Peter Frampton: On His New Memoir, Twitter, Coping with Inclusion Body Myositis and More (The Interview)


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Rock Cellar Magazine
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Barely one hundred pages in to Do You Feel Like I Do?, the fantastic new memoir from Peter Frampton, the rock legend seems almost Zelig-like, a teenager making a name for himself on the swinging 1960s London music scene under the keen tutelage of Rolling Stone Bill Wyman and rubbing elbows with Eric Clapton, Peter Green and just about every other guitar pioneer in the burgeoning blues scene there.

Like Woody Allen’s titular character, Frampton soon finds fame with the Herd, his first professional band, before joining former Small Face Steve Marriott in Humble Pie and finding superstardom in the U.S.

Along the way he plays on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, as well as records by Harry Nilsson, Doris Troy and others, before quitting Humble Pie just before the release of the group’s breakout album Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore.

“I didn’t want people to get to page 200 and have me still be 11 years old,” Frampton says with a laugh when he calls from his Nashville home to discuss Do You Feel Like I Do? — named, of course, for one of his most famous songs — and his long and amazing career.

“My career has been very much front-loaded and back-ended,” the remarkably humble Frampton adds. “There’s definitely some gaps in between.”

That’s hardly the case. Along the way we get Frampton Comes Alive!, the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film debacle, joining forces with childhood pal David Bowie on his Never Let Me Down album and Glass Spider tour, as well as sessions with a who’s who of the golden age of rock and roll. A late-career renaissance and a string of albums and tours reminded fans of all ages that Frampton’s guitar playing and songwriting are a force wholly on par, yet completely unique from his contemporaries and the many he inspired over the course of his long career.

“I’m a storyteller, so I enjoyed telling the stories,” Frampton says of the process of revisiting the ups and downs of his career. “The actual writing and the time and the editing and the re-editing — not to mention the U.K. versus U.S. versions — and then painstakingly honing them, and wrangling them into shape so it didn’t look like I was a rambling idiot was a pain in the ass. But the actual telling of the stories was the really, truly enjoyable part.”

As chronicled in our 2019 interview with Frampton, his fight with the muscular disease IBM is ongoing, and led to a farewell tour that wrapped in the U.S. last year. But in this latest interview with Rock Cellar, Frampton remains jovial and undaunted, and vows to find ways to play the music that caught his imagination as a child and continues to inspire him.

Rock Cellar: Last time we spoke you said that after the farewell tour you were going to record and record until you just couldn’t anymore. You told me you were putting ideas down on your iPhone. Are you still doing that? Are you disciplined about it? Because I imagine by now you have hundreds of ideas.

Peter Frampton: Well, I’m very exact about it. I have ideas going back to 2004 in iTunes, or now it’s called Apple Music. But what I do is, as I’ve always done — because at first my ideas were on reel to reel, and then of course cassette — I log everything; the ideas. Now, of course, I’ve got a digital recorder, as well as my phone, with me all the time, so I’m either putting the idea down on my phone or if my phone’s not handy, I’ve got a digital recorder on my piano, in my music room.

As soon as I walk into the room and pick up an instrument, I hit record. And then the painstaking part for me is that then once a week or something I go through all of them and import them into iTunes and rate them. I throw the ones away that [make me go], I’ve heard that before. And log in the ones that I like and put them in a special library that I keep all my ideas in. So there’s one library, and then I go through those and I can go through and choose what I want to make into a little demo or what I want to finish. Or sometimes there are two ideas I want to put together. But yeah, I’m pretty hands-on with that stuff.

Rock Cellar: Do you have set times that you work or is it just when the mood strikes you?

Peter Frampton: Yes, odds are around 8:30 to 11:30 in the evening; I turn the TV off and start to play. That’s when I really start just getting into it, and playing for my own enjoyment, and coming up with new ideas. I’ve got a studio downstairs, but I also have a little desk in my bedroom with a couple of speakers and a pair of headphones and my U47. And I’ve got two Apollos — full rack ones, the AP and the one before, the silver one — downstairs, and upstairs I use an MKII and it’s wonderful.

