The last time that any member of the original Humble Pie set foot on Ludlow Avenue in Cincinnati was in November 1969, when that then-fledgling British hard-blues-rock band was touring the U.S. for the first time. And when the band played that year at the famed but short-lived Cincinnati ‘underground’ music venue, The Ludlow Garage, they did a two-night stand as one of two opening bands for The Kinks.
At the time, a certain rock-music-obsessed, 15-year-old named Sam – who already knew who Humble Pie were and loved their heavier, psychedelic-aware blues sound – had overprotective parents who had certain suspicions about ‘psychedelic music’ venues. (Yeah, those suspicions. . . .) So, despite the old Garage being an all-ages venue – no liquor sold there, he was not allowed to go to “that place.” Imagine that!
Here we are, well into the 21st Century, and Humble Pie is one of those long-storied bands that, unfortunately, no longer exists, in no small part due to two of their original members being long deceased. Another original member who found early stardom after leaving the group in 1971 went on to become a rock guitar god for Eternity. And now one other member – original HP drummer Jerry Shirley – still owns the rights to the name but is stuck in musical Neutral due to rapid-onset pain from recent hip surgery limiting the time he can sit down to play drums.
So, as sole guardian of the Pie’s trademark since 1988 (He last played with a reformed HP into the 2000s – that’s nearly 30 years of hoisting the Pie banner high.), Shirley is doing the next best thing to keep the HP’s music flowing by christening a next-generation band of top players to soldier on as Humble Pie Legacy.
In mid-September, Shirley’s newly-anointed four-piece band – consisting of lead vocalist/guitarist Jim Stapley of the Kenney Jones Group, lead guitarist Dave “Bucket” Colwell (longtime Bad Company member and HP member since 2002), and two veterans of the 2018 HP reformation, go-to hard-rock session drummer Bobby Marks and acclaimed R&B soul session bassist Ivan “Funkboy” Bodley – set forth on a short, introductory U.S. tour, playing nine dates in the Midwest and Eastern regions. (Early reports are that the tour, which wrapped up on Sept. 24, proved to be the ‘pudding’ for them, and that new dates for a wider tour should be forthcoming, though perhaps more in the 2024 timeframe.)
Fortunately for that long-frustrated, former 15-year-old Pie fan who never got to see them back in the day, this first Legacy tour included the modern-day Ludlow Garage on its short list. (The original club closed in early 1971 and was re-opened at a nearby address in 2015.) For him – me, in reality – it was a bit of incomplete teenaged homework, to say the least, to finally hear many favorite Pie songs performed live with a driving sense of mission and self-evident joy.
As Shirley told me in a recent interview for Grateful Web, coming back to Cincinnati was not at all a coincidence. He remembers playing in our fair city very well.
“We were still finding our feet then, really,” he said about the original, 1969, four-man band in an early-September interview with Grateful Web. In addition to Shirley, that band had included guitarists/vocalist Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton, and bassist Greg Ridley. All had been established UK stars before Pie was even born. And touring the U.S. for the first time and opening for The Kinks were both pretty mind-blowing for the then-young band, he added. “Doing some acoustic stuff [early in the show]. Umm, it was going over OK, but it wasn’t until we had got to the electric part that we got [a better response]. Y’know, ‘Hey! They’re pretty good!’ ”
That memory must have stuck with Shirley. When his new HP Legacy line-up returned to the newly-relocated Garage on Sept. 23, for the band’s second-to-last date on this short tour, the acoustic guitars were nowhere in sight and the band launched straight into the electric part, with the fiery first song, “Up Our Sleeves”. From that roaring entry alone, it seems that band’s team leader Shirley must have learned those early lessons well and imparted them to his heirs apparent. Iggy Pop – another legend from the early Ludlow days – is thought to have said, “Don’t bore us/Get to the chorus.” (And – who knows? – he just might have pinched that phrase from Motown President Berry Gordy, Jr.) But with HP Legacy, it’s even simpler than that. It’s “Lose the acoustics/Just jack it in.”
