Another five months passed before Spencer Wiggins returned with his fifth single which the soul-baring ballad The Power Of A Woman which was penned by Quinton Claunch. This time around, the single was recorded in Memphis by a band that featured some top musicians, while Quinton Claunch and Randolph V. Russell took charge of production. They were partly responsible for one of Spencer Wiggins’ finest singles, which sadly, wasn’t the success that everyone hoped. Still, Spencer Wiggins was looking for his breakthrough single.
Five months later, and Spencer Wiggins released the Quinton Claunch composition That’s How Much I Love You on Goldwax Records in February 1968. I’m A Poor Man’s Son Spencer Wiggins’ impassioned vocal bristles with emotion as horns and harmonies accompany him on a song that could’ve transformed his fortunes. Again, both sides were recorded in Memphis, and were produced by the Quinton Claunch and Randolph V. Russell. Sadly, and despite their best efforts That’s How Much I Love You passed record buyers by.
After the commercial failure of That’s How Much I Love You, Quinton Claunch seemed in no hurry to release the followup single. Nine months passed before Spencer Wiggins released Once In A While (Is Better Than Never At All) as his seventh single for Goldwax Records. Sadly, things didn’t get any better when Spencer Wiggins’ seventh single failed to find an audience in November 1968. For Spencer Wiggins this was just the latest disappointment. Surely things couldn’t get any better?
As 1969 dawned Spencer Wiggins was preparing to release a cover pf Ronnie Shannon’s I Never Loved A Woman (The Way I Love You) as a single in February 1969. It was produced by Quinton Claunch and Randolph V. Russell who hoped that I Never Loved A Woman (The Way I Love You) would give Spencer Wiggins his belated breakthrough. Sadly, it wasn’t to be and it was the end of the line for Spencer Wiggins and rest of artists at Goldwax Records.
Later in 1969, the two owners of Goldwax, Quinton Claunch and Randolph V. “Doc” Russell decided to dissolve the label. They had been unable to agree on the future direction of Goldwax Records, which drove a wedge between the pair. However, James Carr’s increasingly erratic behaviour caused by a worsening in his mental health problems was the final straw. The two friends decided to dissolve Goldwax and Spencer Wiggins and rest of artists at Goldwax Records were left without a label.
Next stop for Spencer Wiggins was Fame, where he released Love Machine in November 1969 and Double Lovin’ in July 1970. When neither single was a commercial success, Spencer Wiggins was left without a label. Adding to Spencer Wiggins’ problems was that he never employed a manager. This was a decision that would cost Spencer Wiggins dearly.
Nearly three years later, in February 1973, Spencer Wiggins released I Can’t Be Satisfied (With A Piece Of Your Love) as a single on MGM Sounds Of Memphis. However, when the single failed to find an audience this was Spencer Wiggins’ eleventh single that that had failed commercially and caused Spencer Wiggins to rethink his future.
Spencer Wiggins wasn’t making a living singing soul, and when he left MGM Sounds Of Memphis he decided to reinvent himself as a bluesman in Florida. However, his career as a bluesman was short-lived and when his band failed to turn up for a show in Memphis in 1973, Spencer Wiggins called time on his career as a bluesman. For the next two years his life headed in a different direction.
For the next couple of years, spent most of his time working in a local church, and made his swan-song as a bluesman in 1975. A year later in 1976, and Spencer Wiggins ‘found’ god, and from 1977 onwards started singing gospel music.
The same year, 1977, the Japanese label Vivid Music released an album of songs Spencer Wiggins recorded for Goldwax, Soul City USA. This includes Sweet Sixteen, My Love Is Real, I’ll Be True To You and Who’s Been Warming My Oven which made their debut on Soul City USA. It was also Spencer Wiggins’ debut album, as he had previously, only ever released singles. It was almost ironic that Spencer Wiggins’ debut album, Soul City USA was only released after her turned his back on soul and blues, and began recording gospel music. It was the end of era.
Sadly, Spencer Wiggins never enjoyed the commercial success and critical acclaim that his talent warranted. Despite that, Spencer Wiggins is nowadays, widely recognised by critics as one of the finest exponents of deep soul, but sadly, is still one of soul music’s best kept secrets. Even many soul fans haven’t heard of Spencer Wiggins, but after hearing his music once, they’re fans for life of a singer who had the potential and talent to become a giant of soul.
Spencer Wiggins-One Of Soul Music’s Best Kept Secrets.