Steve Marriott was always going to be a star. By the age of 13 he was playing in bands around his native East London and appearing in the West End production of Olivier !, his hyperactivity is a perfect fit for his role as the Artful Dodger. It’s a presence he brought to the Small Faces, the band he co-founded with fellow songwriter Ronnie Lane in 1965.
Along with drummer Kenney Jones and organist Ian McLagan, the quartet quickly became the beacon of emerging mod culture, equating the harsh grooves of American R&B and soul with a British take on sharp suits and laddish bonhomie.
Both Marriott and Lane were exceptionally gifted songwriters, creating some of the most enduring classics of the 60s in the form of Itchycoo Park, All or nothing, tin soldier and lazy sunday. But it’s Marriott’s blue-eyed soulful voice that sets him apart. The Stones, The Who and the Sex Pistols are just a few who have acknowledged his influence.
Marriott effectively broke up the Small Faces after a stormy gig in 1968, throwing his guitar to the ground in frustration at what he perceived to be the band’s inability to break into more demanding artistic territory. While the others would go on to form The Faces, Marriott co-founded Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, Greg Ridley and Jerry Shirley, and abandoned their past glories in favor of a much heavier brand of riff-centric blues rock.
Overshadowed by ’70s contemporaries such as Led Zeppelin and The Who, Humble Pie was nevertheless a searing proposition, especially live. America became their stronghold over the decade, and they toured the United States more than 20 times in a four-year span.
Humble Pie’s heyday was over in 1975. So was Marriott. Divorced, hobbled by debt and with a serious addiction to drugs and alcohol, he made a token attempt at a solo career before an unfortunate reunion with the Small Faces and Humble Pie. His later years saw him return to his roots in London pubs and clubs, fronting bands such as Packet Of Three and The DTs.
Tragically, Marriott died in a house fire in 1991, after falling asleep with a lit cigarette. “Although he might be hell, he had a pure heart and I loved him like a brother,” McLagan wrote in his memoir, All the rage. “He never stopped swinging.”