And that first song felt awfully jacked in, for sure. The keening volume from the guitar amps and PA – and the thrust of Marks’ muscular, hard-charging drums – seemingly left no ‘head room’ at first for lead singer Stapley. His voice was squeezed into a screeching falsetto that bordered on Axl Rose territory. (In reality, it wasn’t all that different from a vintage Steve Marriott vocal on that same song in 1973.) And being in the fourth row of this small, soundstage-style nightclub with a low ceiling, I almost regretted not having pro ear protection ready to pull out of my pocket.
When the second song – the booty-kicking blues-rock romp “Four Day Creep”, from HP’s 1971 certified gold-record, double live album Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore – was still redlining the sound system, I started to worry in earnest and thought, “Maybe the sound techs will dial it down?” Loud rock music is great and all, but in this space, which is admittedly better suited for jazz and folk acts such as Larry Carlton and Bruce Cockburn than shredding hard-rock bands, it’s necessary to match the volume to the limits of the room.
Happily, I can report that, in fact, that is exactly what the sound engineers did by the mid-point of the third song, “I’m Ready”. Or, were my ears already adjusting to it by then? Those first two songs were less familiar to me, but this one – in fact, a Muddy Waters’ cover – is a longtime HP favorite to which I know all the words by heart. And even though I was eagerly singing along, I still could, in fact, barely even hear myself in my own ears.
As luck would have it, there was a natural transition and change in volume and tone by the time of the fourth song, as singer/guitarist/MC Stapley began talking to the audience between songs and introducing the older, deep-catalog with songs from the first two HP studio albums, As Safe As Yesterday Is and Town and Country. (Both were released in that fabled year of 1969, when the Pie’s most straight-on, hard-blues-rock songs were still far less torrid.)
For example, almost as if he were a museum docent deftly guiding visitors through an archaeological exhibition, Stapley introduced HP’s bouncy, R&B-tinged first non-album single “Natural Born Bugie” from July 1969 and a jaunty, deep-South-flavored, country-blues track from T&C called “The Sad Bag of Shaky Jake”. (“Bugie” was later included the U.S. version of Yesterday.)
Actually, neither song is quite what many FM rock fans from the early 1970s might think of when they hear the name “Humble Pie” and most likely the more common entry points for many fans would be the Fillmore or Smokin’ albums. But both songs are important in HP history, and including them early in the show helped to shed light on the band’s rootsier, more experimental beginnings. (Personal note: I consider “Shaky Jake” to be non-essential in HP history, but, regardless, it made me smile at the thought that the Legacy band saw fit to include it!) And – was it just my imagination? – just like that, the volume and dynamics seemed to fall right into place with those songs. From there, the rest of the evening’s musical selections came and went swimmingly, like a river decisively flowing toward the waterfall.
As noted earlier, nary an acoustic guitar was in the house, but guitarist Stapley introduced varied instrumentation and textures into the mix by adding organ and harmonica on assorted tracks. For example, in keeping with the theme of the tour, 50 Years of Smokin’ and channeling a noticeable Mark Farner/Grand Funk Railroad vibe, the band included the ripping soul-blues-rock jump “Hot 'n' Nasty”, readily recognizable for its percolating organ lines – not to mention that grooving bass line that just won’t quit!
But, drawing on the deeper, rural American blues roots that inspired original HP songwriter Steve Marriott all those year ago, Stapley also wielded a stirring blues harp on the 1970 Pie song “Red Light Mama Red Hot” as well on “Jake” and “30 Days in the Hole”. So, with this kind of ebb-and-flow of rock, blues and soul by this point in the show, the more organic musical dynamics and earthier vocals pulled us into a more heartfelt space rather than constantly hitting us over the head with rock power chords!
