Following the demise of Humble Pie mark 2 at the beginning of the 80's
Steve disappeared from the public eye, in the UK at least. These so
called "Atlanta Years" of Steve's, from 1982 to 1983, have never been
documented in any detail. Steve's work during that time is written
off as a 'lost weekend'. In fact he did at least nine tours as well as
recording sessions in Macon, Georgia; Chattanooga, Tennessee and
Atlanta. Steve's band played clubs, theatres, arenas and large
outdoor festival dates across the U.S. Here is the story of Steve's
Atlanta Years, as recalled candidly for this site by his tour manager
at the time, Bill Hibbler. Read on for bust-ups and bathrobes....
"In 1982 I was touring with Steve's band of the time Jim, Fallon and
Goldie. The band went on to do an Australian tour that year followed
by a fall/winter tour of the states. On the West Coast leg of that
tour, Goldy was fired. According to my buddy Mark Ballew, who was
still stage manager for the band, Goldy got hold of a bunch of downers and was totally out of it. There was another issue as well but I don't
think it would serve anyone to mention it. The band continued to tour
the U.S. as a three piece and in December, they played Columbus, Ohio
where I was living at the time. I spoke to Steve and I ended up riding
along for the final three shows of the tour which finished in Atlanta.
At this point, a man named Michael 'Mo" Martin was managing Steve.
Martin was an experienced record promotion person that was experiencing
some hard times. Steve and Pam were living together with another couple
in a mansion in Atlanta. When the other couple left, Mo and his wife,
Debra moved in. Steve was broke and Mo was paying the bills. Mo had
been speaking with Phil Walden, who had just revived the Capricorn
label about a deal for Steve. Walden was very responsive but then
suddenly stopped taking Mo's calls. Initially, there was a deal on
the table and Capricorn even requested that Steve cancel several tour
dates to come in to make a record. We didn't know it at the time but
Capricorn was in trouble. It was around this time that the band and
myself were scheduled to fly into Atlanta to either go on tour or hit
the studio. Fallon and I arrived as planned but Jim ran into trouble
at immigration. I didn't see Jim again until Steve returned from
England in 1985.
Capricorn finally called and requested that the band come down to
Macon to record demos before they'd actually tender an offer. This
was insulting given Marriott's track record but he and Mo went along
because we were in a pretty desperate financial state. Fallon, Steve,
Mo and I went down to Macon for a week and they recorded three or four songs. We later discovered that Capricorn had blown their distribution
deal and wanted to use Steve's demos to secure a new deal. The guys
from Capricorn were in way over their head and the whole label collapsed
within weeks. It wasn't until much later that Phil Walden successfully
revived the label for a third time.
Mo and myself got on our agency, Empire, to put a tour together for
us. I'd been working for a local Atlanta band on the weekends so I'd
have some money coming n. While working with that band, I met David
"Turtle" Tykson. Turtle was a sound man and I hired him to work with us.
So, we were broke but we were staying in this huge house with a hundred
gold records (They were MO's gold records from his record company work)
on the walls. We were living on peanut butter sandwiches yet there was a
party at the house almost every night. It all seemed a bit funny. People
assumed because of the house, which was rented, that everyone had plenty
of money. One person would call wanting to stop by and Steve would say,
"Ok, mate, do you mind picking up a couple of bottles of Stoli and some
Orange Juice on the way?" And they would. Another person would ring and
it would be, "Oh great, love to see you. Be here about seven. Oh, and if
it's not too much trouble, could you grab a gallon of Jack Daniels and a
couple of two litre Cokes and some ice?" And of course, one or two people
would have a little coke and a little grass, etc. Most of these party
goers just wanted to impress their dates and didn't think anything of
picking up a bit of groceries on the way. So, yes, there were drugs
around but the drug use wasn't out of control. The liquor consumption
was much larger than the drug use.
