Thursday, February 02, 2012

Steve Marriott

Steve Marriott would have been 65 years old this past Monday, if he hadn't died in a fire after falling asleep smoking in bed back in 1991. He was one of the heroes of my misguided yoof, a chirpy cockney chappie -- a stage kid, he'd appeared in TV and movies, and replaced Davy Jones as the Artful Dodger in the West End Oliver! before starting his musical career -- who wanted to be Otis Redding and, perversely, had the vocal chops to do it.

In 1971, Humble Pie's Performance: Rockin' the Fillmore was the first record after Live At Leeds that I had to blast four times every day (well, the first and fourth sides, anyway), much to my family's consternation. Town and Country and As Safe As Yesterday Is might have been the collector's rara avis (at least until A&M slung 'em out as a budget-priced double LP), but Performance (particularly the storming cover of Ray Charles' "I Don't Need No Doctor" that was a Noo Yawk FM radio staple that year) and its follow-up Smokin' were the goods, from the player's perspective.

While my age cohort was going apeshit over Grand Funk (for whom the Pie opened at Shea Stadium) and Black Sabbath, I was soaking up everything I could from those two records. Even today, when I'm goofing around with a guitar, my hands still automatically go to the riffs from "Four Day Creep," "Stone Cold Fever," "Come On Everybody," and "30 Days in the Hole." They were as archetypally of-their-time as Cactus, Mountain, and my personal favorites, Mitch Ryder's Detroit. To give you an idea what I'm talking about, here's a latter-day ('84) performance of "The Fixer" from Smokin' that's so hard-edged you could cut yourself on it:

In 1972, the Small Faces' Ogden's Nut Gone Flake was the first record I bought (after hunting for it for years) at the store I wound up working in from '73 until I moved to Texas in '78. Ogden's schizoid combination of R&B-based hard rock and psychedelic whimsy was totally unlike anything that either Marriott's subsequent work in Humble Pie or his former bandmates' as the Faces (with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood replacing him) would have led one to expect. The gorgeous, organ-driven psych-soul hymn "Afterglow" and brutal rocker "Song of a Baker" (perversely lead-sung by wispy-voiced Ronnie Lane) were as good as any records made in 1968, and the Small Faces' zenith. Here's a New Year's Eve '68 TV performance of the latter. Some of the worst miming you'll ever see anywhere, but Keith Moon and Pete Townshend seem to be digging it:

"Tin Soldier" -- which I'd hear later, on There Are But Four Small Faces, a nifty li'l pop album filled with songs about ditching school to get high in the park ("Itchycoo Park"), the neighborhood speed dealer ("Here Come the Nice"), and, of course, acid ("Green Circles") -- was equally good. In the All or Nothing 1965-1968 DVD, Faces (Small and otherwise) organist and latter-day Austinite Ian McLagan opines it was their finest hour.

Seeing their '65 Marquee Club and '66 German Beat Beat Beat performances on that DVD provides a potent reminder that the early, R&B-raving Small Faces -- who'd only just picked up their instruments -- wiped the floor with the "maximum R&B" Who; their self-titled first album (the one with "Whatcha Gonna Do About It" and the version of Muddy Waters' "You Need Loving" that Led Zep copied to make "Whole Lotta Love") similarly wipes the floor with the 'orrible 'oo's first LP.

Marriott was both an exemplar of the joy of music-making and a cautionary tale for rockstar wannabes. The cycle of touring, drinking, and drugging took its toll on him, increasing the pressure to produce a hit while diminishing his creative capacity. He made the mistake of suggesting that his Mob-affiliated manager was using the take from Humble Pie's tours to finance ex-Pie guitarist Peter Frampton's solo career (in much the same way as MainMan used the Stooges' CBS advance to bankroll Bowie's Ziggy Stardust tour) and got a face-to-face with John Gotti for his trouble.

When the wheels came off Humble Pie, he went back to playing the pubs in England, periodically reuniting with old bandmates (a lackluster late-'70s Small Faces reunion sans Lane; aborted recording projects with Lane and Frampton). The colossal irony was that even in his decline, Marriott had the goods. For proof positive, there's an '85 performance that's DVD-available, on which his guitar playing -- always his self-perceived Achilles heel -- is particularly impressive. Wish you'd stuck around, man.


Anonymous Steve said...

Great post, Stash. When I saw Ian McLagen play in Dallas a few years ago, he talked about what a crime it was that Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane weren't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This could have been seen as a little self-aggrandizing (since presumably he would go in too with the Small Faces), but it didn't come off that way at all. Steve Marriott was one cool dude - and I'm glad and RnR HOF fixed their omission this past year.

10:57 AM  

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