Steve Marriott was a voice, a hard-rocking, screeching bundle of energy that made the Small Faces and Humble Pie legendary rock bands.
But man could he play guitar.
Often overlooked in Marriott’s resume as a rock icon is that the man could play with the best of them, laying down blues licks with remarkable mastery.
It’s why today we’re honoring the late, great Steve Marriott.
Marriott began his performing career as an child actor, doing musical theater at a young age and even enrolling in acting school with his parents’ enthusiastic support.
But by his mid-teens Marriott had settled on a career in music — despite his family’s insistence that he remain devoted to acting.
Marriott’s first noteworthy band was the Small Faces, formed with Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones. It was Marriott’s first taste of success, with four albums and a following at live shows that reportedly included eventual Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant. In fact, the Small Faces was among the influences to the future Zeppelin sound.
But feuding among the members dissolved the group at the end of 1968, at a time when Marriott had been pushing to have guitarist Peter Frampton join the Faces. Instead, Marriott and Frampton moved on, with Marriott joining the newly formed Humble Pie. Marriott was still just 22, with seemingly a lifetime of rock stardom in his future.
Notably, Marriott’s departure from Small Faces prompted Lane and Jones to replace him with two musicians — singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood — and shorten the band’s name to the Faces. It would launch both Stewart’s and Wood’s careers.
With Humble Pie, Marriott hit his stride. The band’s songs — many penned by Marriott — began to hit the charts, while their live performances became legendary. Their 1971 live album, “Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore,” not only captured the band’s energy, but became one of their most memorable releases.
However, having a reputation as a top live act carries a price. Pie toured almost non-stop for years, prompting Marriott to climb deeper into the drug and alcohol abuse that had increasingly infiltrated his life. They lasted until 1975.
Marriott was far from done, but the years that followed were rocky. His solo work and a number of new bands failed to rekindle his earlier success. Meanwhile he found himself broke due to bad business deals inked during his Small Faces and Humble Pie days. Both bands later reunited briefly, with Pie’s second incarnation in 1980 and 1981 faring relatively well. But Marriott struggled to regain his footing in the industry, even walking away for a stretch, disillusioned with the recording industry.
Still, he continued to perform, battling substance abuse as he went. In 1990 he began collaborating with his onetime Pie bandmate Frampton, who had risen to meteoric heights as a guitar god in the mid-1970s, only to see his career plummet in the years that followed. A songwriting and performing partnership promised to benefit both men.
However, Marriott would never be able to see it through. He died early in 1991 in a fire in his home in Britain, presumably from a blaze started by a lit cigarette after a day and night of heavy drinking. Two of his final recordings with Frampton were later released by the British guitarist as bonus tracks when he put out a greatest hits compilation.
Marriott remains an iconic and overlooked rock and roll pioneer. In a 2000 interview, former Humble Pie band member Jerry Shirley said Marriott “was certainly the most talented person I ever worked with.”
“He’s never got the credit he deserves,” Shirley said. “He should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame because he was the greatest white soul singer that England ever produced. I’m certain that if you caught the likes of Rod Stewart and Paul Rodgers in a private moment and asked them who was the main man, they would say Steve Marriott.”
And hopefully one of them would throw in a line about Marriott’s guitar playing.
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(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)