In those days, the Atlanta music scene centered around a little club
called "Hedgens". I was totally amazed by that place. On Monday nights,
Hedgens was the place to be. The Monday night house band was The
Satellites (later the Georgia Satellites). We'd show up and people like
blues guitarist Tinsley Ellis would be there. Members of the bands,
Kansas, Atlanta Rhythm Section and The Producers would all be there as
well as Steve, Fallon and myself. Producer Steve Lillywhite was a regular
as was future Sony VP Brendan O'Bryan who was an on again/off again
member of he Satelites. Everyone would sit in and it would be one giant
jam session and music industry networking event that went on until the
wee hours. It was at Hedgens that Turtle introduced me to Keith
Christopher. I told Keith that we were looking for a bass player that
could sing in the Bob Seger/Joe Cocker type range that could effectively
sing with Steve. Keith looked at me right in the eye and said, "No
Problem, I can sing just like Bob Seger." We later discovered that
Keith can sing like Bob Seger about as much as I can which is to say,not
at all. But he was a great bass player and everyone liked him so he was in.
I heard Tommy Johnson doing the Van Halen "Eruption" solo in a local music
store. We struck up a conversation and he kind of gave me his resume'. He'd
never really played for a touring band but he had played on a session for a
band that Mo had recently worked with. He had a little bit of a Peter
Frampton look to him and with Tom, Keith and Fallon, the band certainly
looked more current than it had when Jim and Goldie were in.
Tommy was a really hyper guy. He was so excited about the gig that he
literally seemed to bounce around half the time. I think he made Steve a
bit nervous. Steve dubbed him "The Kid". Tommy could play but he was a
little too much into gadgets for Steve's taste and Steve was never really
satisfied with his sound. Steve tried to get him to switch to a Les Paul
and get a thicker sound going but it didn't work out. After our first
tour with Tommy, the band was booked to play two shows in Florida. Tommy
was supposed to drive down on his own from Tennessee but he missed the
first show entirely and finally turned up the next night just before the
band was scheduled to go on. He'd supposedly had car trouble or something
but he'd never even called. Oddly enough, a girl had flown down to see Tommy from Detroit. They'd hooked up when we played there but Tommy was
The girl, who's name I can't recall but everyone called her 'Bunny' ends
up hooking up with Steve and they lived together for a while at the farm
in Georgia. Tommy's no-show in Florida was the last straw for Steve and
he had us seeking a replacement. Keith and Fallon made for a strong rhythm
section, though so we just needed a new guitar player. Before Tommy left,
though, the band did record three songs at Pyramid Eye Recording Studios
in Chattanooga. One of my favourite songs from that session was Steve's
remake of Brenda Lee's "Sweet Nothings".
By now, Steve, Mo and Deborah had moved to a farm outside of Atlanta. Now,
Steve's touring income was paying the bills as Mo didn't have any money left
or any coming in. Steve was drinking a lot then and smoking a little pot but that was about it. As the time for the next tour neared, we hadn't found a
replacement for Tommy and Steve hadn't fired him. As far as the Kid knew,
he was doing the tour. The week prior to the tour, Steve's phone was cut off.
They couldn't afford to pay the long distance bill. I'm not sure how but
Steve met a local guitar player named Phil Dix . He worked in a record store.
Steve had decided to hire the guy but hadn't really told the rest of us about
it. Fallon and Keith wanted to use Jerry Riggs, the guitar player/singer from
the Atlanta band, Riggs. (Riggs had two songs on the "Heavy Metal" soundtrack).
Roy Thomas Baker produced their first and only album which wasn't a hit. Jerry
later went on to play for several years with Pat Travers)."
"Fallon and Keith showed up at my place with Jerry and said they were going to
drive down to Griffin to convince Steve to use Jerry instead of Phil. When the
guys showed up, Steve said something along the lines of "I think I smell a mutiny!". But they ended up jamming and Steve decided to hire Jerry instead of
Phil. Steve sent me a message through Fallon and Keith that I would get the
happy task of firing both Tommy and Phil. Obviously, I wasn't happy about that
but I was pleased that Jerry was going to be in the band. The next night, we
were scheduled to head out on tour. The plan was that the tour bus would come
to my place and then we'd ride out to Steve's to pick up him and the equipment.
