Steve Marriott became one of the most distinctive voices in early British rock, but had circumstances been different, he could have followed the acting path he started down as a boy. Dismissed from school, he found his way into the cast of Lionel Bart’s stage version of Oliver, also making an appearance in the Peter Sellers film "Heaven’s Above".
Association with the keen-eared Andrew Loog Oldham diverted Marriott towards music and, after some abortive solo work – and a few pub dates with future cohort Peter Frampton, as The Moments – he made the transition to front The Small Faces. The key line-up – Marriott (vocals, guitar), Ronnie Lane (bass), Ian McLagan (organ) and Kenney Jones (drums) – headed up the rising mod movement of early sixties London, though this seminal R & B/ pop act inevitably outgrew it.
Of their twelve UK chart entries for Decca and Immediate – which included classics such as "Sha La La La Lee" (1966), the number one "All Or Nothing" (1966) and "Tin Soldier" (1967) – only "Itchycoo Park" (1967) broke America, rare at a time when most British acts were hitting constantly in the US.
The group’s dabblings with LSD produced the remarkable "Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake" (1968), which presaged a psychedelic turn as it, too, topped the UK charts. Something of a wild boy, Marriott was The Small Faces’ focal point, at one stage deemed a likely frontman for Led Zeppelin. Instead – partly in anger at Decca’s release of "Lazy Sunday" (1968), which he’d intended as a joke – Marriott left The Small Faces in 1969 to create Humble Pie, a more progressive unit which featured his old sparring partner Frampton (ex-The Herd, guitar) as well as Greg Ridley (ex-Spooky Tooth, bass) and Jerry Shirley (drums).
Marriott’s only UK hit in this guise was "Natural Born Bugie" (1969), though several albums made reasonable showings thereafter. While his former colleagues cleaned up as The Faces, Marriott subsequently recorded alone and with his seventies touring band, Packet Of Three. He also featured on recordings by a number of other artists; meanwhile, his dog can be heard on Pink Floyd’s "Meddle".
Settling for a lower profile during the next decade, Marriott made himself comfortable in his sprawling sixteenth-century home in Arkeston, near Saffron Walden in Essex (a venue for several episodes of BBC drama Lovejoy). Towards the end of 1990, Marriott and Frampton began writing together, the singer/guitarist visiting his friend’s home in Los Angeles to set the project in motion. Apparently dog-tired after the lengthy flight home, Marriott consumed a few drinks and slumped, jet-lagged and asleep – with a lit cigarette in his hand. Fire authorities found his body the following morning, dead from smoke inhalation: the musician had attempted to escape, but – according to paramedics – owing to the vast amounts of alcohol, cocaine and prescription drugs in his system, he had been unable to. A treasure trove of rock ‘n’ roll relics and artefacts was also lost for ever.
The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars -Jeremy Simmonds, 2nd Edition, Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, 2012, page 234
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