Humble Pie are a band I had certainly heard of, but beyond knowing that they were the band that post-Small Faces Steve Marriott formed with pre-Frampton Comes Alive! Peter Frampton and that they were a harder-rocking proposition than both, I knew very little, beyond the fact that Smokin’ was reputedly their best studio album.
Within the opening bars of “Hot ‘n’ Nasty” Humble Pie have already invented The Black Crowes a good 15 years before that band released their first album. I had always subscribed to the common opinion that it was the sound of former Marriott associates Faces that the Robinson brothers had built their band around, however “Hot ‘n’ Nasty” blows that theory, with super-charged guitars, funky organ, and the lashings of soul-debted backing vocals. On top of it all is Marriott’s unmistakable holler. This is a soulful rock band at the top of its game, given fresh impetus by replacing the more pop-orientated Frampton with former Colosseum guitar player Clem Clempson, whose arrival gave a significant harder-edged rock sound to the band who weren’t short of the ability to rock out.
“The Fixer” is a more jam-flavoured rocker, however the thing is driven forward by a slow and deliberate riff and the rhythm partnership of Greg Ridley and Jerry Shirley. The hard rocking abates for the gentler and more reflective “You’re So Good for Me”, however once again, it sounds for all the world like The Black Crowes circa By Your Side.
The hard rocking is resumed with a stylish cover of Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody”. Drummer Jerry Shirley very much makes his presence felt throughout this number, indeed quite why he has been overlooked when compiling the lists of great drummers down the decades is something of a mystery, as he’s very much the engine room of the band, and the only band member other than Marriott to be a constant throughout Humble Pie’s career.
“Old Time Feelin'” finds the band changing tone once again, though this is down to Greg Ridley taking lead vocals on this number, as Alexis Korner lends a hand to the band as they close what would have been the first side of the original vinyl with a traditional bluesy singalong.
Side two opens up with the album’s most commercial moment, “30 Days in the Hole”, one of the band’s best known numbers, which bafflingly failed to chart when released as a single back in 1972. It’s the sort of song which bores it’s way into your mid by way of it’s title being repeated as the song begins. Along with “Hot ‘n’ Nasty”, it’s easily one of Marriott’s best compositions for Humble Pie, with it’s relentlessly changing drum pattern, and a great boogie-riff.
Jamming duties are returned to for “Road Runner / Road Runner’s ‘G’ Jam”, during which the band are given able assistance by Stephen Stills on organ. It’s a solid enough performance, but the pace of the album drops at a point where perhaps it should have been maintained and arguably, this is a song that could have been dropped from the running order without any great detriment.
The twin guitar cry that opens album epic “I Wonder” initially promises great things, however it’s a tune that would have benefited from some judicious editing, as it doesn’t justify its over eight minutes of run time, regardless of how fluid and bluesy the guitar solos are. It’s a song that would have sounded fantastic at half the length, but as it is, it falls short on its promises, due to the fact the the band’s tendency to jam got it’s better of them and it apparently didn’t occur to anyone to say, ‘Tell you what lads, shall we just finish it now?’. It’s not a song short of great ideas, but there’s perhaps a little too much padding around those great moments.
Closer “Sweet Peace and Time” is another lengthy composition, but from it’s tumbling drum intro, it succeeds where “I Wonder” failed, being a relatively taught rocker that leans heavily on Clempson’s guitar heroics and Marriott’s vocals. It’s a suitable closer to the album and pulls the whole thing back in to focus, rather than let it end in an unsatisfactory manner.
Smokin’ is one of those albums that deserves to be better known and the reason it isn’t can primarily be put down to the fact that the band is best known as one that somebody was in after they left a more popular act. It deserves a better fate than that.