At that point, my roommate at the time had his phone cut off. I had to actually
call Tommy collect in Chatanooga to give him the ax. It was a very tacky thing
to do but there wasn't anything else I could do. Phil showed up at my house
that afternoon where I got to tell him the bad news. He had his wife and kid
with him and they were pretty upset. He and Steve had only known each other
for a few days, but I guess this was his shot at the big time."
"That evening, Jerry, Keith, Fallon, Turtle, Curtis (our new stage mgr.) and I
along with our new bus and driver headed to Steve's. When we got there, it was
complete chaos. After Phil Dix left my house, he headed straight for Steve's. He's crying, his wife is crying and the baby's crying. Steve couldn't
handle it. When I walked in he told me that Phil would be going after all and
now I had to fire Jerry! This was not one of my better days. So I go outside
and tell the crew to stop loading Jerry's gear into the bus and I let the band
know the scoop. Jerry took it ok but Keith went ballistic. Mind you, Keith had
never seen Phil before and he didn't realize that Phil was actually in the
house. Keith sees Phil but thinks he's just a neighbor or a friend. He storms
into Steve's living room and, in front of Phil and his family, goes on a tirade.
"Screw this Phil Dix guy! I'm not playing with the f$%#ing A$*#$&^! I QUIT!".
Phil doesn't say a word. Now, everyone is yelling. The crew doesn't know what
to do and the poor bus driver is wondering what in the world he's gotten
himself into. Somehow, I managed to calm everyone down, get Jerry a ride back
to town, help the crew load the gear and get the show on the road. Now, keep in
mind, Phil is coming along and he knows that everyone preferred Jerry and he's
never even rehearsed with the band, only Steve. I didn't think much of the guy
using his family to push Steve's guilt buttons but I had to admit the guy
had some guts to climb on that bus.
So, the first time Phil played with the band was at the first show. I think
Steve probably resented what Phil had done too and gave him the "Duck"
nickname. With a guy like Donald "Duck" Dunn from Booker T and the MG's or
the Blues Brothers, Duck is a cool nickname. It's pretty stupid though when
you're last name is Dix. Phil was definitely a better guitar player than the
Kid but he wasn't close to what Jerry would have given the band. Still, the
band got pretty tight during that tour. The more they played, the better
they got. One of the challenges we faced was that the agency would only keep
us out on tour for two or three weeks at a time. Just as the band would really
start to cook, we'd have to go home. By the same token, we'd only get to make
just enough money to catch up.
One good thing about having an Atlanta based band and crew was that we could
go off and do one or two gigs on a weekend, though, which we did frequently.
The band did shows all over Georgia, Florida and Alabama in this fashion. Also, Steve was really looking well during this time frame. He'd dropped
a few pounds, got a nice tan and cut his hair. He looked much younger than he
had in 1982. By the time our next tour came around, the Pie was lean and
mean. The band didn't look like a bunch of old farts on the nostalgia circuit.
They were very good and the crowds loved it. We played small clubs, large
clubs, theaters, arenas and huge outdoor shows. A couple of highlights of
that period were opening for Quiet Riot at the El Paso Civic Center (QR
brought Steve back out during their encore and did C'Mon Everybody). The
band opened for Dio in Pittsburgh and blew the crowd as well as Dio away.
One day, at the legendary Cains Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the band was
playing a show with Foghat. It was basically a co-bill thing but it happened
that we were scheduled to go on first and Foghat second. I think Foghat had a bit of an attitude about Steve dating back to their tours together in the
70's. Anyway, Foghat are making things difficult at the load-in. They're up
doing their sound check and we can't put our gear onstage until their finished.
