Steve Marriott – A Mod Icon and Rock Legend

In the annals of rock history, the name Stephen Peter Marriott resonates as a profound guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Born on January 30, 1947 and departing this world on April 20, 1991, Marriott’s musical legacy is etched in the fabric of rock and roll.

Early Years and Mod Style Influence

Steve Marriott emerged as a prominent figure in the British music scene, capturing the essence of the mod style that defined an era. His charismatic presence and musical prowess propelled him to become a frequently photographed mod-style icon, leaving an indelible mark on the cultural landscape.

Musical Influences Shaping Marriott’s Artistry

Miles Davis, Buddy Holly, Booker T & the MG’s, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Muddy Waters, and Bobby Bland—these were the maestros whose influence coursed through Marriott’s veins. The eclectic mix of inspirations contributed to the distinctive sound that became synonymous with his name.

Small Faces and Humble Pie: A Pinnacle in Marriott’s Career

Co-founding the rock bands Small Faces and Humble Pie, Marriott played a pivotal role in shaping the musical landscape of the 1960s and 1970s. The synergy within Small Faces, characterised by Marriott’s vocals and guitar, marked an era of sonic innovation.

Departure from Mainstream Music and Obscurity

In his later life, Marriott took a divergent path, distancing himself from the mainstream music industry. Choosing authenticity over commercialism, he turned away from major record labels, embracing a life of relative obscurity. Despite the shift, Marriott remained true to his musical roots, gracing pubs and clubs around London and Essex with his soulful performances.

Tragic End and Posthumous Recognition

The curtain fell on Marriott’s life on 20 April, 1991, as a fire engulfed his 16th-century home in Arkesden, Essex. The tragedy, believed to be caused by a cigarette, silenced a musical luminary at the age of 44. Posthumously, Marriott received an Ivor Novello Award in 1996 for his “Outstanding Contribution to British Music.”

The Formative Years and Rise to Stardom

Early Life and Modest Beginnings

Steve Marriott, born on 30 January, 1947, entered the world prematurely at East Ham Memorial Hospital in Plashet, East Ham, England. Weighing a mere 4 lb 4 oz, he faced a challenging start, battling jaundice for four weeks before finally going home. Raised in a working-class family on Strone Road, Manor Park, Marriott’s parents, Kay and Bill, played pivotal roles in shaping his upbringing.

Musical Roots and Ukulele Serenades

Marriott’s father, Bill, a skilled pub pianist, fueled his son’s musical journey by gifting him a ukulele and harmonica. Learning to play these instruments became a young Marriott’s pastime. His early interest in singing and performing manifested through busking at local bus stops, winning talent contests, and even crafting his first song, “Shelia My Dear,” a nod to his close aunt Shelia.

Budding Musician and The Wheels Era

In 1959, at just twelve years old, Marriott formed his first band, ‘The Wheels,’ alongside school friends Nigel Chapin and Robin Andrews. The band underwent several name changes, culminating in ‘Mississippi Five.’ Marriott’s admiration for Buddy Holly echoed in his style, earning him the affectionate nickname ‘Buddy’ from his bandmates.

Theatrical Debut in Oliver!

At the tender age of thirteen, Marriott’s life took a theatrical turn. His father secretly applied for him to audition as an Artful Dodger replacement in Lionel Bart’s Oliver! Remarkably, Marriott’s vocal talents secured him the role, earning him £8 a week for twelve months. This marked the beginning of his acting career, but the pull of music remained strong.

Italia Conti Academy and Musical Renaissance

Despite his success in acting, Marriott’s heart belonged to music. In 1961, he enrolled at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London, with fees deducted from acting work. However, a shift back to music caused a family rift, leading Marriott to briefly leave home. In 1963, he secured a solo deal with Decca Records, releasing his first single, “Give Her My Regards.”

