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article imageInterview with Humble Pie's Jerry Shirley Special

By Adrian Peel     Nov 14, 2013 in Entertainment
The drummer of the legendary supergroup looks back on his time with Marriott, Frampton and co. and discusses their new release "Performance Rockin' The Fillmore: The Complete Recordings."
Comprising of former leader of The Small Faces, the late Steve Marriott, hot-shot guitarist Peter Frampton (who had 'cut his teeth' with The Herd and who would later go on to become a huge star in his own right), ex-Spooky Tooth bass player Greg Ridley and fresh-faced drummer Jerry Shirley (the Hertfordshire-born sticksman was only 17 when he joined), fiery English four-piece Humble Pie were one of the must-see live acts of the early 1970s.
The Fillmore East, an iconic venue located in the East Village neighbourhood of Manhattan - the scene of epic performances by other popular acts of the day, such as The Allman Brothers Band, Jimi Hendrix, and The Grateful Dead - was THE place to play in the late '60s/early '70s and was therefore the perfect setting for the band to showcase their irresistible brand of hard-hitting heavy blues rock, on their way to conquering America.
Following the four shows this highly accomplished bunch of musicians, who formed in 1969, recorded over a two-day period at the end of May 1971, the original - and very well-received - live album, Performance Rockin' The Fillmore, hit the shelves in November that same year, not long after Frampton had left the fold due to growing tensions with Marriott, and truly captures Pie at the top of their game.
The New Album   Performance Rockin  The Fillmore: The Complete Recordings .
The New Album, 'Performance Rockin' The Fillmore: The Complete Recordings'.
Ellie Clarke
"The album just came out and it's doing very, very well - and we're working on promoting it," says Jerry Shirley, speaking to me from his home in Cornwall, of the 'new and improved' version. "In fact I sat in with Peter Frampton in London last week, just for the fun of it really, but it also didn't hurt from the point-of-view of promoting the new record."
The new record, as mentioned above, is called Performance Rockin' The Fillmore: The Complete Recordings, and as the title would suggest this lovingly repackaged four-CD set, released at the end of October via Omnivore Recordings, features all the songs played during the four shows, as opposed to the seven that appeared on the original LP.
"I'd had it in the back of my mind for a while," continues the affable 61 year old, revealing that he had long wanted the public to hear this previously unreleased material. "To at least have a look in there and see what we had, and remix it to modern standards, with modern equipment because you can do so much more now than you could then.
"The record company saw the sense in looking into our back catalogue in a proper fashion, in the same kind of quality as is afforded the very top acts, The Stones or The Who or whatever, in terms of the remixing and the packaging. Reissue now means 'done again in the best possible taste!'
"Then at the same time this was put forward, it was done in two suggestions... The first one being doing it to what was effectively our best-known album, the live album, and at the same time Peter got involved and he loved the idea. It was his influence on it, I think, that helped make them see sense in that it had to be done top-notch. You couldn't just throw out any old mixes if you were going to take all four shows, and that's what we wanted to do.
"So we got back together to work on it. Primarily it was his most recent engineer/producer that did the technical work with Peter over in America and they would send me copies to my computer of what they'd done and I would say, 'Yes, great' or 'No, not so good' or 'Maybe this or maybe that' and we seemed to get a good working relationship going pretty quickly.
"And what turned out we were very happy with, and so far the reaction has been fantastic. Fingers crossed, we are yet to have one bad review - they've been five-star reviews everywhere, including Rolling Stone! I'm stunned - they always hated us! They must get to like you when you get old...
"At the moment, touch wood, it's selling fantastically. It shook everybody... No one, not us not the record company, not anybody expected it to do this well."
What was so special about The Fillmore and was it one of Humble Pie's favourite venues in which to perform?
"Yes it was our favourite venue, without any doubt - it had a beautiful sound to it. It was intentionally built to have a great sound and on top of that, it was run so well by Bill Graham and his crew, so professionally run and ahead of its time. It had the best PA system in the country, it had the best lights, it had the best back-lighting crew...
"You were looked after the best and the audience were just fabulous. Everything about the place was spot on. Perfect amount of people - I think there was about 2000 people, something like that. It was really excellent - lovely, lovely place... There were others similar, but that one was the top of the tree."
The seven songs that made up the 1971 record were 'Four Day Creep,' 'I'm Ready,' 'Stone Cold Fever,' 'I Walk On Gilded Splinters,' 'Rollin' Stone,' 'Hallelujah I Love Her So' and 'I Don't Need No Doctor,' and the new complete edition gives fans not only the chance to hear - with three exceptions - four different versions of these songs, but also to observe how Steve Marriott's wonderful on-stage banter differed each time.