And it's getting closer and closer to the time for the doors to open. Mind you,
headline bands do this sort of thing to the young bands that are opening for
them all the time. It's almost a tradition like hazing. But you generally
don't do this to a veteran band. Foghat keeps starting a song and then
stopping in the middle and arguing and then starting again. "They'd go Hey
you're supposed to be playing this and he's supposed to be playing that, blah
blah blah blah. Mind you, these are there old songs that they've played a
million times before. I was getting madder and madder but Steve didn't seem
to mind. I even spotted him grinning a few times and knew he was up to something.
When Foghat finally cleared the stage we had only a few minutes to check the
mic levels. We were a good crew and got the gear up and running very quickly.
When we do, Steve and the band take the stage. Foghat is watching from the wings.
The band proceeds to whip out kazoos and play cartoon songs over the PA. In the
middle of the little cartoon theme song, Steve would stop and say, Hey, you're
supposed to be playing this...." basically repeating exactly what Foghat had
said and making them look very foolish. They weren't amused and Steve LOVED this.
He had me get a car and I got a runner to take us to a nearby discount store where
Steve purchased a bathrobe and slippers. We hurried back to the venue and at
showtime, Steve walked out in the bathrobe and slippers with his little cabbie
hat and played the whole show that way. And Steve gave one of the best
performancesI've ever seen. It was perfect, Foghat couldn't come close to it yet
Steve appeared to be so unconcerned about playing with Foghat that he hadn't even bothered to get dresssed for the occasion. Foghat proceeded to give a very
lackluster and uncomfortable performance.
At this time despite dating other women, Steve really seemed to want to get back
together with his wife, Pam. Pam had run off with another guy but Steve kept
trying to get back together with her. Also, Mo's wife Deborah was now pregnant.
Steve was already paying the bills for the three of them and now Deb was going
to have a baby. And Deb was a woman that wasn't used to having all these
musicians around. She resented the whole situation and wasn't shy about letting
everyone know about it.
As I recall, Phil Dix was either sacked or just not rehired at this point. The
band was scheduled to record yet another round of demos, this time with legendary
Yes/ELP producer, Eddie Offord. Eddie had a great studio in Atlanta. A friend of
mine, Rick Richards, was the guitar player for the Georgia Satellites. I'd always
thought that Ricky would be the perfect guitar player for Steve. He was Ron Wood
and Keith Richards rolled up into one guy. We'd been trying to hook them up for
years but we'd never managed to get both of them to agree to it at the same time.
The Satellites had broken up again (a frequent occurence) and we finally got Rick
to agree to audition and Steve to agree to let him. Rick, Keith, Fallon and I
drove down the farm so they could play. It was incredible. The chemistry was
amazing. It was everything I knew it could be but more so. Rick was the perfect
foil for Steve. I wish we'd taped it but we didn't. Everyone, including Steve,
was blown away. Finally, all the pieces of the puzzle were in place. Put this
band in the studio with Eddie Offord and the record deal would definitely come.
But, it wasn't to be. Keith and Rick were so jazzed about the day, they went out
and got drunk that night. I couldn't find them anywhere and they missed the next
days rehearsals. Steve was so mad that he not only fired Rick but Keith as well.
I tried to put them back together again but there was too much pride on both
sides. When it was time to go into the studio with Eddie, it was just Fallon and
Steve. We recruited ex-Baby Ruth and Satellites bassist Dave Hewitt to play on
the sessions and Steve played guitars and keyboards. While the sessions were
happening, Steve made one last effort to get back together with Pam and they had
a huge fight.
