PortFolio Weekly

PortFolio Weekly
October 9, 2007

Frampton's Still Alive

by Jim Newsom

When Peter Frampton first performed here at the Virginia Beach Dome in the summer of 1971 as a member of Humble Pie, he had laryngitis. So he left most of the singing to bandmates Steve Marriott and Greg Ridley, and spent the night ripping out fluid, melodic guitar lines. Thirty six years later, he won a Grammy award for his first all-instrumental album, Fingerprints.

“It’s that laryngitis!” he laughed when he called me recently. “I kept getting laryngitis.

“Seriously, the reason I wanted to form Humble Pie with Steve Marriott was that he would be the main front guy. Yeh, I sang a little, but I didn’t really enjoy the singing side so much as the guitar playing. I enjoy singing now because I feel I got a little better, but not much!

“I’m a much better guitar player. I wanted to do an instrumental record all my life. When I first started playing guitar in England, instrumentals were big hits—The Shadows, The Ventures, all those bands. So all I did was play guitar. And then The Beatles came along and we all had to start singing.”

Frampton, who comes to the Ferguson Center next Monday, has done pretty well as a singer. His 1976 album, Frampton Comes Alive, was the highest selling album of all time up to that point. It made him a bona fide rockstar, the pinup favorite of teenage girls everywhere, but it also locked him into an iconic ‘70s image that has been difficult to escape.

“It’s like the commercial for the pill that gives you a boner for four hours,” he said. “At the end, the side effects are longer than the commercial. There were a few side effects from Frampton Comes Alive, one of them being the general public’s perception of me as not a musician, but as a singer. Hopefully this album will help change the perception of me back to what I really am. The Frampton Comes Alive picture is indelible because everybody’s got one.”

But Frampton Comes Alive was really just the climactic moment of a career that began when he was a teenager in the late ‘60s, first with The Herd, a popular band in England, then with Humble Pie, a semi-supergroup he co-led with Marriott that was one of the best rock bands of the early ‘70s.

“In England,” he explained, “we were both from very successful bands. Steve and Small Faces had done an album the year before we got together called Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake which was sort of like Small Faces’ Sgt. Pepper. I loved that record and was a huge Small Faces fan. When I got to meet Steve and Ronnie Lane, it was in an advisory capacity. They’d heard that the band I was in, The Herd, was in financial straits—we were being screwed by somebody in the team we had. They had been through this already and invited us down to their house to give us some advice. While we were there, Steve and I started playing guitar together and I realized that this was much more about what I was than The Herd. And I said, ‘Can I join the Small Faces?’ I believe he actually put it to the band and they voted it down because I was too tall and they didn’t want to split the kitty five ways!

“The day after Steve left the Small Faces, he called me, said I’ve got Greg Ridley and he’d already found me Jerry Shirley and overnight we had a band. Then the following morning I got a call from Ronnie Lane and he, Mac [McLagan] and Kenny [Jones] all came to my apartment and asked me to join the Small Faces. And I said you’re about a day too late!

“So Steve and I formed the band together. It was probably one of the most enjoyable bands I’ve ever been in for creativity. Anything was accepted. You had the blues side from Steve and the more lyrical jazz-rock side from me. It was very explosive. Humble Pie’s first couple of albums were electric, but had a lot of acoustic stuff too. Then our direction narrowed, and I needed to do both, so it was time for me to go and start my own band.”

His first solo albums, Wind of Change and Frampton’s Camel, were superb, but it was a slow build until Frampton Comes Alive, his fifth, skyrocketed to the top of the charts.

“I think it always takes a little longer,” he said, “when you’re not following a trend. You’re not setting a trend, but you’re being an artist and doing what comes naturally to you, which is way different from everybody else.”

Peter Frampton has had a career full of memorable experiences doing what comes naturally, but one of the most satisfying was playing on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass when he was just twenty years old.

“So much happened,” he recalled. “I found the talkbox during those sessions. I’m playing with Ringo and Klaus Voorman; half the Beatles are in the room and I’m sitting next to George and Badfinger. Phil Spector, our ‘hung jury’ producer, was in the box. It was a very intense, amazing couple of weeks.

“I was on about six tracks. Then George called me up a couple of weeks later and said, ‘Phil wants more acoustics. So why don’t you and I overdub on every track?’ This was one of the greatest moments for me: Sitting in the Abbey Road studio next to George Harrison overdubbing on I don’t know how many tracks. That day we just went through the whole album; if there’s acoustic guitar, I’m on it. But in between, when they’d be changing reels, George and I would jam. I’ll never forget that; it was pretty incredible.”

With this year’s Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album in hand, Frampton feels liberated to pursue different directions with his music. But he still enjoys playing the classic hits that bring longtime fans to concert halls like the Ferguson.

“We do a ‘best of’ show,” he said. “It’s the best of the material that sounds great live, all the ones that people would hope to hear.”

copyright © 2007 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.