Ahh, but there was still plenty of those massive chords and juicy guitar feedback – accompanied by ample amounts of rawk gesturing – left in the show to satisfy any hardcore arena rock fan. Guitarist Stapley could squeeze and freeze a high note his guitar neck in a feedback sustain for 16 bars, with a shit-eating grin on his face, not unlike a certain Mr. Marriott might have done in the band’s heady early days.
Also included were many of the classic HP musical trademarks, such as harmonized, high-speed arpeggios and downward guitar string slides in-unison, to add flash and humor to some of the grittier, guitar-driven songs. And, of course, there were many moments of stage strutting, synchronized guitar-neck angling and thrusting among the three front men. So the band’s stage craft was as cocky as the music itself.
Almost from the first block of songs, frontman Stapley worked the mic and the audience hard, with lots of soliciting comments, to try and fire up the crowd. “How are y’all doing tonight?”he’d say in a stereotypically leading, rock-star tone, and when the response seemed lackluster, he’d roll his eyes in mock disappointment and come back harder. “Ahhhh – c’mon now!,” he’d say with a snarkier tone and then egg on different sections of the floor to outdo each other. Pretty soon, though, he didn’t have to fall back on any of that schtick as the audience took up the slack themselves. So, by the end of the show, nearly everyone was up on their feet, crowding around the stage – which is barely above floor level – and dancing.
Straight through to the end, the HP musical cherry-picking continued, with both deeper and more mainstream songs paced throughout the end of the show. Obvious songs, such as the Ray Charles’ covers “Hallelujah (I Love Her So)” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor” from HP’s Fillmore album were ‘had to be’ numbers, but the Legacy guys were wise to also include deeper, bluesier HP originals, including the grunge-meets-jazz excursion “Stone Cold Fever” and the more obviously cock-rock song, “One-Eyed Trouser Snake Rumba”.
Stapley was also reverent in his nods to former members Marriott, Ridley and Frampton as he introduced various songs each early-lineup member had written. For example, at the start of Frampton’s most well-known HP song, “Shine On”, Stapley noted how not only was it a classic Pie song but also that Frampton had gotten more mileage out of it in his own mega-successful solo career by re-recording it and keeping it in his sets. And, of course, there were other stock-standard Pie finales that included the Eddie Cochran cover, “C’mon, Everybody” and the Pie’s own riff-heavy “30 Days in the Hole”. Judging by the eager dancing by this time in the show, I’d say these were guaranteed crowd-pleasers.
After the last encore song of the briskly moving 90-minute set was played and the mostly older crowd of fans in my age range filed upward and outward of the intimate, below-ground nightclub, there was lots of buzz in the air, a sure sign of an elevated audience. My head was up there, too. (And I didn’t even touch a beer.) But if you listened closely, you could hear among the reminiscing banter about having seen Humble Pie in their prime with Marriott at the helm there were also some sharper comments floating about. Most of it was light grousing about the early volume issues, some of the songs seeming a bit short (“Doctor” did feel a bit compressed to me.) and even maybe a sense that the band shouldn’t have been trying so hard. We would have loved them anyway, right?
One person in earshot on the way out was most on point with that last observation. “Pretty good job, I’d say. Darned good, in fact! But if I had to gripe about anything, it’s that the lead singer was begging too much for applause. Y’know, if you’re doing your job right, then the audience will be there with you – naturally.”
Hearing that, I nodded to myself, “Yep, sounds right – sounds true.”
So, all things considered, HPL’s introductory tour was a cracking success, and to that – and name-checking the title of Pie’s 1971 studio album – I say, “Rock On, Humble Pie Legacy!”
For more information about Humble Pie Legacy, especially to view announcements about coming tour dates, please visit: https://humblepieofficial.com/ You may also follow the band on Facebook, at https://www.facebook.com/humblepiemusic.
To view a complete Gallery of photos from Humble Pie Legacy’s 9/23/23 show in Cincinnati, please visit this page: https://www.gratefulweb.com/photos/humble-pie-legacy-ludlow-garage-92323