Greg Ridley was only 56 when he died, but he 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 five hit single.
Greg, born on 23 October 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 (later of Mott The Hoople) joined the line-up.
Island Records were hip to their blues-rock experimentation and signed them, and two albums soon followed, It’s All About Spooky Tooth (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.
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 3 May 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 favour 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, and the band continued to tour there extensively even after Frampton’s departure, before disbanding — the first time — in 1975.
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’s Deluxe Audio Store, and can be bought here.
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