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Natural Born Bassman: Spooky Tooth And Humble Pie’s Greg Ridley

Before he was 22, Ridley had been a co-founder of two key British bands of the late 1960s, Spooky Tooth and Humble Pie.

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Greg Ridley was only 56 when he died, but the bassist packed a whole lot of achievements into a frontline music career of little more than a decade. Before he was 22, he had been a co-founder of two key British bands of the late 1960s, Spooky Tooth and Humble Pie, worked with musicians such as Steve Marriott and Gary Wright and sung on a UK Top 5 hit single.

Greg, born on October 23, 1947 in Aspatria in Cumberland, cut his teeth in northern bands like the V.I.P.’s and the Ramrods, who transmuted into Spooky Tooth when Wright (later the “Dream Weaver” hitmaker in the US) and Luther Grosvenor (subsequently of Mott The Hoople) joined the line-up.

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Island Records were hip to their blues-rock experimentation and signed them, and two albums soon followed, It’s All About (which mixed originals with covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Janis Ian and others) and Spooky Too, on which Wright emerged as the band’s chief songwriter.

Then in 1969 came the invitation from Steve Marriott to be part of his new adventure in Humble Pie. One of the early supergroups, their line-up also included drummer Jerry Shirley and, of course, former “Face Of ‘68” Peter Frampton from The Herd.

An Immediate success

They signed to Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label (“Happy To Be Part Of The Industry Of Human Happiness”), and that year brought not one but two albums, As Safe As Yesterday Is and Town and Country. That summer, it also brought a substantial hit single, as Marriott’s “Natural Born Bugie” climbed to No.4 on the UK charts.

That certainly wasn’t what they were expecting, as Ridley had made clear when they announced their arrival in a Melody Maker article on May 3, 1969. “I’ve been fooling around with the bass for about four years, trying to find a style that satisfies me,” he told Chris Welch. “Steve suggested the name Humble Pie. It just sounded like a nice name and shows that we are all going to be equal in the group – not Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton and two backing musicians.

“That’s the way THEY want it,” added Ridley, referring to the industry establishment. “The pop star bit isn’t relevant to what we are doing.”

Humble Pie’s rock sensibilities went on to find generally more favor in the US than on their own side of the Atlantic. Both the Performance – Rockin’ The Fillmore live album and the studio follow-up Smokin’ went gold in America. The band continued to tour there extensively even after Frampton’s departure, before disbanding — the first time — in 1975. As Spooky Tooth, meanwhile, reformed early in 1973, the band’s Mike Harrison good-naturedly told Let It Rock magazine of Ridley: “l remember ’im when ’e were a farmer in Carlisle, and ’e’s a millionaire with ’Umble Pie now!”

Ridley made an album with Marriott that wasn’t released, and apart from some attempts at collaboration with Boxer and Mike Patto, left the industry. He resurfaced to be part of the moving tribute concert to Marriott in London in 2001, along with Shirley, Frampton and his replacement in the band, “Clem” Clempson, and toured and recorded for a while with a latter-day Humble Pie approximation before becoming ill. He died in Alicante in 2003 of pneumonia and complications from it, but his key role in two significant British bands is fondly remembered.

The CD and vinyl editions of Spooky Tooth’s The Island Years — An Anthology, 1967-1974 is in uDiscover Music’s Deluxe Audio Store, and can be bought here.

Follow the Work From Home Rock playlist, featuring scores of great guitar-led anthems.

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