Humble Pie's Performance: Rockin' the Fillmore: The Complete Recordings
will only solidify the British quartet's position as the point of convergence for the major strains of British rock of the Sixties and Seventies. The four- disc box set documenting their two night four-show run at the late Bill Graham's historic New York venue confirms The Pie as the nexus of the British beat group movement initiated by The Beatles
, the English blues campaign that evolved from that movement and the heavy rock style that predated metal.
To say these recordings capture Humble Pie in their natural element is an understatement, but nevertheless in keeping with the original concept of a lineup dubbed a supergroup when the four men agreed to bond in late 1968. Guitarist Peter Frampton had achieved some celebrity with a teenybopper group called The Herd, but was anxious to be taken seriously as a musician, so his alliance with vocalist/guitarist Steve Marriott seemed perfectly natural: the latter had tasted his share of success in the pop market with The Small Faces, who subsequently struggled to evolve artistically from their commercial base. Bassist Greg Ridley had much less of a name than that pair, but his musicianship and singing voice had distinguished Spooky Tooth whose hard rock roots grew in a progressive direction, their number including keyboardist Gary Wright, who wrought mega-success later in the decade with The Dream Weaver
, (Warner Bros., 1975). Drummer Jerry Shirley could rightly be deemed the anonymous odd man out, except that the pedigree of his bandmates meant little in the United States.
The earliest Humble Pie recordings mixed folk-rock textures with r&b proclivities Marriott favored, so their initial concerts featured the group playing acoustic sets before they offered electric rock. The impact of the latter element convinced their manager at the time, Dee Anthony, to dictate the group record a live album as a means of consolidating the following Pie had built by constant touring in America: as such Performance: Rockin' the Fillmore
(A&M, 1971), in its original double vinyl LP format, was one of the seminal releases of its kind, following closely the groundbreaking likes of The Allman Brothers Band
's At Fillmore East
As the only surviving members of Humble Pie, Frampton and Shirley oversaw this project in its exhumation of all four concerts as originally recorded by Eddie Kramer, who was known in his own right by 1971 having worked side-by-side with Jimi Hendrix (his Electric Lady studios was the site of the original mixing). Each show in this set is contained in full, virtually unedited as it happened and, unlike many live albums to come, features no overdubbing to either polish or correct the playing and singing.
Humble Pie's setlist is almost but not quite identical for each performance, the half-dozen staples of their repertoire, most notably Mac Rebennack's "I Walk On Gilded Splinters," nevertheless open-ended enough to allow the two guitarists room to solo, harmonize in tandem and engage in call and response. Meanwhile, the rhythm section dug into grooves like the one at the bottom of "Four Day Creep," imperceptibly but noticeably generating suspense via a tension and release approach made even more dynamic by Marriott's lead vocals as well as his harp playing. For a diminutive man with a giant voice, he remained largely restrained and likewise, instead of the self-indulgence that marred live rock later in the decade, there's genuine drama within the musicianship here: derived from carefully-devised and executed dynamics, each set is populated with subtle teases defining the concept "from a whisper to a scream" (and back again).
At approximately thirty-minutes in duration, the aforementioned Dr. John
tune is the centerpiece of each of these Humble Pie shows, surrounded by the band's reworkings of songs written by blues icons Muddy Waters
("Rolling Stone"), Willie Dixon
("I'm Ready") and Ray Charles
("Hallelujah (I Love Her So)" As with the latter, a bonecrushing guitar riff forms a foundation upon which Marriott, Ridley and Frampton take turns singing in their distinctly different tones, while the solo sections generally feature the latter offering fluid jazz-tinged guitar, keening with more melody than pyrotechnical flash. Humble Pie blended intelligence and emotion with such combustible results, the Fillmore East audiences came for the group (who were second on a triple bill) and called for encores with the same joyful relish with which the group itself performed its roughly hour-long concerts.
Humble Pie transform Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson's well-crafted Motown number "I Don't Need No Doctor" into an exercise in cacophony, as raucous a workout in its own way as the group's original "Stone Cold Fever;" both riff-based numbers find the band bouncing through the chord progressions, largely because no matter how hard he pummeled his drums, Jerry Shirley swung. With Ridley confining himself to lower registers, the notes he plays fuse with Shirley's drumwork, rendering the guitars distinct even at the mostly high-volume, but it's nevertheless a tribute to Bob Ludwig's mastering of Ashley Shepherd's remix on Kramer's forty-year plus recordings that so much of the ambience remains from this mecca of rock venues (which would close its doors about a month later). Their technical work on this box set proves a truly booming sound can resonate with clarity .
As so carefully recounted in Tim Cohan's accompanying essay, Peter Frampton had departed the band by the time Rockin' the Fillmore
was released, going on to a solo career notable for its own similarly-conceived concert pinnacle in the form of Frampton Comes Alive
(A&M, 1976). Yet his fond remembrances of shared experiences combine with Shirley's, their comments chiming with comparably enthusiastic praise for their departed bandmates, thus elevating their membership in Humble Pie to its proper perspective in their respective timelines. Likewise, Performance The Complete Recordings
cements a similarly esteemed placement for the band in rock history at large.