Looking back on the album that set Humble Pie ablaze
Originally an ad-hoc supergroup fronted by two veterans of the Brit-pop upper echelon — Steve Marriott, lead screamer of the Small Faces, and Peter “The Face of ’68” Frampton, formerly from The Herd — Humble Pie took some stylistics twists and turns on their way to AOR immortality.
An initial pair of LPs released on the iconic Immediate label, As Safe As Yesterday Is and Town and Country, found them veering sharply from incendiary rock and roll to the more idyllic realms of a more pastoral style. The two albums that followed their signing to A&M Records, the eponymous Humble Pie and then, Rock On, consolidated their sound, toughened up their image and found the leadership duties evenly appropriated between Frampton and Marriott.
Yet it was their double disc live opus Performance Rockin’ the Fillmore that effectively prepped them for the big time, relying only minimally on their earlier catalog and delving deeper instead into extended side-long soirees that solidified their stance as mighty road warriors with a particular proficiency for a firm hard rock regimen.
Although Performance elevated their reputation, it didn’t reap the big breakthrough everyone has envisioned. That was left to the album that followed in its wake, Smokin’, a set of studio songs released in March 1972. Not surprisingly, it leaned mostly on the soulful stylings that Marriott in particular had embraced earlier on in his career.
With Frampton’s departure the year before, Marriott was left wholly in charge and free to pursue his every whim, and given the able support of newly recruited guitarist and ex-Colosseum axeman Clem Clempson and the original Pie rhythm section consisting of bassist Greg Ridley and drummer Jerry Shirley (now the only surviving member making music under the Pie banner), Marriott divvied up the material between select soul standards, classic rock and roll covers, his own original compositions and a partial contribution from Ridley.
Ironically, it’s the latter — “You’re So Good For Me,” a Ridley/Marriott co-write — that ranks among Smokin’s best, given that it returns the band to the gruff and gritty approach that typified pie’s most essential pursuits.
While the covers dominated the set — Junior Walker’s “(I’m a) Road Runner,” the Eddie Cochran chestnut “C’mon Everybody” and the traditional folk/gospel standard “Old Time Feelin’” in particular — it was Marriott’s barnburner, “30 Days in a Hole,” that helped nudge Smokin’ to the top of the charts and eventually into the top ten, making it Pie’s best-selling disc to date.
De-facto support came in the form of British blues master Alexis Korner on “Old Time Feelin’”and Stephen Stills, whose vocal contribution to the album’s opening track “Hot ’n’ Nasty” helped set the standard for the hardcore heroics that subsequent Pie albums would eventually embrace.
Essentially then, Smokin’ could be considered the last Humble Pie album of any real merit, given that the efforts that followed offered diminishing returns and only a pale shadow of what Marriott and company had achieved early on.
It’s not their best album — any of their first five can compete for that distinction — but it is the epitome of Humble Pie’s pyrotechnics in both the literal and suggestion sense.