Dusty Springfield's Early-Sixties "Family" Folk Trio the Springfields
A teenage Dusty Springfield – then known as Mary O'Brien – began her musical career alongside her older brother Dion in the family's garage before graduating to the London supper club circuit. In 1958 she answered a classified ad in a trade paper for an "established sister act" seeking another singer. Having passed her audition, she became the newest member of the Lana Sisters – not actually related – a sugary pop vocal trio in the mold of the Andrews Sisters. They released a string of middling singles, but television appearances and stints as openers for artists like Nat "King" Cole, Guy Mitchell, and Cliff Richard brought them notoriety. By 1960 the Lana Sisters earned the dubious honor of being named the "Seventh Favorite Female Vocal Group" in Melody Maker, but O'Brien was becoming disenchanted by their outdated act. She left the group later that year, straining relationships with her ex-bandmates in the process. "I hated it when they implied that I was letting them down, but I had to move on," she later explained. "Sometimes you have to let people down in order to get on, particularly in show business."
She rejoined her brother Dion and his friend Tim Feild, who had been performing as a duo called the Kensington Squares. Taking inspiration from folk groups like the Weavers, and Peter, Paul and Mary, they incorporated Dion's skills as a writer/arranger, O'Brien's powerful voice, and their shared love of world music. An alfresco rehearsal in a Somerset field one spring day inspired the trio's name: the Springfields. To complete the transformation into this fictitious family, Dion became Tom and O'Brien became Dusty.
Striking the right balance of acoustic folk and cheery pop, the group quickly became one of the best-selling acts in the U.K., scoring chart entries with "Breakaway" and "Bambino." Even after Feild's departure in 1962 (Mike Hurst would take his place) their run of hits continued with "Island of Dreams" and "Say I Won't Be There," in addition to their own BBC TV music series. "The Springfields happened at the right time," Dusty Springfield told Rolling Stone in 1973. "We were an extraordinary mixture of pseudo-country, folk ... indescribable, I would put it. There were two guitars and me, in the middle, trying to find room to move my arms. I felt like I was directing traffic."
Their version of "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" cracked the Top 20 in the United States, becoming the first single by a British group to ever do so. The achievement earned them an invitation to travel to Nashville to record an album with veteran producer Shelby Singleton. It was while passing through New York City in 1962 that O'Brien first became exposed to the sound of American R&B groups. "I was deeply influenced by black singers from the early Sixties," she recalled. "I liked everybody at Motown and most of the Stax artists. I really wanted to be Mavis Staples. What they shared in common was a kind of strength I didn't hear on English radio."
Feeling hemmed in by their folky good-time image, O'Brien decided to go solo as Dusty Springfield, and the group split in late 1963. For all the stardom and heartache that was to follow in her tumultuous life, she always maintained uncharacteristically fond memories of her time in the trio: "We'd had such fun being the Springfields, ever since that idyllic sunny day when it all began."