Humble [Pie] beginnings
At the start of 1969 and soon after leaving Small Faces, Steve Marriott joined the newly established trio that he had helped to form: Humble Pie.
The band consisted of former Herd frontman Peter Frampton on guitar, bassist Greg Ridley who was previously in Spooky Tooth and the young Jerry Shirley on drums. Marriott and Frampton were both regarded as “teen idols” at that time, so the union of the two resulted in Humble Pie being labelled with another common term of the time – “Super Group”.
The formation of Humble Pie brought massive expectations from public and press alike, so under a veil of secrecy, the four left London and secluded themselves in the adjacent county of Essex to begin the creative process. A lot of the writing took place at Steve’s Beehive Cottage in Moreton, and the Village Hall in nearby Magdalen Laver was booked for rehearsals.
It was a fruitful time for the newly formed Pie, as a couple of albums worth of material came from the process. Contractual snags briefly postponed their release, nevertheless “As Safe As Yesterday Is” was released, swiftly followed by “Town and Country”, both on Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label.“As Safe As Yesterday Is” included the hit single “Natural Born Bugie” and the group commenced appearances to promote their newly released albums.
Whilst Marriott, Ridley, and Frampton shared frontman duties, concerts were musical marathons presented around two distinct parts The first was acoustic and mellow, frequently performed by the four members of Humble Pie sitting on the stage floor barefooted, and the second half of the concerts was plugged-in, louder and much more rhythm & blues-influenced.
An Immediate end and Frampton jumps ship
When Immediate Records folded due to financial disarray, Humble Pie spent a period of time in limbo until eventually a deal was signed with A&M. At the same time, Dee Anthony was introduced as the band’s manager to bring a change in the business side of the group’s affairs. This proved to be a pivotal moment in the Pie’s career since the musical focus of the band shifted into a more rock and blues repertoire, which is certainly evident in their subsequent LP release in 1970, the self-titled “Humble Pie”.
With Anthony in charge of the group’s affairs, Humble Pie’s focus was on the United States, which had been in the midst of the so-called “British Invasion”. American music fans were eager for as much British new music as they could consume, and a slice of Humble Pie was a welcome addition to the musical menu, and so the quartet embarked on several tours across “the Pond”. Their live set was now a mix of boogie and blues with Marriott coming to the fore as the primary front man and focus of the band. This prompted co-leader Peter Frampton to move on again to what would become an occasionally legendary solo career.
Frampton Pie Comes Alive
It was around this time that “Rockin’ The Fillmore” was released, which would come to be known as one of the greatest live albums in Rock history. But with Frampton’s departure, a major component of the Pie seemed to be missing and the hunt was on for a suitable replacement.
Guitarist Dave “Clem” Clempson, who had played with Bakerloo and Colosseum, ended up being recruited to fill the gap left by Frampton’s departure. The success of “Rockin’ The Fillmore” along with the subsequent United States release of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” as a single, Humble Pie moved in an even harder-edged direction.
In 1972 the album “Smokin” was released which included “Thirty Days in the Hole” and “Hot N Nasty” which were soon firm favourites with the fans. Although these songs, along with other Pie tunes, got some FM airplay in the states it was actually the band’s constant touring in support of the LP that ensured it was their best selling album ever.
The early ’70s witnessed numerous British Rock groups touring the States all competing for the American fans attention as well as their dollars. Included amongst them were such legends as Led Zeppelin, The Stones, and The Who, but Humble Pie, known as a consistently great live band, held their own, filling arenas coast-to-coast. In an interview Greg Ridley said, looking back on the times: “We were a little army primed for battle.”
Whilst performing live, Steve Marriott was a dynamo. Gone were the awkward on-stage moves of his Small Faces days, replaced by smooth, almost James Brown-like, routines using the entire length of the stage. Performances included his singing banter between songs, which along with the group’s powerful hard rocking setlist, brought concertgoers to their collective feet.
As the clear leader and frontman of Humble Pie, Steve Marriott’s R&B roots and influences began to emerge more in the group’s studio work. 1973’s release of “Eat It” illustrates this, as one of the four sides was dedicated strictly to established R&B covers. The other three consisted of original material, covers and a live set captured in Glasgow, Scotland. The addition of The Blackberries (Clydie King, Venetta Fields, and Shirley Mathews – who was later replaced by Billie Barnum), a trio of former Ikettes as backing vocalists, also signalled the change in musical direction.
With The Blackberries on board, the Pie toured in support of “Eat It” and once again brought down houses throughout the world. Wild on-the-road antics were frequently reported during this time and may have been signals of the beginning of the end of Humble Pie.
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The final years of Humble Pie
Their next studio album, “Thunderbox” (1974), was lacklustre at best and was greeted as such by both the public and critics. Individual members were beginning to pursue solo and other projects, even though A&M put out “Street Rats” in 1975, a roughly produced collection of material, which Pie members were reportedly never keen on releasing. That same year, Steve Marriott and his bandmates decided to stick a fork in the Pie, but not until completing a fairly successful “Goodbye Pie” tour.
After the band’s breakup in 1975, the former members of Humble Pie involved themselves in a number of projects, but none enjoyed the success of their Pie days. Jerry Shirley helped formed Natural Gas. Greg Ridley along with Dave Clempson joined up with Cozy Powell in Strange Brew. The two also joined Marriott in Steve Marriott’s All Stars.
In the late 70’s Marriott along with Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones – but without Ronnie Lane – reformed Small Faces, resulting in two new LP’s and tours.
Humble Pie Mark II
Following this in 1980 Marriott pushed to revive Humble Pie getting in contact with} Shirley, Ridley, and Clempson. Greg Ridley had more-or-less retired from the music business and, with several other projects on the go, Dave Clempson was undecided.
Jerry Shirley jumped on-board, and to complete the band he and Marriott recruited experienced singer-guitarist Bob Tench and New York session man Anthony “Sooty” Jones on bass. Tench was particularly noted for his work with the Jeff Beck Group, whilst Jones had been well respected amongst American east coast musicians.
This new incarnation of Humble Pie recorded “Go For The Throat”, which was released by A&M in 1980, followed by “On To Victory” in ’81. Tours to promote sales followed each, but 1981 was plagued with difficulties.
This began with Marriott breaking his wrist in an accident involving a hotel room door and then being hospitalized with an ulcer. The new Pie soon disintegrated, although the Humble Pie moniker was used at times by promoters to increase ticket sales on Marriott’s solo tours, reportedly much to his displeasure.
A new start and a sad end
Although reports vary as to who made the initial contact to start the process, Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton began to collaborate again in 1991, writing and recording new material. Some say it was the beginning of an effort to reform the original Humble Pie, but it was not to be.
The day after returning from recording in the States, April 21, a house fire at Steve Marriott’s cottage in Arkesden, Essex took the life of Humble Pie’s co-founder and leader. He was 44 years old.
The Marriott Era of Humble Pie had sadly ended.