Graded on a Curve:
Humble Pie,
Smokin’

I have an unwholesome relationship with Humble Pie. It may not be as unsavory as my obsession with the impossibly déclassé Grand Funk Railroad, but still. The fact is I return again and again to Steve Marriott and Humble Pie’s refried boogie like a dog chained to its vomit, seeking in vain to be sanctified. And occasionally—as on such songs as “Beckton Dumps” and “Shut Up and Don’t Interrupt Me” off 1973’ live Eat It LP—I am. But all too often—and believe me when I say I keep trying—I’m left wondering how the electrifying former frontman of the Small Faces went so wrong when the regular-sized Faces went so right.

The answer lies, I think, in the fact that while the Faces played ‘em fast and loose with an irrepressible spirit of camaraderie and fun, Marriott—who certainly had the pipes to pull it off—wanted desperately to be a testifyin’ boogie man. While Rod the Mod and Company were getting soused on stage and having fun, serious Steve was rewriting Ike and Tina Turner’s “Black Coffee” to make clear that his skin was white but his soul was black. And unlike the Faces, who had a deceptively light touch, Marriott opted to go—for the most part at least—the hard blues route. Finally, Marriott liked to stretch ‘em out live—it gave him more time to testify, brothers and sisters—as is evident on 1971’s Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore. None of these things have helped Marriott’s posterity—everybody loves the Faces, but Humble Pie is more of a footnote and acquired taste for the kinds of tossers drawn to the Brit Blues likes of Savoy Brown, Blodwyn Pig, and the Groundhogs.

Yet I continue to turn to Humble Pie, attracted by Marriott’s astounding vocals, mean guitar work, and occasional ability to come up with a song that boogies as hard as the soulful “30 Days in the Hole” off 1972’s Smokin’, which demonstrates that Marriott had at least one borderline excellent boogie record in him. It was the song that would help make Smokin’ Humble Pie’s highest charting LP ever, and it’s a riff’n’roll triumph with lots of great vocals, some great bass by Greg Ridley, and the imaginative drumming of young Jerry Shirley. Opening cut “Hot ‘n’ Nasty”—which should not be confused with the great Black Oak Arkansas song of the same name—is one truly funkified number thanks to some powerhouse organ and excellent piano work. And Marriott’s vocals go where few vocals have gone before. And it just gets better and better as it goes along, with Marriott tossing in some splendid guitar as the song comes to a close. White boogie rarely sounded this good, or danceable for that matter.

“The Fixer” is a steamroller, but it’s not so heavy that it just grinds to a halt so that you have to collect a team of circus strongmen to push it off the road. No, it just keeps on boogalin’, giving Marriott a chance to show off his guitar chops. A first sign of trouble crops up on Humble Pie’s cover of Eddie Cochran’s “C’Mon Everybody.” Marriott transforms it into an ‘eavy bugie number, and drains it of all of its youthful excitement in the process. You can’t take a Porsche 550 Spyder and convert it into a panzer tank without losing something in the process. Nor can you take Junior Walker’s “Road Runner”—as Marriott does with “Road Runner/Road Runner’s ‘G’ Jam”—and slow it down to well below the speed limit, although Humble Pie does manage to boogify the thang with the help of loping bass, some Booker T. organ by Stephen Stills, and the spirited vocals of Marriott.

Humble Pie does a better job of reviving Cecil Gant’s “I Wonder,” transforming into a stormy and tumultuous blues number complete with some truly mesmerizing guitar work. Heavy? Yes. But I’ll stand it up against almost anything bluesy by Led Zeppelin. “You’re So Good to Me” is another winner, going as it does from a sweet acoustic number to a big gospel sing along, with the great Doris Troy and Madeleine Bell throwing in along with some spirited piano (by Shirley) and organ. “Old Time Feelin’” doesn’t add much to the grand repertoire of modern music, although guest Alexis “Founding Father of the British Blues” Korner contributes some nice down home mandolin-type guitar (and shares lead vocals with Ridley) while Marriott tosses in some fine acoustic guitar work. As for LP closer “Sweet Peace and Time,” it rocks balls after a rather ponderous start, and features a guitar riff big enough to destroy Tokyo. What it lacks in personality it makes up for in sheer rock ’n’ roll bluster, and anybody who doubts Marriott should be included on any list of guitar heroes should listen carefully.

Smokin’ comes as close to any Humble Pie LP ever did to achieving classic status. My advice to the neophyte is to check out Eat It, Smokin’, and 1971’s Rock On (the last Humble Pie LP to feature the work of Peter Frampton) but by all means to avoid Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore. I don’t believe Marriott ever achieved his full potential—it took both Rod Stewart and Ron Wood to fill his shoes when it came to forming the Faces, and that makes them some pretty big shoes—but even so you simply don’t run across many performers with his raw talent. Just check out the funky “Beckton Dumps” if you don’t believe me. It’s the greatest song the Faces never recorded, period.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text