A band's ability to headline arenas like New York's Madison Square Garden or the Forum in Inglewood is often seen as a mark of success. But Steve Marriott believes those cavernous halls helped capsize his former group, Humble Pie, in the early '70s.
"I hated playing big halls like Madison Square Garden," the English singer-guitarist says. "I used to come off the stage and literally cry. The backup singers . . . would come off stage and say, 'What are you doing? You're bringing everybody down.' But there just wasn't any fulfillment there whatsoever.
"Playing big halls . . . was too impersonal. I couldn't see anyone (in the audience) anymore. In those days there really wasn't any high tech, so you sounded terrible. And after three weeks of sounding terrible, you began to feel like you really were terrible. It was almost like I had sold myself. In hindsight I know why I felt the way I did, but at the time I really didn't know."
Besides sound quality, what Marriott missed was the intimacy and amateur spirit that marked the early days of his previous group, the Small Faces, one of England's premier Mod groups of the '60s.
Now the diminutive singer is trying to recapture the simplicity and innocence of his club roots with a group called Packet of Three. Marriott and his band have been touring tirelessly, mostly through England and Europe, since 1983. Their current California swing finds them not only in the big cities (they'll be at the Music Machine tonight), but in such exotic locales as Salinas and Fresno, where Marriott took time out for a phone interview this week.
"I'm not worried about commercial success," said Marriott, who briefly revived the Small Faces in the late '70s and an in-name-only version of Humble Pie in the early '80s. "I'm 40 and all I want to do is enjoy myself.
"The last three years have been the most enjoyable in my life. To get paid every night for something I like and not get a list of bills instead has been great. I'm getting the respect from the people, and it's not just music-business people either. It's real people. Even if I don't make any money, I've got the respect of the people and I'd rather have that than money any day."
Marriott said that as Humble Pie grew in popularity, the group's collective spirit began to wilt. But with Packet of Three--Marriott, bassist Jim Leverton and original Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley--harmony isn't a problem.
"We're friends first, a group second," Marriott said in his thick English accent. "We formed to have a giggle. We didn't form (to become rock stars). We do what we want to do."
In an attempt to avoid the corporate rock world, Marriott manages Packet of Three himself. Though reluctant to go into detail, the raspy-voiced singer gave the impression that he hasn't always been happy with the managers he's been associated with.
While Marriott does have some unpleasant memories of his years with Humble Pie, he's proud of the songs he wrote for that band and the Small Faces, and Packet of Three is including many of these old Marriott compositions in its show. The trio also performs a number of old blues and rock 'n' roll standards.
Marriott said he does have an abundance of fresh material, but wants to wait until the new songs are on vinyl before presenting them live. He hopes to record an independently financed album sometime next year.
In a 1971 interview, Marriott said he couldn't envision doing anything other than singing rock 'n' roll. It's a view that he still holds.
"Singing and playing is all I know how to do and that's all I enjoy," said Marriott, who was once widely regarded as one of rock's best R&B-edged vocalists. "And I'll (perform) until I can't do it anymore. I've been in bands since I was 13 and I don't know any other way of life.
"They used to talk about Steve Marriott's voice, his soul, his heart. I lost that. So I had to go back to the bars to regain it. That's where I belong."