By Ray Chelstowski
I rediscovered Frampton Comes Alive! in college. My renewed interest was powerful enough that I bought tickets to see him open for Stevie Nicks during his Premonition tour. Most of the people around me at that show were there for Stevie Nicks, armed with stuffed unicorns that they would later toss on stage when Stevie began her set. But I was there up front in the trenches for Frampton. When he took the stage, it was as if time stood still. He came out full of energy, flashing his trademark smile from start to finish looking much as he did when Comes Alive! made its debut. Backed by longstanding sidemen like keyboardist/guitarist Bob Mayo, Frampton ripped through every song with a fire that’s usually reserved for the headliner. If that wasn’t enough, when Frampton joined Stevie and her band, he added a dimension and dynamic to her music that was game changing. She might have had top billing, but Peter Frampton that day was the real star of the show. You could feel the entire crowd in tune with Frampton.He made it clear that night why he was a star and why you never count him out. Since then I never have.
This is why the recent news of his final tour came as such a surprise. Peter Frampton has long been one of rock’s most durable stars and recent years have found him releasing some of his most technically precise work. An exceptional example of perseverance and class, he has always been someone who you expect to be creating new material, using it to support his steady touring.
Frampton is also someone who has met career ups and downs with equal measures of open joy and perspective. As he faces this latest challenge, a life forward with a rare disease known as Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM), Frampton will find himself putting down the one companion that has been with him his entire adult life, his guitar. The disease attacks a person’s muscles and nerves impacting mobility and strength. Diagnosed a few years ago it has recently begun to move to his hands. That prompted his decision to bring his performing career to a close and work with physicians in clinical trials in an effort to find a cure.
We caught up with Frampton to talk about the final tour, his career and its legacy, and what kind of magic he and his band might be creating in what have been ‘round the clock studio sessions intended to capture as many musical moments as possible, while they still can, on a new album called AllBlues. To no surprise, Peter Frampton was wonderfully generous with his time and shared all news, good and bad, with his unwavering positive approach to life and living.
GOLDMINE: Your early influences were Cliff Richard, Buddy Holly, and Eddie Cochran. With all of the hours you are putting in the studio right now, are you running through any of this material?
PETER FRAMPTON: I think that it’s all a body of influence. I don’t necessarily think about what the influence is, it’s just there in my mental library. The thing that I enjoy most about what I do now is that I never repeat myself. The last thing I did was an acoustic single which was more of a Django kind of sound. Now we just go straight into “I Just Want To Make Love To You” which is really heavy. The most important thing about these new studio sessions is the way that we decided to record. After the tour last year we went into my studio and decided to do some blues songs to see what we might come up with. Well, 33 tracks later, playing live all together as a band—live vocals, live guitar solos—it made a real difference. It was like playing live on stage but instead we’re recording it. All we would do after each track would be to sing two or three more vocals, add two or three more guitar solos, then put it away! When it came time to mix it, we’d pick the vocals and the guitar solos and off we’d go. There’s an energy that’s there live that isn’t there when you record everything separately. There’s a communication that goes on in milliseconds between band members. That’s what makes it all so cohesive. It really amazed me the difference this made.
GM: What equipment are you using? Your infamous “Phenix” (Les Paul guitar)? Anything new, exotic?
PF: Yes, my black Les Paul is featured but for most of the All Blues album I used a 1959 Gibson 335. It was either that or The Phenixand other Les Pauls like my 1960 Sunburst which was J.J. Cale’s. For the rhythm sound I used a Telecaster. So there were lots of different guitars on the record. I played whatever fit the song.
GM: You famously referenced Picasso at one point saying that he didn’t throw the towel in at 41 and that his most valuable material came in his later years. Any gems coming out of these sessions that you think might just take off?
PF: Oh yeah and I think that it’s because there is obviously a downside to what I am dealing with right now. But the upside is that I have my own studio and a phenomenal band and it’s only eight minutes from my house. So the more I stay active the better. I want to play as much as I can, while I can. I really feel like there’s an added impetus to bring out some great stuff. The ball has really started rolling with the band in the studio and it ain’t gonna stop until it stops and no one knows exactly when that will be. But I do feel like we are doing some of my best work ever right now, definitely.
