One of the early so-called “supergroups” of the late ‘60s, Humble Pie, formed in 1969 and released Smokin’ in 1972—the band’s fifth studio album, as well as Humble Pie’s highest-charting album.
Coming out of the starting gate in 1969, Humble Pie was made up of Steve Marriott (guitar, vocals, keyboards, harmonica), Jerry Shirley (drums), Greg Ridley (bass), and Peter Frampton (guitar, vocals, keyboards).
Humble Pie’s advent was the result of Marriott’s friendship with Peter Frampton, who had left The Herd and was looking for a new gig. Marriott, the guitarist for the Small Faces, wanted to bring Frampton into the Small Faces, but both bassist Ronnie Lane and keyboardist Ian McLagan dissented. For whatever reason, they didn’t want Frampton in Small Faces.
Undaunted, Marriott kept pushing for Frampton to become part of Small Faces, while at the same time putting together a band for Frampton. Everything came to head when the Small Faces were playing at Alexandra Palace. Marriott quit the Small Faces and joined the band already in place around Frampton—Humble Pie.
Signed to Immediate Records, Humble Pie released their debut album, As Safe as Yesterday Is, followed by Town and Country. Then Immediate Records dissolved. A&M Records stepped in and signed Humble Pie, who released their self-titled album, followed by 1971’s Rock On and a live album, Performance Rockin’ the Fillmore, featuring “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” which propelled the album to gold status.
Frampton left Humble Pie to pursue his solo career because the story goes, he believed Humble Pie’s sound—brawny blues-rock—was the result of demands made by listeners and not necessarily the band’s preference or strength. In other words, Frampton wanted more pleasing, platinum-flavored guitars. Of course, it’s more likely he just wanted to do his own thing.
Replaced by Clem Clempson, whose claim to fame was playing with Colosseum, Humble Pie’s sound took a tougher edge brimming with blues and soul flavors. In 1972, they released Smokin’, which fortunately proved successful, hitting the Top 10 on the U.S. charts.
The term ‘fortunately’ is fitting because Humble Pie needed a solid piece of work after the second-rate sales of their self-titled album and Rock On. The live album had done well, but the band needed to prove they could replicate their contagious live sound in the studio.
Thunderous, Smokin’ delivered dense guitars pumping out hefty blues-rock laced with boogie savors. Comprising nine tracks, the album begins with “Hot ‘N’ Nasty,” a blistering song chock-full of raw energy, demonstrating the rasping wail of Marriott’s distinctive voice. Many critics assign “Hot ‘N’ Nasty” as influencing the sound of The Black Crowes. Perhaps, but there’s more to The Black Crowes than Rod Stewart, Small Faces, and Humble Pie.
The heart of Smokin’ is discovered in “30 Days In The Hole,” from its luscious, visceral a cappella intro to the entry of Shirley’s walloping drums and Ridley’s fat bassline, setting the stage for dirty, champing guitars and Marriott’s yummy, wickedly howling timbres juxtaposed by a braying harmonica. Not until AC/DC’s Bon Scott would music house such a grubby, ragged voice.
Tumescent with sleazy, murky tangs, as well beaucoup sonic punch is the other highlight on the album, “C’mon Everybody,” which foreshadows both AC/DC and Bad Company in its stripped-down oomph. It’s a cover of Eddie Cochran’s song, and Humble Pie definitely infuses it with soiled filthy energy.
As you listen to “C’mon Everybody,” concentrate on Jerry Shirley’s almost careless drumming, as if he’s just letting the flow inform his crunching breaks, reacting to the feel of the music rather than following a blueprint.
When music sites put together their incessant lists, such as Top 10 Guitarists of All Time or 50 Greatest Rock Drummers, specimens of the latter type fail to recognize Jerry Shirley for his stellar drumming. Admittedly, he’s not John Bonham or Keith Moon or Neil Peart, but he does hit hard, and his very looseness delivers the brio of recklessness.
The weakest track on the album is probably “Road Runner/Road Runner’s ‘G’ Jam,” the song by Junior Walker. Humble Pie’s version is little more than sluggish boogie. Even Stephen Stills’ braying organ can’t salvage the tune.
On their cover of Cecil Gant’s “I Wonder,” Humble Pie offers downright nasty guitar work comparable to Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin. Still, the song begins to get cloying by the end, simply due to its length. Shorter is sometimes better.
What makes Smokin’ so good is the lack of overproduction. The album comes across as unrehearsed and uncooked. Listeners attracted to bands like early Rolling Stones and Cream are pretty much duty-bound to give Smokin’ a hearing, simply because of Steve Marriott’s one-of-kind vocal prowess and Humble Pie’s elemental muscle.