Bassist with Spooky Tooth and Humble Pie
Saturday 06 December 2003
Greg Ridley, bassist, singer and songwriter: born Carlisle 23 October 1947; married; died Jávea, Spain 19 November 2003.
The bassist Greg Ridley was a founding member of the rock group Humble Pie which barnstormed its way across America in the early Seventies and was one of several bands (Free, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers Band can also claim some input) which combined to create the fictitious group Stillwater in Cameron Crowe's film Almost Famous (2000).
Ridley played with the British progressive blues band Spooky Tooth before joining Humble Pie in 1969. He was drafted in alongside the drummer Jerry Shirley by Humble Pie's vocalist and guitarist Steve Marriott, the former Small Faces frontman, and the guitarist Peter Frampton, who had left the Herd.
Despite its name, the new quartet instantly attracted supergroup headlines in the music press and scored a No 4 hit with "Natural Born Bugie", their début single in the UK. Following Frampton's departure in September 1971, Humble Pie recruited the ex-Colosseum guitarist Dave "Clem" Clempson and blazed a trail across the United States, playing over 200 gigs a year and amassing huge album sales until their split in the mid-Seventies.
Born in Carlisle in 1947, Greg Ridley joined his first group in the early Sixties. He was Dino in a short-lived outfit called Dino and the Danubes before teaming up with his old schoolfriend Mike Harrison (on vocals and piano) in the Ramrods. By 1965, the pair had joined the VIP's, led by the guitarist Luther Grosvenor, and recorded three singles ("Wintertime" for CBS and "I Wanna Be Free" and "Straight Down to the Bottom" on the Island label). "In the early days, I thought if we made the bright lights of London from Carlisle, we'd made it," Ridley would joke. The VIP's became Art for a cover of the Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" retitled "What's That Sound" and the 1967 album Supernatural Fairy Tales.
The following year, the American singer and organist Gary Wright joined the line-up, the band changed its name to Spooky Tooth and released the albums It's All About a Roundabout and Spooky Two. However, Ridley was unhappy and jumped at the chance to assist Steve Marriott in his new venture alongside Peter Frampton. He recalled:
Spooky Tooth were supporting the Small Faces at Alexandra Palace for New Year's Eve. Steve came up to me backstage and said, "Do you fancy being in a new band?" My instant reply was YES. Both of us needed a challenge away from the creeping paranoia of the bands we were in.
Humble Pie spent the first six months of 1969 getting their act together at Marriott's Essex home while Frampton's contractual wrangles were sorted out. "There was a lot of self-indulgence. We were still seeking our direction," Ridley said later of their début, As Safe As Yesterday Is, for Immediate, the label set up by the former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Buoyed up by the success of the single "Natural Born Bugie", Humble Pie issued a follow-up album entitled Town and Country (including the psychedelic Ridley composition "The Light of Love"). Unfortunately, it sank without trace when Immediate went into liquidation while the band were supporting Santana in the US.
The American lawyer turned manager Dee Anthony talked Humble Pie into staying together and secured them a worldwide deal with A&M Records on which they issued their eponymous third album. The band abandoned the mellower material and the emphasis shifted towards Marriott's gutsier style as they kept touring the US in 1971 to promote Rock On and Performance - Rockin' at the Fillmore, a tour de force live double album which charted on both sides of the Atlantic and sold half a million copies within a few weeks.
Frustrated and marginalised by the heavier direction, Frampton left, but Humble Pie kept up their arena-filling momentum, drafting Clempson for the million-selling Smokin', a Top Ten album in the US in 1972. Ridley said:
We were on a high, the music was great, the audiences were fantastic. Our sound turned us on and we turned the
crowds on and put fear into the other bands. We were a little army primed for battle. Around 1972, we were kings of the world, top of the mountain.
In 1973, Humble Pie issued Eat It, another successful double album, mixing studio tracks and live recordings of their stage act with the Blackberries, an all-girl trio of backing vocalists who gave the hard rockers a gospel, soulful flavour. However, Marriott's powerful performances always walked the tightrope between bravura and cliché and the subsequent albums Thunderbox and Street Rats failed to chart. The hedonistic touring life style also took its toll and in 1975 Humble Pie broke up.
After the split, Ridley briefly played with Steve Marriott's All Stars and formed Strange Brew with Clempson and the drummer Cozy Powell. Though most of the huge amounts of money Humble Pie earned in the early Seventies had disappeared into the pockets of accountants and middle-men, Ridley retired from music and eventually moved to Spain.
In April 2001, the surviving members of Humble Pie reunited to pay tribute to Steve Marriott at the Astoria in London on the 10th anniversary of his death. A full-time reunion seemed on the cards, but Frampton and Clempson opted out. Ridley and Shirley recruited the singer Bobby Tench and the guitarist Dave Colwell to tour as Humble Pie, also recording an album, Back On Track, in 2002. More recently, Ridley had been playing on the Costa Blanca with the ex-Wings drummer Geoff Britton.
Tall, blond and good-looking, Greg Ridley stood centre-stage with Humble Pie but remained modest about his achievements, saying,
It was never my intention to just play bass but thank God I did it. I love it. Bass and drums are the backbone of any band. I only gave up being a frontman to better singers. Steve was the best in the business.
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