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Humble Pie - “Back On Track” / “Live In Cleveland” (2018) review


Humble Pie - “Back On Track” / “Live In Cleveland” (HNE Recordings, 2018)

Known best as the group that brought together members of Small Faces (Steve Mariott), Spooky Tooth (Greg Ridley) and The Herd (Peter Frampton), Humble Pie formed in 1968, with Marriott and Frampton on guitars and vocals, Ridley on bass and vocals and drummer Jerry Shirley. The original band ran until 1975, with Clem Clempson of Colosseum replacing Frampton in 1971, releasing three top 40 UK LPs, one with Frampton, two with Clempson, and one top 5 UK single, their debut, the Marriott penned “Natural Born Bugie.” The band was a constant live force, and enjoyed one Top 10 and two Top 20 US albums with Clempson, as well as the legendary double LP live set “Performance Rockin’ The Fillmore” recorded with Frampton, although none of their singles charted in the US.

Cherry Red Records, UK, via their HNR Recordings imprint, has collected two releases by later incarnations of Humble Pie, a 1990 live set recorded for charity in Cleveland, at the time home to drummer Jerry Shirley, which was originally released in very small numbers in the Cleveland area to further charitable contributions, and the band’s last studio album, “Back On Track” released on Sancturary Records in 2002 and featuring drummer Shirley and original bassist Greg Ridley. Shirley had been involved in a serious auto accident in the US in 1999 and returned to his native England to recuperate. Just before departing for the UK Shirley received a phone call from Ridley, who although in failing health, had somehow obtained Shirley’s phone number and expressed the desire to put together a band, an idea the drummer was unable to resist. With the additions of lead guitarist and lead vocalist Bobby Tench who had been a member of the Pie in 1980 and 1981 and guitarist/mandolin player Dave “Bucket” Colwell, formerly of Bad Co., the band entered the studio, and with the financial assistance of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, laid down the ten tracks that compose “Back On Track.”

“Back On Track” is a nice album filled with rocking numbers, most written by Colwell and features appearances by Victor Martin on Hammond Organ, John Malling on piano and Zoot Money on Hammond, piano and vocals, including lead vocals on one track. Overall the album is dominated by inspired guitar performances by Tench and the tight rhythm section of Ridley and Shirley. The opening track “Dignified” a Colwell composition is typical, containing a gorgeous melody and hot guitar by Tench. “The Real Thing” another Colwell tune is reminiscent of Free, and contains an excellent lead guitar performance by Tench, including a smoking solo. Ridley contributed one tune, “Trouble” which features the bassist on lead vocals and has a tasteful lead guitar line and restrained solo by Tench. “Ain’t No Big Thing” is a nice shuffle with Tench delivering a soaring solo and excellent wah wah work. “Stay One More Night” is an acoustic number, with delicate guitar and vocals accentuated by Martin on Hammond organ. The soulful track also features some fine slide work by Tench. “Still Got A Story To Tell” is another mellow tune with more organ from Martin.  “All I Ever Needed” includes gorgeous mandolin by Colwell, the blues number featuring a roaring guitar solo by Tench. “This Time” finds Tench delivering a hot slide intro by Tench, with Zoot Money contributing gorgeous lead vocals as well as Hammond organ and piano. Tench’s space rock solo plays the tune out. “Flatbusted” is a heavy rocker that Shirley brought with him from the US. The song brings to mind Humble Pie in their heyday and the roaring solo by Tench is very tasty. The CD closes with “Between Old Teddy And Your Mum” featuring a piano intro by John Malling. The most gentle number on the album, this ballad fits Tench’s vocals perfectly. A fitting closing to a most enjoyable album which deserved much more attention than it gathered upon its CD only release in 2002 

The second disc of the set “Live In Cleveland” comes from a charity gig in 1990, recorded at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland, and is a nice mix of classic Pie tunes, R & B covers, and a couple of tunes by The Babys, whose lead guitarist and backing vocalist Wally Stocker was a member of Humble Pie at the time, joined by ex-Bad Co. lead vocalist/guitarist Charlie Huhn, bassist/vocalist Sean Beavan and ever present drummer, Jerry Shirley.

Charlie Huhn sounds incredibly like Steve Marriott throughout the live set, a fact made obvious from the opening tune “Four Day Creep” a standard bearer of Humble Pie live shows throughout the band’s history. Wally Stocker’s lead guitar shines and the tune remains true to the Marriott era performances. “C’mon Everybody” a Jerry Capehart/Eddie Cochran cover was another staple of the Pie live repertoire and Stocker’s guitar is again to the fore. “Stone Cold Fever” written by the original quartet rocks, Stocker delivering a driving solo highlighted by his quoting Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun.” The blues rocker “Fool For A Pretty Face” a Marriott/Shirley composition is filled with vocal harmonies before Stocker’s fiery guitar solo takes center stage. Huhn’s vocals on “Natural Born Bugie” are nearly imperceptive from Marriott’s and Stocker’s guitar is true to Frampton’s original, a most impressive performance. “Say What You Will” is a boogie number, Stocker’s guitar and Huhn’s vocals again supplying highlights. “A snappy cover of “All Shook Up” with its heavy guitar intro has the Pie touch, familiar to fans new and old. “Still Rockin’’ is a band original of the day, written by Stocker, Shirley, Huhn and bassist Anthony Jones who left the group just before the gig, replaced by Beavan. A heavy boogie rocker, Stocker’s lead guitar and and Shrley’s driving drums push the beat. “Head First” is a song from The Baby’s, with Stocker’s lead line a highlight along with Huhn’s chugging rhythm guitar. A cover of Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah (I Love Her So) harkens back to the heyday of the Marriott/Frampton Pie. The band does a fine job on this roaring R & B stomper. “Midnight Rendezvous” is another tune from The Babys with Stocker’s guitar intro roaring, matched by Shirley’s driving drums. The gig closes with two Humble Pie classics. First is a six and a half minute take on Marriott’s “30 Days In The Hole” with its references to red Lebanese hash and a silver coke spoon, bringing to mind the excesses that were Marriott’s downfall. Huhn’s vocals are nearly indistinguishable from Marriott’s originals and the enthusiastic crowd joins in as the band romps on. The nine minute set closer is a cover of Ashford and Simpson’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor” an R & B classic that was part of Humble Pie’s live set from beginning to end. This hard rocking version features Huhn sounding like a Marriott clone and Stocker’s raucous guitar bringing flashes of Frampton at his best to mind. With that the set and the disc come to a rocking end. “Live In Cleveland” was released in very small numbers on CD in the Cleveland at the time to increase the amount donated to charity, but finds its mass release debut on this fine double disc set from Cherry Red Records, UK.

The set comes in a quad fold digipak, with a 16 page full color booklet, featuring an essay by Malcolm Done, photos of all the musicians involved, full track listings and a fine mastering job by Tony Dixon. Two separate documents from two distinctive latter day incarnations of Humble Pie, this double disc collection comes highly recommended, not only for the quality music included, but especially so since “Back On Track” contains the final recorded performances of Greg Ridley, who despite ill health, was able to tour Germany with the band in support of the release. Sadly, he would pass in 2003, the music world losing a fine bassist, songwriter, and vocalist at the tender age of 56.

- Kevin Rathert
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