GM: Are you adding more flash to your playing where possible while you still can, or are you approaching the songs as you always would have?
PF: I don’t ever think about what the playing is going to be. For example, I was overdubbing on a track yesterday and I was playing some very technical stuff. I took a break, came back and did it in a completely different fashion playing half the amount of notes. It spoke so much more that way so we stayed with it. On some of the All Blues tracks it might cry out for a fast track here and there. I do what is required. I’ve never been someone who just shows off. It’s all about what the song needs and what I feel as I’m playing.
GM: How will you introduce all of this new music to your fans beyond the new All Blues record?
PF: We recorded three other albums, two of which are pretty much finished outside of mixing. One of them is another blues album. And then there are two others. I’m not going to go into what they are right now. But they are all different. The only reason there are two blues albums is because we recorded too much. I’m not saying that that’s the one that will come out next. We are going to spread them out and we are going to keep on recording. There will definitely be at least one album a year if not more.
GM: You have long talked about how David Bowie helped get your career back on track in the late 1980s. What did you admire about him most?
PF: Well, I had known David from when I was 11 and he was 13. He was always there for a phone call. That’s the family side of David and me. My Dad was his art teacher and they were very close, too. That’s one side of it, but on the other his reinvention every six to nine months. That was the thing that I admired most about David. Let alone his musicality. The way that he put everything together, the mind, the acting and his music and the characters he developed for himself—he just had it all. He was so clever. Even when I was recording the album Fingerprints (2006), I called him up because I needed a great sax player. He was a sax player originally; in fact, the first time I saw him in a band, he was on sax. Well, he said that I needed to get ahold of Courtney Pine, so I did! And when I won the Grammy for the record, David was the first person I called after Mum! I said “Dave, you won’t believe this! I won a Grammy!” He said I deserved it! (laughs) He was always there to look after me.
GM: Your personality is so vastly different from Steve Marriott. What drew you to working with him? If he had lived longer do you expect that your collaborations would have continued?
PF: I don’t know if we would have or not. Steve was phenomenal sober. I have been sober, no alcohol, for 17 years. Unfortunately, by the time we had started working together in the early ’90s I had started the process and wasn’t drinking as much. It’s very hard once you have begun to give this up to be around someone who’s loaded. I think that that was the problem and I hope that had he lived he would have given it up, too. Then there would have been a real chance for us to work together again. We were always 180 degrees different from each other, but we had a brotherly thing to the end. We admired each other’s talents so much that we were drawn to each other. Steve taught me so much about being on stage and writing. He had an incredible influence on me.
GM: I think that 1981’s Breaking All The Rules is one of your most overlooked albums. What album do you think is your most overlooked?
PF: Yeah, there’s that one as well as the Peter Frampton (1994) one that was on the CBS label. I agree with you on Breaking All The Rules, obviously, and Peter Frampton has a bunch of really great songs on it.
GM: Your song “Not Forgotten” (off of the 2003 album, Now) is so poignant and heartfelt; what is the origin of that song?
PF: It’s a song that I sang with my brother Clive, who is also a musician, when my father passed away. It was in the middle of recording Fingerprints. I took a guitar went over and we sang “Not Forgotten” at my Dad’s funeral. It was the appropriate time to sing it.
GM: Which guitarist among your contemporaries do you think that you most align with stylistically, etc.? I’d say Rick Derringer, but who do you think approaches the instrument with a similar sensibility?
PF: The person who has had the most influence on me in terms of guitar production, playing and sound, is Jimmy Page. Well, you know that Rick did the guitar work for The Edgar Winter Group and then Ronnie Montrose replaced him in the band. We toured together and Ronnie was someone who, until his death, always stayed in touch. He was another one of those players like Rick who could morph and fit into any situation.
GM: I have always felt like you were rushed into releasing I’m In You (1977). It was cover driven, thrown together and didn’t quite connect to what had worked so well on Comes Alive. What do you think?
PF: I totally agree that I’m In You was premature. There was no need whatsoever to release another album. My head had exploded from all that had gone on and I was touring making a sh*tty movie. I had lost a work tape of about five songs that I never got back and I couldn’t remember them. So I had a lot of work that was just lost. In hindsight I should have put my foot down and said, “No! I’m not ready for another album. We just released the biggest selling record in history.” But because I was 26, I thought that these guys must know best. It was a pain in the ass to have to go into the studio and do that record because there wasn’t enough time to write great material. I thought there were a couple of songs on that record that were okay but it wasn’t up to my standard. In the end, the buck stops with me. I went along with it. But in hindsight I needn’t have come out with a record for another two to three years.
