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Humble Pie

As supergroups go, HUMBLE PIE were the meat and two veg of the emerging hard-rock circuit showcased around the turn of the 70s. Surely a group that could’ve excelled in their field next to the likes of contemporaries LED ZEPPELIN, FREE and STATUS QUO, messrs Steve Marriott (singer/guitarist from recently defunct SMALL FACES), guitarist Peter Frampton (from The HERD), ex-SPOOKY TOOTH bassist Greg Ridley and relatively unknown drummer Jerry Shirley (from Little People/Women) were somewhat overshadowed by the success of Marriott’s former buddies who’d founded a new enterprise in the FACES.
Under contract with Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate roster, Marriott and his HUMBLE PIE spent much of their initial existence shut away in the singer’s Essex studio home, finally surfacing with the release of AS SAFE AS YESTERDAY IS (1969) {*8}, a slow-burner until non-LP single, `Natural Born Bugie’ gate-crashed the UK Top 5 that August. A solid collection of rootsy, bastardised blues rock, mainman Steve ditched the chirpy cockney popstar persona he’d developed with SMALL FACES in favour of an “authentic” R&B rasp; Frampton on the other hand (through song and vocal contributions `Stick Shift’, the LED ZEPPELIN-esque `I’ll Go Alone’ and the collaborative title track gem) was almost relegated to sidekick. Opening with a take of STEPPENWOLF’s `Desperation’ (`Buttermilk Boy’ was also of the “Born To Be Wild” mould), the set was defiantly eclectic and characteristically elastic courtesy of lengthy faux-country sing-a-long `Alabama 69’; the folkie, JETHRO TULL-cum-CANNED HEAT `Growing Closer’ was borrowed from SMALL FACES’ Ian McLagan. And was NAZARETH’s Dan McCafferty listening to `A Nifty Little Number Like You’, a ballsy cut indeed.
The more acoustic-based follow-up, TOWN AND COUNTRY (1969) {*7} choked by comparison, although it was certainly a group affair – however schizoid. Frampton’s fragrant `Take Me Back’, Marriott’s countri-fied `The Sad Bag Of Shaky Jake’, Ridley’s psychedelic `The Light Of Love’ (with Steve on sitar) and Shirley’s ballad-tale `Cold Lady’ represented the first four tracks, but it was Marriott’s country-blues cut `Every Mother’s Son’ that stole the show; their riff-friendly re-vamp of BUDDY HOLLY’s `Heartbeat’ was even worth a spin.
Things looked somewhat darker when HUMBLE PIE returned from an American tour that fall, to discover that their record label had gone under. Severe financial problems ensued until help came in the form of US lawyer, Dee Anthony, who helped secure the band a new deal with A&M. The eponymous HUMBLE PIE (1970) {*6} failed to resurrect their fortunes, stuck as it was between hard rock, prog, boogie-blues and country. In debt to the zounds of Zeppelin for WILLIE DIXON cut, `I’m Ready’ (and group number `Red Light Mama, Red Hot!’) and ‘Floyd for 8-minute opener `Live With Me’, Frampton, er… comes alive on `Earth And Water Song’.
The harder-edged, Glyn Johns-produced ROCK ON (1971) {*7} entrenched the Pie’s foothold across the pond (it bubbled under the Top 100), Anthony almost immediately packed the band off to States to promote their boogie-styled, GRAND FUNK RAILROAD-meets-The BAND sound; example Frampton’s axe-work on `Stone Cold Fever’, `Shine On’ and `Sour Grain’. With only one solitary cover by way of MUDDY WATERS’ `Rolling Stone’, there was a nice cool jazz touch on the set’s longest piece, `Strange Days’.
The results of their extensive tour of the US were the gold-selling live double-disc, PERFORMANCE: ROCKIN’ THE FILLMORE (1971) {*6}, a set that also resurrected their home fortunes when it was just squeezed outside the Top 30. Despite his diminutive size, Marriott had a towering stage presence, the singer blazing his way through a fiery set of boogie-based blues-rock; one HUMBLE PIE original and no less than half a dozen frenetic covers, namely `Rollin’ Stone’ (clocking in at 16 minutes) and DR. JOHN’s equally expansive `I Walk On Gilded Splinters’ (all 23 minutes of it!) taking up two sides; the others were from IDA COX (`Four Day Creep’), RAY CHARLES (`Hallelujah, I Love Her So’), ASHFORD & SIMPSON (`I Don’t Need No Doctor’ Top 100 breaker) and DIXON’s aforementioned `I’m Ready’. When FRAMPTON departed for a solo career on its release, ex-COLOSSEUM man Dave “Clem” Clempson took his place forthwith.
