British rockers Humble Pie were steeped in blues and R&B influences that coursed through vocalist/rhythm guitarist Steve Marriott.
When they finally broke with 1971’s Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore, Marriott, guitarist Peter Frampton, bassist Greg Ridley, and drummer Jerry Shirley were on fire. The nine-minute scorcher “I Don’t Need No Doctor” is the highlight from one of rock’s best live albums.
After Frampton suddenly (and shockingly) for a solo career, David “Clem” Clempson was brought aboard after being in several bands including blues-rockers Bakerloo and, more notably, Colosseum, which blended jazz-rock and progressive rock (he is now part of a reunited version of that band).
Clempson recalls that joining Humble Pie was a surprise.
“Our paths had crossed, but I didn’t really know any of them very well,” he said. “I knew Peter had left and Colosseum was falling apart, so I decided to give Steve a call and see what was going on. He then went and bought Colosseum Live and was very excited by what he heard. He called me later and asked if I could go to his cottage in Essex, where we had a nice evening jamming on unplugged electric guitars. He also played some records he liked and said, ‘Come to our rehearsal in London tomorrow and meet the guys.’ I turned up expecting an audition, and the press was there! Apparently, me joining had been announced, or at least word had been passed to certain friends in the press that the new guitarist in Humble Pie was going to be putting in an appearance. It was a bit of a shock, really.”
The re-shaped band played warm-up shows in Europe before entering London’s famed Olympic Sound Studios in February, 1972, to record what would become Smokin’.
“We’d played some of those songs at those first gigs,” said Clempson. “I remember doing ‘The Fixer’ and ‘Sweet Peace and Time’ in particular. We definitely didn’t do ‘Hot ‘N’ Nasty’ because that was a jam in the studio – a completely spontaneous thing, not written and rehearsed.”
The album became their biggest seller, reaching #6 on the Billboard chart; “Hot ‘N’ Nasty” became a modest hit (#52) and “30 Days in the Hole” proved to be a rock-radio favorite.
With its loose feel and covers, Smokin’ was full of songs the band had loved for years.
“‘I Wonder’ was obviously one,” Clempson noted. “We were all huge fans of Ray Charles. To be honest, I hadn’t heard (Charles’ version) when Steve said, ‘This is one we could do.’ There was another – (Junior Walker & the All Stars’) ‘Road Runner’ – which was a jam in the studio and Steve sang the words over it, so we called it ‘Road Runner’s ‘G’ Jam.’ Eddie Cochran’s ‘C’mon Everybody’ was another one we’d been doing before we went into the studio.”
The sessions were straightforward. Clempson and Alexis Korner, legendary father figure of British blues, sang “Old Time Feelin’” while Korner played a Martin tiple. Stephen Stills, who also happened to be recording at Olympic, added backing vocals to “Hot ‘N’ Nasty.”
“We just played as if we were onstage,” said Clempson. “Vocals were usually overdubbed, of course. I may have re-done one or two solos. Mostly, it was us playing live and having a great time. It was the most-fun album I’ve ever done, and I’ve had great times with a lot of different musicians. But in terms of fun, nothing ever beat that one.
“Another thing was that wonderful feeling – especially in the Smokin’ sessions – that I was just so free coming from Colosseum, where we were confined by complicated arrangements. Suddenly, I could wail – and that’s exactly what I did through that whole album!”
Clempson primarily played a ’58 Les Paul goldtop (which he still has) and a Martin D-28. He might’ve used a different Gibson more, had the British government not intervened.
“I played a white SG Custom, which a guitar dealer brought from America. He turned up at the studio with a bunch of guitars. I bought one, and Steve bought one. I can’t remember what Steve bought, but we used them for two or three days in the studio before Her Majesty’s customs turned up and said the guitars had been smuggled into the country. They arrested the guy because hadn’t paid duty on them, so they took them.
“Anyway, I used the SG on ‘Hot ‘N’ Nasty’ and ‘Road Runner’s ‘G’ Jam,’ which were recorded the same evening, with Steve on organ.
“To be honest, I don’t think I would’ve kept that guitar for long because the middle pickup drove me crazy. I’ve never really got on with three-pickup guitars [because the middle pickup interferes with picking]. I don’t mind Strats because they have lots of space between since they’re only single-coils. But when you’ve got three humbuckers next to each other, there’s no space.”
This article originally appeared in VG’s February 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.