Steve Marriott is remembered, warmly and with deserved awe, as one of the greatest singers and performers in British rock'n'roll during the 1960s and 1970s. Whenever Steve Marriott appeared on a stage, he rarely failed to come across as a lively and compelling figure: the strength of his soulful voice and the force of his cocky demeanor were wonderfully out of proportion to his short stature and his slight frame. Unfortunately, Steve Marriott also lived fast, and was one of the most self-defeating musicians of that period, repeatedly (and in his final days, fatally) choosing to expend his singular qualities in a willful and reckless manner.
He was born in 1947 and started
out in show business as a child, working as an actor in London and being
favorably acknowledged for his portrayal of the Artful Dodger in a
production of Oliver! In 1961
he became a student at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, which
resulted in him making appearances on radio and television, and in
films. In 1964, driven by his love of American rhythm and blues, he
turned away from acting and applied his abilities to music, joining with
Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, and Kenney Jones in The Small Faces.
"What'cha Gonna Do About It," the first single by The Small Faces, was
released on Decca Records in August, 1965.
Small Faces never broke through in the Unites States (apart from one
single, "Itchycoo Park," in 1967), they did achieve youthful fame in the
United Kingdom, where their string of hits ("Sha-La-La-La-Lee," "Hey
Girl," "All or Nothing," "My Mind's Eye," "Here Come the Nice," "Tin
Soldier") served as a boisterous soundtrack for the trendy activities of
the Mods. They also garnered strong praise for their imaginative album,
Ogden's Nut Gone Flake,
released in 1968, which included "Lazy Sunday," a standout track (also
released as a single) with a vocal delivered by Steve Marriott in the
humorous tones of a cockney busker.
At the beginning of
1969, Steve Marriott left The Small Faces, actively seeking a different
mode of musical expression. He quickly formed another band, Humble Pie,
with Peter Frampton, a singer and guitarist who had formerly been a
member of The Herd. Their new band, with a heavier sound than The Small
Faces, was rounded out by Greg Ridley on bass and Jerry Shirley on
drums. The first album by Humble Pie, As Safe as Yesterday Is,
was released on Immediate Records in August, 1969, and within a short
time the musicians were doing particularly well in America, where they
conquered audiences by playing raw music that was hard and loud. Two
songs in particular, "Stone Cold Fever" and "I Don't Need No Doctor,"
became famous as frantic showpieces.
After three years
and five albums, Peter Frampton, who had become intent on pursuing his
own music on his own terms, decided to take his leave from Humble Pie.
He wrote a collection of new songs for himself, taking them on the road
with his own band, and achieved major stardom in America when his fifth
album, Frampton Comes Alive!, was released in 1976. Steve
Marriott and the other musicians of Humble Pie carried on without Peter
Frampton, with Dave Clempson (formerly of Bakerloo and Colosseum)
joining on lead guitar, and continued to tour constantly.
attended several performances by Humble Pie in the 1970s, I can verify
that Steve Marriott knew how to rouse an audience. From the first moment
that he set foot on the stage, flashing a cheeky grin and strutting
back and forth with his guitar, he projected a feeling of total
excitement. His connection to his fans was warm and direct, reflecting
the unaffected openness of his character. He gave the utmost of his
vigorous talent to every song that he sang. To understand his true
measure as a singer, all that is required is to hear a live recording of
him belting out "Hallelujah I Love Her So."
run of Humble Pie ended in 1975. Toward the end of the 1970s, Steve
Marriott began to stumble, going into a long and unhealthy decline. He
was pulled downward by an unwieldy dependence on alcohol and cocaine,
and plagued by a lack of money after many years of being cheated out of
his rightful earnings. In the early 1980s, Humble Pie was briefly
revived and released two albums, On to Victory and Go for the Throat,
but when the band folded again after two years, Steve Marriott fell out
of the limelight. From the middle of the 1980s onward, he played only
with small-time bands, appearing mostly in pubs, and never regained his
In the end, it seemed that Steve Marriott
had become his own worst enemy. Although he actually was a sensitive
and knowledgeable person, with varied interests that ranged from ballet
to the works of Noel Coward, he frequently behaved in an unruly manner,
preferring to show a rough-and-ready face to the world. Even before he
was killed in a fire in his home, at the age of forty-four in 1991, it
was clear that he had lost his way. He was a marvelous musician with an
honest and affable spirit, but his inability to find a stable life
caused him to waste the best part of himself.