As chronicled in his 2011 autobiography, Best Seat in the House: Drumming in the ’70s with Marriott, Frampton, and Humble Pie, in 1969, 17-year-old Jerry Shirley was astonished to hear the legendary lead singer of the Small Faces, Steve Marriott, ask him to join his new group. After all, Humble Pie was something of a supergroup with Marriott, up-and-coming guitarist Peter Frampton, bassist Greg Ridley of Spooky Tooth, and a star-struck Shirley. Before Frampton left to pursue his solo career, the original Humble Pie issued four studio albums, including Humble Pie (1970) and Rock On (1971), before releasing their biggest success in the states, 1971’s two-disc set, Performance Rockin’ the Fillmore.
Over 40 years later, the two living founding members of Humble Pie, Frampton and Shirley, have co-produced an expanded edition of Rockin’ the Fillmore, this time as a four-CD collection. Appropriately for a band known for raw and straight-forward blues rock, the new version has not been given any new polish or varnish, no editing or re-sequencing. The new and much cleaner mixes by engineer Ashley Shepherd simply present the four concerts exactly as they were played over two consecutive nights at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East on May 28 and 29, 1971. Now, we can hear the seven tracks that comprised the original album, first engineered by former Hendrix soundman Eddie Kramer, along with variant performances of exactly the same songs at each of the shows.
Coming October 29, the new Rockin’ the Fillmore is easily going to appeal most to fans of the first edition who will enjoy comparing and contrasting the different performances. Still, it takes a strong man or woman to sit through four extended jams of “Four Day Creep,” Willie Dixon’s “I’m Ready,” Dr. John Creaux’s “I Walk on Gilded Splinters,” Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” and the hit culled from the set, Ashford and Simpson’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor.” In addition, some of the concerts added “Stone Cold Fever” and Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone,” a track that took up one full side on the original vinyl release.
It’s quickly clear, from the opening guitar chords on “Four Day Creep” from both Marriott and Frampton, that we’re hearing some of the first full flowers of what would become heavy metal and hard rock. What didn’t Humble Pie have that Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, or Montrose did? One distinction shared with Zeppelin and bands like Mountain was that Humble Pie were closer to their blues roots than their successors. Listening to the underappreciated half-hour classic, “I Walk On Gilded Splinters,” we become very aware that having two hot axeman on the front line opens possibilities that groups with only one guitar god couldn’t duplicate live. Then there are those distinctive, belting, soulful vocals of Marriott. One outstanding demonstration would be the two-part “Rolling Stone” from the second show. It proves Ozzy Osbourne and many, many others can’t hold Marriott’s metaphorical candle.
The deluxe compilation contains detailed liner notes by Tim Cohan that provide context and behind-the-scenes insights. The main events, of course, are the discs and I suggest you not follow the footsteps of your humble reviewer. In order to get the word out in time, I inhaled the entire experience much too quickly. Rockin’ the Fillmore – The Complete Recordings should be savored over at least four nights. As you do, perhaps you can share some of these sets with those who remember the Fillmore era and will be taken back in time. Other nights, you can invite younger rockers over to meet a band they likely never heard of, but should. Yes Virginia, grandpa was a rolling stone. Without his generation of kindred spirits, there’d be no Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, etc.