The Frantiks, The Moments, and Struggles

Marriott’s journey continued with the formation of The Frantiks, later renamed The Moments. Despite a loyal following and 80 gigs in 1964, success proved elusive. An attempt to break into the American market with a cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” fell short, resulting in Marriott’s departure from the band.

The Downfall and Rejection

Rejected by The Moments, Marriott sought to join The Downliners Sect as a harmonica player. However, his aspirations to lead vocals led to a missed opportunity. Despite setbacks, Marriott’s resilience paved the way for what would become an illustrious career in rock and roll.

In retracing Steve Marriott’s early years, we witness the seeds of a musical genius planted in the soil of East Ham. Little did the world know that this young, hyperactive boy would blossom into an icon, leaving an indelible mark on the history of rock music.

From The Checkpoints to Small Faces

The Checkpoints Interlude

In 1965, during the transitional phase between leaving The Moments and joining Small Faces, Steve Marriott found a musical pitstop with The Checkpoints. Chris Clements, a member of The Checkpoints, recalls Marriott’s brief tenure. Rehearsing at The Kentish Drovers in South London, Marriott, known for his soulful voice and harmonica skills, guided the band through James Brown numbers. The gigs in Essex, with pickup points outside the Brewery in Romford Road, showcased Marriott’s versatility, using the lead guitarist’s red Fender Strat for electrifying performances.

A Chance Encounter with Small Faces

On 28 July 1964, fate intertwined the destinies of Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, and 16-year-old drummer Kenney Jones. Marriott witnessed his future Small Faces partners perform at the Albion in Rainham. However, it was a chance reunion with Ronnie Lane at the J60 Music Bar that solidified their bond. Marriott, working at the music shop after leaving The Moments, invited Lane to his home, where their shared love for rare American R&B records forged a lasting friendship.

The Outcasts and an Unforgettable Piano Destruction

Invited by Lane and Jones to perform with “the Outcasts,” the trio, fuelled by alcohol, found themselves in a memorable gig at the Earl of Derby in Bermondsey. Marriott, known for his exuberance, shockingly destroyed the piano he was playing, leading to their dismissal from the venue. Despite the setback, the camaraderie between Marriott, Lane, and Jones remained strong.

“David and Goliath” and the Birth of Small Faces

In an interesting twist, David Bowie and Steve Marriott planned to form an R&B duo called ‘David and Goliath’ in 1964. However, destiny had other plans. Marriott, Lane, and Jones decided to form their own band, eventually bringing in Jimmy Winston (later replaced by Ian McLagan). The distinctive name “Small Faces” was coined by Marriott’s friend Annabel, reflecting the band’s modest stature and their respected status in English mod culture.

Small Faces’ Rise to Stardom

Signed to Don Arden within six weeks of their formation, Small Faces quickly became a mod-influenced sensation. Their debut single, “Whatcha Gonna Do About It,” soared on the UK singles chart. Notably, Robert Plant, future frontman of Led Zeppelin, was a devoted fan, with “Whole Lotta Love” directly inspired by Marriott’s rendition of “You Need Lovin’.”

Marriott’s Songwriting Brilliance

As the primary songwriter, Marriott crafted most of Small Faces’ hit singles. In his words, “All or Nothing” and “Tin Soldier” stood out as personal favourites. “Tin Soldier,” a rock ballad penned in 1967, held personal significance for Marriott, expressing his feelings for model Jenny Rylance. Their complex relationship, intertwined with Rod Stewart, added layers to Marriott’s lyrical prowess.

Marriage and Personal Triumph

In a twist of fate, Marriott and Jenny Rylance, the muse behind “Tin Soldier,” were married at Kensington Register Office, London, on 29 May 1968. Despite the rocky journey, the song became a personal triumph for Marriott, immortalising a chapter of his life in the annals of rock history.

In retracing these chapters of Steve Marriott’s musical odyssey, we witness the evolution of a legend from The Checkpoints to the iconic Small Faces, leaving an indelible mark on the fabric of rock and roll.