While Peter had proved a melodic acoustic-rock foil to Steve M’s hard rockin’ excess, the new-look ‘Pie continued to move in a heavier direction with SMOKIN’ (1972) {*7}, the highest charting album in the band’s career, reaching Top 10 in the States and Top 30 in Britain. Marked by two seminal ‘Pie slices, `Hot ‘n’ Nasty’ and `30 Days In The Hole’, there was also room for versions of EDDIE COCHRAN’s `C’mon Everybody’, Holland-Dozier-Holland’s `Road Runner’ and the Cecil Gant-Raymond Leveen nugget `I Wonder’ (all 9 minutes of it).
Augmented by all-girl backing trio The Blackberries (i.e. Clydie King, Billie Barnum and Vanetta Fields), HP attempted an uneven hard-rock/soul-fusion via a three sides studio/one side live double-set, EAT IT (1973) {*6}. The record was another American Top 20 success (Top 40 UK), but it was beginning to look as if the soul-infused Marriott the songwriter was the man in charge. The very FACES like `Drugstore Cowboy’ and `Good Booze And Bad Women’ were pitted against a succession of covers from namely: IKE & TINA TURNER (`Black Coffee’), RAY CHARLES (`I Believe To My Soul’), EDWIN STARR (`Shut Up And Don’t Interrupt Me’) and the OTIS REDDING classic `That’s How Strong My Love Is’; the live side featured `Up Our Sleeve’ back to back alongside The ROLLING STONES’ `Honky Tonk Women’ and a 13-minute encore of `(I’m A) Road Runner’.
But HUMBLE PIE’s popularity was on the wane, a further two efforts were decidedly below par. THUNDERBOX (1974) {*4} for example chose to suffocate itself under covers, as it funked between Hi Records’ `I Can’t Stand The Rain’, `Ninety-Nine Pounds’ and `Oh La-De-Da’ (the first two of them hits for ANN PEEBLES), plus ARTHUR ALEXANDER’s `Anna (Go To Him)’ and CHUCK BERRY’s `No Money Down’.
STREET RATS (1975) {*3} was equally dire, the set barely making the charts and receiving a scathing critical reaction for its re-farts of three LENNON-McCARTNEY cues, `We Can Work It Out’, `Rain’ and `Drive My Car’, alongside CHUCK BERRY’s `Rock And Roll Music’ and Betty Wright’s `Let Me Be Your Lovemaker’ – if the TINA TURNER/MAGGIE BELL sounding Marriott had sang `(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman’, one wouldn’t have been surprised.
The humbling of the ‘Pie was secured when they duly disbanded; Jerry Shirley forming Natural Gas with ex-BADFINGER guitarist Joey Molland, while frontman Steve put together the short-lived All-Stars; Clem, meanwhile, joined GREENSLADE. After a brief SMALL FACES reunion in the mid 70s, Marriott re-formed HUMBLE PIE along with Shirley and new members Bobby Tench (ex-STREETWALKERS, ex-JEFF BECK GROUP) on guitar and Anthony Jones on bass. Signed to Atco (Jet Records in Britain), the ‘Pie released two faceless albums. The first of these, ON TO VICTORY (1980) {*4}, a US Top 60 entry featuring the similarly-placed hit `Fool For A Pretty Face’, was saved by a trio of covers in Holland-Dozier-Holland’s `Baby Don’t You Do It’, OTIS REDDING’s `My Prayer’ and ALLEN TOUSSAINT’s `Over You’. GO FOR THE THROAT (1981) {*3} was generally dismissed by critics and fans alike; Steve opting to churn out a fresh version of SMALL FACES’ `Tin Soldier’ and ELVIS’s `All Shook Up’.
MARRIOTT continued to tour with various combos, releasing a low-key solo albums throughout the rest of the 80s. Hopes of a musical reunion between MARRIOTT and FRAMPTON were finally dashed, when on 20th of April 1991, the former was tragically killed in a fire at his 16th century cottage in Arkesden, Essex.
As like all bands these days in need of a reunion to cash-in on some quest for immortality, HUMBLE PIE reconvened; Ridley, Shirley and Tench enlisting the help of singer-songwriter/guitarist Dave Colwell (ex-BAD COMPANY) to boost the anti on comeback set, BACK ON TRACK (2002) {*4}. Re-inventing the 70s and more-so the 80s hard-rock scene was going to be like pushing water uphill; backtracks `Ain’t No Big Thing’, `Flatbusted’ and `Dignified’ were proportionately poignant to the piece – MARRIOTT would be turning somewhere or other. Sadly, it was to be singer/bassist Greg Ridley’s last outing, as he died of pneumonia in his Alicante home in Spain on 19th November 2003.
© MC Strong 1994-2002/GRD // rev-up MCS June2012

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