"The only song on there that's only performed once is 'Stone Cold Fever,'" recalls the drummer who recently published his autobiography, Best Seat in the House: Drumming in the '70s with Marriott, Frampton, and Humble Pie, "and that was on the first show of the second night. We had to do a short show because for some reason or other, things were running late.
So we took out two of our long songs, 'I Don't Need No Doctor' and 'Rollin' Stone' and put 'Stone Cold Fever' in, so there's actually three versions of 'I Don't Need No Doctor,' two versions of 'Rollin' Stone,' and one version of 'Stone Cold Fever' in the whole package. Then there's four versions of everything else...
"And funnily enough, the thing that seems to be impressing people the most is the longest song on the record 'I Walk On Gilded Splinters' because it goes so many places; it's like a mini-opera, as they were called in those days. It goes on for 27 minutes and it's different every night. So that's something to bring interest into it as well."
Although the band's 1972 LP Smokin' was their biggest seller, I wondered out loud whether Mr. Shirley believes that these four concerts truly captured the group - a clear influence on other 'balls to the wall' rock acts like Bad Company and The Black Crowes - at the peak of their powers?
"Yes. At the peak of our powers with Peter in the band. There's one other. It was recorded as part of the King Biscuit Flower Hour in 1973 at the Winterland in San Francisco, which was the other peak of the band at the height of their powers, only with Clem Clempson on guitar and The Blackberries singing backup with us.
"They were two peaks and very powerful ones. We were a tough band to beat. I mean you did not want to be coming on after us, I have to say... If you knew me personally, you'd know that I do not brag - I'm not a bragadocious gentlemen - but I've got to say that we were very consistent. We didn't have bad nights and when we had our best nights, there was no one better. There were a lot of bands that shied away from playing on the same bill as us, before or after."
"It came as a total surprise," exclaims Jerry, commenting on Peter Frampton's departure from the band not long after the Fillmore gigs had taken place. "We've talked about it a lot and it's water under the bridge, but at the time I didn't think things that were starting to bother him a bit were bothering him to the extent where he was ready to leave the group.
"But to his credit, he gave everything to the band right up until the day he actually left. All through that time, we made records, we toured with Grand Funk and played in places like Hyde Park, Shea Stadium and The Hollywood Bowl...
"You wouldn't think that anybody in their right mind would leave a band in this situation with a record about to come out that everybody was predicting was gonna do at least well, and he did. He left before it was actually released. And he'll tell you quite honestly that once we started to do really well, he certainly cried himself to sleep a few times, 'Oh no, what have I done?!'
"But a few years later, he ended up proving his decision to be a sound one. I have often wondered what we would have been like had he remained in the band, but we did go on to still be a great band because Clem Clempson is a wonderful guitar player himself."
As the album has been such a resounding success (even reaching number 21 on the Amazon chart before dropping off, due to having sold out completely), are there any plans afoot to reward Humble Pie's legions of fans - both old and new - with more unreleased material?
"Well we can hopefully," replies the seasoned musician (Jerry began learning the drums at the age of nine), who has worked with the likes of Syd Barrett, David Gilmour, Sammy Hagar, John Entwhistle, and most recently, The Deborah Bonham Band.
"We're now in discussion with the record company, Universal, about the possibility of taking our entire catalogue and doing to it what we've just done to the live album and putting it out as one box set. If that comes together, I will be a very happy camper.
"As long as we can use the same team to do the mixing and everything... So there is talk of it. It's by no means a done deal, but it is in the works to hopefully come to fruition sometime in the next year or two."
Finally, I asked the proud, but very down-to-earth rock 'n' roller what his fondest memories are of his much-missed former colleagues, Steve Marriott and Greg Ridley, who died in 1991 and 2003 respectively.
"They were just my best mates," comes the reply, "and they treated me as their equal, which of course was ridiculous because they were so much better than I'll ever be, as highly tuned musicians. I was a babe-in-the-woods compared to them, but they never made fun of me because I was a rookie who was making rookie mistakes sometimes.
"They treated me like a pro and I responded and got my professionalism together real quick because I was the least experienced of the band... They were just two super nice guys. Steve sadly his behaviour got strange when he allowed himself to imbibe a bit too much, and that got hard work because when I first knew him he wasn't like that at all.
"He was someone that I worshipped like a big brother and Greg always was like a big brother to me... To play on stage with musicians of that calibre every night was such a privilege."
Performance Rockin' The Fillmore: The Complete Recordings is out now.
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