It was around this time that Steve suddenly announced that his Dad was ill and
he was going back to England. There were a few upcoming shows booked but we were
once again without a full band. Steve cancelled the shows and booked a ticket
home. I'm not sure how I knew but I told Mo right then that Steve wasn't coming
back. Mo said, "He's gotta come back. We've got to pay the rent on the farm and the electric bill is due" and so on.... I don't know if I told Mo but I knew that was
one of the reasons he was leaving. I think he desperately wanted to get out of the responsibility of supporting Mo and Deb and probably at that point hated living
with them. But he probably felt guilty since they'd helped him out and Deb was
pregnant so he didn't want a confrontation. With the band broken up and no hope of reconciling with his wife, he decided to go home. Whether his Dad was actually ill,
I have no idea but the implication was that his Father was dying and, as far as I
know, his father is still alive today. [Steve's father died a couple of years ago,
not during the 80s - nbw]
Within a short time, Steve invited Fallon over to put together Packet
of Three with Jim. He offered me a job as well but I'd have to pay my own way over.
I decided I didn't want to risk getting stuck so far from home if things didn't work out so I passed.
In 1985, we brought the Packet of Three over for another tour... but that's another
One thing I would like to end with is that I thought that the longer I worked with
Steve, the mellower he got. At first, I saw a lot of Melvin, Steve's alter ego.
Melvin came out if Steve stayed up for too long partying. There were occasions when
I'd start to see Melvin surfacing (you could see the change in Steve's face) and I'd immediately get him to bed. This was also a guy that used to drink a fifth of Jack
Daniels every single night when touring with The Pie in 80/81. That's a big part of
the reason that he ended up in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer in May of 81. Over time, there were less and less Melvin appearances. Whereas when I started with Steve, he'd always insist on keeping the blinds closed on the tour bus and have the road crew put gels on the interior lights to it was dark like a nightclub; later on, he
enjoyed the sunshine and cocaine use was pretty rare and when it did happen, it was
in very small doses. Even Steve's drinking slowed down but when he did drink it
was always to excess. And that pretty much applied to most of us.
Steve could be one of the warmest people at times and he could just as easily be
cruel. I once saw Steve give a chef a guitar as a tip in a restaurant when the chef whipped up a special guitar shaped pastry for the band. And I also had him once
almost break my nose over a girl he'd just met. That was Steve and he definitely had
his demons. I think part of him wanted to be a big star and part of him wanted to be
just a humble musician playing pubs because then he would never be disappointed by
failure. I think he must have wrestled with that his whole life.
I certainly don't think America was the Hell for Steve that I've seen others write
about. Steve was definitely a star on the rise again by 1983 or 84. It's just that
the people that I've seen interviewed and that have done the writing are British.
And none of those people were around during that time. It's possible that Steve
may have told Jim when he returned that it was a dry period but that was likely
borne out of Steve's frustration with things at the very end as well as to spare
Jim's feelings since he didn't get to participate.
I do know this, when Steve returned to America, he seemed at peace with himself.
But he also wasn't the same performer. It wasn't really his performance as much as
his attitude. With the Packet of 3, Steve acted like he was sixty years old. He'd
added quite a bit of weight and was back to dressing onstage in whatever he
happened to have on at the time. Jim would pretty much wear the same clothes for
weeks at a time so the band went from looking like a young and vital rock band to
a more nostalgic blues outfit. Marriott would tell the crowd things like, "Thanks
for coming out and seeing a couple of fat bald old farts like us tonight." His
singing effort was as strong as ever but his demeanour reminded me of when I saw
people like Muddy Waters or Lightnin' Hopkins before they died. And Steve was
still a fairly young guy. The one positive that I did see comr from that period
was Steve's guitar playing. For probably the first time ever, Steve was
shouldering the guitar duties on his own without a keyboard player for support.
Steve was never a great guitar player in Humble Pie but I think part of that was
being intimidated by Peter and Clem. Suddenly, for the first time, Steve had
found a way to translate his brilliant phrasing abilities on vocals to the
guitar. It was beautiful to see and Steve really got a charge out it himself.
When he did his solo on Five Long Years, the crowd would go nuts and Steve seemed
to be very genuinely touched and almost embarrassed by the reaction. It always
put a big grin on his face."