Steve Marriott, who perished tragically in 1991, was a formidable rock titan. In the 1960s, he was frontman and co-writer for Small Faces (bassist Ronnie Lane worked on the material with Marriott), a band often credited with the trappings and hooks that influenced Britpop. This was defined by their wonderfully, whimsically English nature, which referenced everything from the lakes that distracted the young men from their studies to the toys that decorated their home lives. Ferocious and hungry for success, Marriott urged his bandmates to welcome Peter Frampton into the mix, in the hope of bringing ballast to the mix.
Hot-headed and haughty, Marriott quit the band to form Humble Pie, offering him an ideal berth to share guitar duties with Frampton. It was a group of incendiary power and turbo-charged vocal performances, earmarking a form of music that could be described as “proto-punk”. Their debut album, As Safe as Yesterday Is, was an impressive curio, melding blues, funk, soul, and pastoral music into one hodge-podge that was packaged for American audiences. Marriott’s long hair, furrowed brows, and heroic posturings made him look like a rockstar of force and nature.
The band’s live sets, bolstered by Jerry Shirley’s thunderous backbeat, felt like an extension of Marriott’s soul, positing themselves as the missing link between the art-rock theatrics of The Rolling Stones and the raw, virile machismo of Led Zeppelin.
Marriott enjoyed the spotlight: “I love it! Yeah, I have no pressures on me. Let’s face it, I’m a born headliner, but I don’t want to force the issue. Like if we do this spot nice and support people, that’s fine. We’re gonna headline a few places here and there, but next tour we’ll come across and be top bill.”
The shows crackled with an energy that was impossible to replicate in the studio, and by 1975 the band had split up for solo careers. Ready for a solo shot, Marriott released his eponymous record, a lavishly produced work that showcased the strength of his voice. But behind the barrelling hooks and disembodied yelps stood a man who was deeply troubled, battling his personal demons through cocaine and alcohol.
He was also known for his garrulous behavior, which came to a head when he auditioned with The Rolling Stones, purportedly upsetting Mick Jagger with some of his comments.
Ensconced in his creativity, Marriott rebooted Small Faces, this time with Rick Wills as bassist. In an effort to liven their sound, Wings guitarist Jimmy McCulloch performed solos on 78 in the Shade, although the absence of Lane- nominally the band’s most soulful member – was pertinent, and the music had lost much of its edge. It can’t have helped that Frampton, Marriott’s lieutenant in Humble Pie, had become something of a pin-up by the close of the 1970s, positing Marriott as a pawn in Frampton’s shadow.
To Frampton’s credit, he invited Marriott to work with him in 1990, and “The Bigger They Come” exhibited the singer’s spontaneity, piercing through the backdrop with panther-like precision. Tragically, Marriott was killed in a fire, although the verdict was ruled as accidental. Fittingly, “All or Nothing”, which boasted one of Marriott’s most vital performances, was played at his requiem.
In an effort to mark the tenth anniversary of his death, a tribute concert was held at the London Astoria. Small Faces bandmates Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan appeared (Lane and McCulloch were also dead by this point) on a stage decorated with some of the most enduring names in British rock. Marriott disciples Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher paid tribute to the Godfather of Britpop, recognizing his place in a canon of rock.
Photo: Steve Marriott with Humble Pie at Madison Square Garden (Dina Regine/ CC-BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons)
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