GM: About your work on All Things Must Pass, how did you come to play guitar on “My Sweet Lord”?
PF: I was friends with George’s assistant Terry Doran. We were together in the pub one night and he asked me if I wanted to come meet George. I asked, “George who?” You would never think it was going to be George Harrison! So anyway I walk into the studio and the control room is upstairs and it looks down on the recording room. There is George behind the console. He looks up and says “Hello, Pete, would you like to play?” You could have blown me over. I said, “Of course!”
He was producing his first album for the Apple label and was working with Doris Troy who I had known from Humble Pie. So we go downstairs and there’s Klaus Voormann, I think Nicky Hopkins, Ringo… I mean, my head was just exploding. George hands me that very famous red Les Paul of his that has a long history to it. Now I’m playing quiet rhythm behind him because this is The Beatles’ lead guitarist. You don’t step out of line. All of a sudden George stops halfway through the song and says, “No, Pete, I want you to play lead.” It took me a few seconds to compute. I remember being floored that he had said that. In the end I wind up on the single playing the opening licks! And then I got invited back for the rest of the album and made these wonderful friendships with Ringo, Klaus, Nicky and George. About a month later George called me back and said “I’m making my (new) solo record would you come and play some acoustic on this?” Phil Spector, ‘the killer producer’ as we call him, wanted like 19 of every instrument. I said, “Absolutely,” and that’s when I arrived at Abbey Road Studios for the first time and played on five or six tracks. Maybe more.
GM: I saw you open for Stevie Nicks. When you came back out and joined her band, I then saw how your playing could transform another person’s material. It gave everything more weight, more clarity, more depth. Do you ever wish you had done more high profile collaborations?
PF: Well, I’m going to meet an awful lot of people who I have always wanted to be on the same stage with at the Crossroads Festival. It’s just such an honor. Eric (Clapton) emailed me and there we were talking about our muscles and our nerves like two old codgers. (laughs) It was his birthday a few days later and I sent him an email wishing him well and telling him how honored I was to be invited. He replied back “It’s just so great you can make it!” So it’s very nice to be part of the team.
GM: You have so many soundtrack credits, over 50. Many of them assigned to the single “Baby, I Love Your Way.” How does it feel to have written music that can bring so many different cinematic moments to life?
PF: Yes. I mean, “Baby, I love Your Way” has got more licenses for commercials and things like that than any other song I have ever done. Yeah, I experienced that quite a bit and I’m hoping that we get a lot of licenses for the All Blues record! (laughs)
GM: What did you take away from working with the Bee Gees?
PF: I think it was just musical. While we were filming, Barry Gibb wrote “Grease” for Frankie Valli and I played on that track. It was great to see how Barry worked, very professional, very prolific, and very, very different from the way I operate. That’s what I appreciated most—that there are no rules. You can learn so much from the way you see someone work their song in a studio. I wasn’t there when he wrote it but I saw his heart and soul go into that session. I really admire him. He rolls a great joint, too! (laughs)
GM: I’m not sure if you believe in a higher power but do you believe you were given this disease for some larger reason?
PF: I’m not a religious person but I have all of the ideals of things like the Ten Commandments. I just try to be a good person. I’m passionate and empathetic with other people.But I’m not above believing that maybe there’s a reason for me having to go through this. It will give me more time to go on to be the face of IBM and raise lots of money for research. If that’s what I’m supposed to do from now on then I’m loving that. As one door closes another will open. I think that there are a lot other things that I will be able to do.
GM: After the tour concludes what will your relationship with music be like? Will you continue to write? Produce?
PF: Obviously there’s going to come a point where I can still play guitar but not in front of people out there touring. I’ll be writing and as things come my way like helping other musicians in whatever area I can, I’m looking forward to it. I have always been on the road and I have had to say to people, “I can’t do that.” So now I can say “Yes” to a lot of things that I couldn’t do before. I start my drug trial and it will last a year. It all fits in with touring. I’m not giving up here.