Jerry Shirley was one of a relative handful of musicians lucky enough to achieve actual stardom at Immediate Records, as opposed to having been a star before signing to Andrew Oldham's label or breaking through to the press and mass public after moving his career elsewhere. Indeed, Shirley was perhaps the most successful of the informal "farm team" of musicians who coalesced at Immediate between 1966 and 1969. Born in 1952 in Wattenham Cross, London, Shirley was part of the third wave of English rock & rollers, a decade younger than, say, the members of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. He reached his teens ten years after the skiffle boom, eight years after the start of the first British beat boom (heralded by Cliff Richard & the Shadows), and two years into the Beatles' and Rolling Stones' ascendancies. His own influences came from much further back -- his father was a drummer in a swing band, and Shirley grew up admiring the playing of such big-band legends as Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and Sonny Payne. Not that he was impervious to the appeal of rock & roll; by the time Shirley was in his teens, he was an admirer of Keith Moon, Charlie Watts, Al Jackson, and, later, Mitch Mitchell and Kenney Jones.
He got his start in music early, playing with a band called the Valkyries at the age of 11. Shirley subsequently joined a group called the Little People, the lineup of which included his brother Angus on guitar. Their sound was inspired by the Small Faces, who were already an established top-flight soul-based act, with hits such as "Whatcha Gonna Do About It" and "All or Nothing" behind them. They were lucky enough to be seen by Steve Marriott, who liked what he heard; according to some sources, Marriott was so impressed with the drummer (then in his mid-teens) that he brought him into the Small Faces orbit, and even had him substitute for Kenney Jones a couple of times when Jones was indisposed. In 1968, when Shirley was 16, the Little People got what could have been their break when Marriott was able to convince Oldham at Immediate Records, where the Small Faces were the top act on the roster, to record them. Marriott, who was producing the session, gave the group the latest song he and Ronnie Lane had written, "Tell Me (Have You Ever Seen Me)," and when the bass player proved unable to contribute out of nervousness, Marriott stood in on bass; he and Shirley made a great rhythm section together, Shirley's drumming being a highlight of the record, a fact of which the singer/guitarist made note.
The single, issued under the new group name that Oldham had chosen -- the Apostolic Intervention -- was a failure, and the band broke up not too long after. Shirley moved on to work with Tim Renwick in a new band called Little Women, but his contact with Marriott was still to pay dividends. By late 1968 the singer/guitarist had tired of the Small Faces, and suddenly quit the group in the middle of a gig during the final week of the year. Over the next few days, he put together a new group in partnership with guitarist/singer Peter Frampton, who had recently quit the pop/rock band the Herd. When it came picking a drummer, Marriott naturally approached Shirley and brought him into the group, alongside bassist Greg Ridley of Spooky Tooth. For the next six years as a member of Humble Pie, Shirley -- who wasn't yet 17 when invited into the lineup -- enjoyed the fruits of rock stardom of which many musicians only ever get to dream, as the band built up a worldwide following with a huge audience in America, where not even the Small Faces had ever found more than fleeting success. In addition to drums and percussion, he also contributed to the group's sound on various keyboards and the occasional guitar.
His reputation was formidable from the start, which accounts for Shirley turning up on recordings not just by fellow Immediate alumnus Billy Nicholls, but also on the solo recordings of Syd Barrett and also in the band that John Entwistle assembled for his debut solo LP, Smash Your Head Against the Wall. Indeed, the latter credit had an inevitable logic to it -- Shirley had used Kenney Jones as a jumping-off point with his first band, and Jones was the only serious rival to the Who's Keith Moon, and Shirley essentially replaced Moon as Entwistle's drummer when Entwistle went solo. He also later played with British blues legend Alexis Korner.
Shirley exited Humble Pie with the dissolution of the band in 1975, and formed Natural Gas with Felix Pappalardi and ex-Badfinger guitarist Joey Molland, which later became Magnet. In 1979, Shirley and Marriott re-formed Humble Pie, and the drummer wrote a handful of songs on the resulting On to Victory LP. He also later co-founded Fastway with Motörhead guitarist Eddie Clarke, which lasted through two albums. He teamed with Marriott again in the mid-'80s as part of Packet of Three, and became a member of one of the latter-day incarnations of Badfinger at the end of the decade. Shirley took a job as a disc jockey in Cleveland in the 1990s, and toured with a reactivated Humble Pie, as the sole original member and owner of the name, following Marriott's death in 1991. An automobile accident brought him back to England in 2000, and in more recent years he toured and recorded with his old bandmate Greg Ridley and British blues veteran Zoot Money, among others. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi