How Humble Pie Crafted Their International Breakthrough ‘Smokin”
With an ascending career and a hot live album, Humble Pie were on fire by the beginning of 1972, when the band hit London's Olympic Studios to record its fifth studio set. And that's when things started smokin'.
Smokin', which came on the heels of 1971's hit Performance Rockin' the Fillmore, would be the album that pushed the British group well into star status. It reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and gave the band a signature song with "30 Days in the Hole." It vaulted the quartet to arena headliners, and even when the group did open — such as for Alice Cooper at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium — Humble Pie were as likely as not to blow the top bill off the stage.
"I remember that night Alice came into our dressing room, leans against the door with his drink in his hand, and he looks at us and just went, 'How do I follow that?'" drummer Jerry Shirley tells UCR. "That happened quite a bit, honestly." The success, meanwhile, came as a "great relief" for Humble Pie, who faced some challenges leading up to Smokin'.
The momentum from Performance and its well-received studio predecessor, Rock On, was threatened when Peter Frampton decided to leave the band in 1971 to start a solo career. "We thought we were going to have to keep going as a three-piece because we couldn't find the right replacement," Shirley recalls.
He, singer Steve Marriott and bassist Greg Ridley were already working on new material, including "The Fixer" and "Sweet Peace and Time." When former Jethro Tull and Blodwyn Pig guitarist Mick Abrams heard the material "he didn't even take his guitar out of his case. He said, 'That sounds amazing. It's huge. I can't add to that.'" The idea of Joe Walsh joining was nixed by his management; Rick Derringer's name was also mentioned but nothing came of that.
Listen to Humble Pie's '30 Days in the Hole'
It was David "Clem" Clempson, whom Shirley had seen in the power trio Bakerloo and then as part of Coliseum, who got the job after ringing up Marriott. Humble Pie were so impressed with Clempson's playing that they even announced he was joining before he'd told his bandmates in Coliseum. The new Humble Pie were quickly back on the road to hone themselves for the impending Smokin' sessions in March 1972.
"It was on fire immediately," Shirley remembers. "There was no backlash to Peter not being there, which was a great relief. And we were quite smart about it without realizing we were being smart. A lot of the material was being written as we went along, and by the time we got into the studio after touring, we were like a well-oiled machine. That's the best time to go in and record, when you've been on the road and you're just steaming literally. That's when a band's at its best. We knew we had something special. Within the first two days, we recorded the ones we had been doing out on the road, then we started to create jams in the studio."
Among the latter were the album's opening track, "Hot 'n' Nasty," and then "30 Days in the Hole," which Shirley says Marriott had started working on while touring in 1971. "I remember sitting with him right before recording the live album, in his hotel room. We never actually played it until we did it as a jam in the studio, so there was a lot of freshness to it," Shirley says. "I remember sitting with him right before recording the live album, in his hotel room, and he was writing out lines – 'Newcastle Brown ... it sure can knock you down ... got you weak in your knees,' all that stuff. And he's asking me my opinion. I can't imagine why."
Listen to Humble Pie's 'Hot 'n' Nasty'
Smokin' also includes some covers from the band's list of personal favorites. Eddie Cochran's "C'mon Everybody" was part of the live set, and was by Shirley's recollection the first song Humble Pie rehearsed with Clempson. Ray Charles' "I Wonder" was recorded "specifically to showcase Clem's blues guitar playing, 'cause he's a master of that." And the group fused Junior Walker & the All Stars' "(I'm a) Road Runner" with an in-studio improvisation called "Road Runner's 'G' Jam."
"Steve just realized he could stick 'Road Runner' on top of it," says Shirley, who played piano on the Marriott-Ridley track "You're So Good to Me." "We tried to get cheeky and claim the publishing on ['Road Runner'] because the second part was ours. But, of course, it was too obvious."
Listen to Humble Pie's 'You're So Good For Me'
Stephen Stills, who was doing some recording at Olympic, wound up singing what Shirley calls "a very short but effective backing vocal line" on "Hot 'n' Nasty" and wound up hanging out with Marriott for considerably longer than it took to cut the part. "The two Steves spent another 48 hours, with various ingestibles keeping them going," Shirley remembers. "I sat with Joe Lala, Steve's percussionist from Manassas, a lovely man. We were comparing notes, and he said to me, 'So, how long's your guy usually good for?' I said, 'Well, once he starts it could be 12, could be 24 hours, Who knows?' He said, 'Aw, my guy's just getting started.' I just said, 'That's OK, I'm gonna go home. But it was worth it. The song benefitted from them having a whole lot of fun together."
Alexis Korner's appearance on "Old Time Feelin'," meanwhile, was part of a "fun night" that included a fistfight with a local youth gang in the street outside the studio. "They'd gotten into an argument with one of our roadies, and all hell broke loose," Shirley says. "It was very strange, because we were all peace-loving hippies, really."
Humble Pie would not reach the same highs as Smokin' again. The band broke up in 1975 and had intermittent reunions afterward — Marriott and Frampton were even talking about working together shortly before Marriott's death in a 1991 house fire. The album has stood the test of time, however, and Shirley has a particularly fond memory of visiting with Van Halen when his friend Sammy Hagar was part of that band and being told about its impact on a young Eddie Van Halen.
"He said, 'Y'know, Smokin' is one of the albums that got Van Halen started,'" Shirley remembers. "He said, 'It was absolutely one of our favorite albums. We were learning those songs as a band. 'Sweet Peace and Time' was one of our favorite tracks.' That was so sweet because he doesn't have to say stuff like that. But he was so sincere, and that made me feel so good about something I'm so proud of."