When Steve Marriott quit The Small Faces in 1968, he quickly formed Humble Pie the following year with Peter Frampton (guitar), Greg Ridley (bass, and ex Spooky Tooth), and Jerry Shirley on drums (who was incredibly only 17 at the time). It was this line up who went on to record four studio albums together, along with 1971’s immensely popular live LP Performance Rockin’ the Fillmore. However when Frampton unexpectedly left the band, Marriott decided to continue on, becoming the group’s principle leader and main song writer. Joining the Pie was guitarist Clem Clempson (formally of progressive-rock group Colosseum), someone with enough chops to turn up the heat when and as required. Their next record, 1972’s Smokin’ would turn out to be the band’s highest selling and probably the one they are best remembered for today.
First up is the somewhat Free inspired “Hot ‘n’ Nasty”, which sees Marriott in fine form throughout, albeit in a far bluesier mode than when he was with The Small Faces, but the signature voice is there all the same. Interestingly Stephen Stills contributed backing vocals after wandering in to the studio while he and Humble Pie were recording in adjacent rooms.
“The Fixer” is fraught with dirty riffs, and impassioned singing from Marriott throughout, like a Tarzan of the Mississippi Delta. How someone with such a small build could be blessed with such a big voice is a miracle of nature. Next is the gospel inspired “You’re So Good for Me”, an understated and predominately acoustic number, where Marriott gets to stretch his lungs to breaking point.
The following song highlights just how important Eddie Cochran was to English teenagers in 1950’s, and the band’s interpretation of “C’mon Everybody” here is one of the most unique I’ve ever heard. Basically they’ve slowed the song down and given it the full blues-hard-rock treatment. In fact, if it weren’t for the lyrics, I wouldn’t even know who had written it. Marriott and Co. decide to hang out at the local Juke Joint on “Old Time Feelin’”, one of those ancient traditional blues songs that date back to when Adam was a boy.
Side two opens with “30 Days in the Hole”, a bluesy, seedy rocker, where Marriott laments being taken into custody for drug possession, a very common occurrence in those days (he obviously couldn’t afford a shit-hot lawyer). And what are these drugs our protagonist has been arrested for? Well for starters we’re talking marijuana, hash (Red Lebanese and Black Nepalese) cocaine, diesel dust, and a type of heroin he refers to as Newcastle Brown. Actually despite the subject matter the song is a lot of fun, although one thing I must ask is, how the hell did a song like this manage to get played on the radio in 1972? Not even Robbie Williams could get away with issuing a single with so many references to illicit substances (although I’m sure he wish he could).
“Road Runner/Road Runner ‘G’ Jam” is a slow burning blues, where Stephen Stills once again makes an appearance on Hammond organ, and is followed by “I Wonder”, basically a late night ‘I miss my woman’ number, which has loads of expressive guitar and even a harmonica section, just to accentuate the heartache. Clichéd? Perhaps. But who cares when the song itself just sounds so good, especially when Clem Clempson lets it rip with his extended and sizzling solos.
The LP finishes with the heavy-blues of “Sweet Peace and Time”, and a pretty dynamic piece it is too. Marriott sings without managing to burst a lung, while the rest of the band thump it out in exciting and vigorous fashion. Once again Clempson proved himself to be a true asset to the group, complimenting Marriott’s own meaty guitar style along the way.
Humble Pie would go on to record three more albums before eventually calling it quits in 1975, however none of their subsequent LPs would match the consistency and quality of Smokin’. And while it’s not exactly flawless (tell me which rock album ever is?), it’s about the closest the band came to synthesising all their strengths into one cohesive whole. But for all their success, especially in America, the group could never ascend the same heights as The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin in terms of popularity and appeal. Yet no matter, because just like The Faces, they were what they were; in other words a troupe of shabby English lads making music for the common man (and woman). What more could anyone want?