The Small Faces got their name for two reasons: they were small, each under five-foot-six-inches tall, and they were "faces," as in the Who's "I'm the Face," a declaration of British Mod-era hipness. When the Small Faces first hit the British singles charts in 1965 with "Whatcha Gonna Do About It?" (recorded six weeks after the band formed), they were seen as East London's answer to West London's the Who. Led by singer and guitarist Steve Marriott (b. Jan. 30, 1947; d. April 20, 1991, Arkesden, Eng.), the Small Faces became as big an attraction in Britain for their Mod clothing as for their raw, R&B-inspired music.
Marriott, a former child actor, formed the band with bassist Ronnie Lane (b. April 1, 1946, London; d. June 4, 1997, Trinidad, CO), who had already played in several local bands and was writing his own tunes. Keyboardist Ian McLagan (b. May 12, 1945, Hounslown, Eng.) was recruited when the original keyboardist, Jimmy Winston, left immediately after the band's first hit single. Rounding out the lineup was drummer Kenney Jones (b. Sept. 16, 1948, London), who had studied drums but had never played with a professional band. Though Marriott has said he could barely play guitar at the time, he and Lane began writing songs together. After attracting a following with their fevered London club performances and the success of their first single, the Small Faces were signed to Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediately label and appeared frequently in the U.K. Top Ten for the next few years with 1966's "Sha La La La Lee," "Hey Girl," "All or Nothing" and "My Mind's Eye"; 1967's "Itchycoo Park" and "Tin Soldier"; and 1968's "Lazy Sunday." The only one of their early hits to gain any attention in the United States was "Itchycoo Park" (Number 16, 1967), a piece of psychedelia that featured one of the earliest uses of studio "phase-shifting" production.
By 1968 the band was becoming frustrated with its image as a singles band. That changed somewhat in 1968, when they released the concept album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake. Still, internal tensions grew, and in 1969 Marriott left to form Humble Pie. It seemed a crucial blow at the time, but with the addition of ex-Jeff Beck Group members Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, the Faces were Small no more. (Literally. The two members each stood a head taller than the remaining small Faces.) The original Small Faces band later reunited, minus Lane and with the addition of Jimmy McCulloch and Rick Wills.
From 1969 to 1975 the Faces worked in the lucrative shadow of Stewart's solo career. Loose and boozy onstage and good-timey on record, the Faces made several arena-circuit U.S. tours playing material from Stewart's solo albums as well as the hits he sang with the group: "Stay with Me" (Number 17, 1971) and "Cindy Incidentally" (Number 48, 1973). In 1973, original Small Face Ronnie Lane quit and was replaced by ex-Free bassist Tetsu Yamauchi. Lane then started a traveling rock circus, complete with jugglers and fire eaters, called the Passing Show, and recorded four albums with Slim Chance; he also made Rough Mix with Pete Townshend of the Who in 1997. In the late Seventies Lane was debilitated by multiple sclerosis.
Meanwhile, the Faces were slowly dissolving. Wood officially joined the Rolling Stones in 1976 (after having played on their 1975 tour), and McLagan regularly participated in Stones tours and such projects as the New Barbarians; he also records solo albums and has become a sought-after session hand. Jones, who reunited with the original Small Faces in 1977-78, replaced Keith Moon in the Who in 1978. He formed the Law with Paul Rogers in the early Nineties. Lane moved to the United States. In 1983 he appeared at the ARMS (Action Research Multiple Sclerosis) concerts, which featured Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Steve Winwood and others. He died in 1997, ending his long battle with multiple sclerosis. Marriott died in a 1991 fire in his home. At the time of his death, he was discussing the possible reformation of Humble Pie.
In 2003, the independent label Sanctuary Records released Ultimate Collection, a definitive, two-disc, 50-song Small Faces compilation. The following year saw the release of a four-disc Faces box set, Five Guys Walk into a Bar…, on Rhino Records. That year and the next, various surviving members of the Faces appeared on stage together including Kenney Jones and Ronnie Wood at an Ian McLagan show, and Wood and McLagan at a Rod Stewart show. In 2007, the London Borough of Westminster unveiled a plaque on Carnaby Street honoring the Small Faces.
Portions of this biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).