Motown at 50: A Spinner’s journey from Vietnam to Motown

By  Peter Lindblad

Things changed very quickly for G.C. Cameron in October 1967.

Discharged from the Marines, Cameron, just 20 years old, left the fighting in Vietnam behind and was home for only a couple of weeks when a call came.

“Dennis [Edwards] was with The Contours at that time, and he called my brother Dave and he said, ‘Well, I heard that [G.C.] was back from the war, and I was wondering if [G.C.] would be interested in singing because The Spinners were looking for a lead singer.’ And my brother called me and [said], ‘The Spinners are looking for lead singer down at Motown on the boulevard, and you need to go down and audition if you’re interested. And my brother James took me up to Motown and I auditioned, and Harvey Fuqua and the late Marvin Gaye auditioned me with the Spinners that day.”

As Cameron, who lived only two blocks from Motown then, recalls, he sang Jackie Wilson’s “Doggin’ Around” for Fuqua and Gaye. It worked, because Cameron started rehearsing with The Spinners the next day. Then on Thanksgiving, they opened up for Gaye at the Apollo Theater.

“Out of Vietnam and into the Apollo in a month a half,” says Cameron. “I mean straight out of combat.”

Cameron, who replaced Edgar “Chico” Edwards, would remain with The Spinners until 1972, when Motown sent the group packing. Fuqua had started recording the group around 1961. Before that, they began in the late ’50s as a doo-wop act, and they were on the Tri-Phi label, which Motown bought out in the mid ‘60s.

The Spinners, whose smooth vocals and seamlessly executed dance steps were their trademark, had some late ’60s hits, including “Truly Yours” and “I’ll Always Love You,” but their breakout smash came with the crossover smash “It’s A Shame,” co-written by Stevie Wonder and Lee Garrett, along with Syreeta Wright. The Spinners added their beautiful harmonies and a touch of class to the song. It was the perfect match, and it offered a preview of what The Spinners would later accomplish on Atlantic with the songwriting team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

Cameron left the group because of the contract he had with Motown. But his recommendation of Philippé Wynn, who grew up in Cameron’s household and took him to clubs before he went to war, as his replacement would vault the group to new heights.

Asked what he enjoyed most about being with The Spinners, Cameron says, “Everything. It was a new world for me, and being a country boy, and having gone through so many transitions, I was really blessed and thanking the Lord for everything that was happening in my life, being hopefully and spiritually aware of the things, especially coming home from the war, realizing that nine times out of 10 I really shouldn’t have been there — basically not even making it back completely.”

Because of his background, Cameron was humbled by how it all turned out.

“That miraculously stayed on my mind and deep in my heart,” says Cameron. “So I took nothing for granted. And every song that I had an opportunity to record with The Spinners, which was my first opporunity to record at all on that level, being thrust into the likes of Stevie Wonder and David Ruffin and Marvin Gaye and Levi Stubbs and Diana Ross and Martha Reeves — people that had such power that I’d never known before while I was in Vietnam listening to their songs on my little Zenith transistor radio. And suddenly, within two months, I’m right there in the pack.”

Today, Cameron has a new record out that he made with the help of Motown promotions guru Weldon McDougal.

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