Rock Cellar: I do want to talk about the book. When we last spoke, I remember thinking, this guy has a book in him. I’m sure it was already in the works. But I thought we’d gone through your career at that time, because we covered a lot of ground back then, but when I sat down and read the book, there’s was this amazing Zelig-like nature to your life and your career. Plus, the standard you hold yourself to is so high. When you sat down and started telling these stories, like you said, you’re a storyteller, so there is that party trick nature to it, but eventually you had to have the whole thing put together and you had to look at it from the overview of it, you had to stop and think to yourself, good God, I’ve done a lot in 55, 60 years.

Peter Frampton: I started very young. Because I picked up that ukulele, everything happened very early. There was a realization — more for my parents than myself — that I had a gift early on. And I think that enabled these older musicians throughout my early years to notice me and go, ooh. Like I do when I go around the country and a younger player — girl or boy, I’ve met both of them — that come in and they’re like, nine, and they’ve won all these awards, local talent shows, and I hear them play and I go, yup, there you go. There it is. Very young! And it happens! It reminds me a lot of me, obviously.

But then I feel like all these people that came into my life starting with, I guess the most well-known was Bill Wyman — though there were people before that that are not known that came into my life and taught me stuff — who saw that, wow, this kid is good. I have felt in those early days up until Humble Pie, is when I felt that I was no longer an apprentice. That I have served; I finally finished my main apprenticeship.

I knew I’d never stop learning, but one by one, all these different people, obviously Dave (David Bowie) and Bill, early on were just so supportive. With Dave it was more like we were starting out together. He was three years older than me, but he knew more about American music than I did. So I learned so much from him. And then Bill, who’s a fountain of information, if you can stop him. [Laughter] No, he is. He’s like my older brother. Like Dave was.

I’ve just been incredibly lucky to play this Zelig role, as you said. I’ve never had it put like that before. But yeah, I can see that, where all of a sudden, there I am in a photo with Louis Armstrong!

Young Peter Frampton, student of the guitar

Rock Cellar: Or with George and Ringo at Abbey Road.

Peter Frampton: Exactly. That’s later on. So all these people, like meeting Jimi Hendrix when I was 16! I learned so much. I didn’t go to college, but I did my thesis through the Herd into Humble Pie. I felt like I hadn’t been to a real college, but I’d been to the real college of life at that point.

Rock Cellar: The college of Steve Marriott.

Peter Frampton: Yeah.

Rock Cellar: You felt like you had served your apprenticeship. Around the time of Rockin’ you write that was the moment that everything came to fruition for you and felt like you were ready to take the next step.

You had the ambition that for many people is the kiss of death, which is, “I’m going to go solo.” While it may have seemed like a slog to you, and it’s covered in detail in the book, those records, like Frampton’s Camel earlier and Winds of Change, looking at it in retrospect — that was already a second act. And then a third and fourth act!

When you were writing the book, did it feel there was an inevitability to it? Because the quality of the material you were writing and the level of professionalism you were holding yourself to was very, very high, unlike many people at that time who were just churning out albums on a schedule. Do you see it that way or is it harder to see from the inside looking out?

Peter Frampton: I don’t quite see it that way, but I think that even when I was hearing the guffaws from the lads in Humble Pie and Dave (David Bowie) telling me I was crazy, it just was water off a duck’s back.

There’s nothing you can say to me once I’ve made my mind up. And I’ll sink or swim, you know? And that’s me. That’s just my way.

And I thank my parents for that perseverance that obviously is genetic, I hope. Not hope, I know. So yeah, I’ve never been afraid to make a jump, make a leap.

Rock Cellar: Dave, and as you call him, had that too. Something in the water there in your neighborhood. It’s interesting that you both had this, “I’m ready to move on.”

Peter Frampton: And we both were taught by my father. He had a big effect on Dave as well as me. I think what he saw in my father was the passion that he had for his teaching and his love of art, and Dave had that same passion for art and music as well. I couldn’t draw a cat with two circles. But as I say in the book, Dave was the first person to call up the house when we lost Dad. There was a huge connection there.

Rock Cellar: Your style of playing developed very early on and was unlike what almost everybody else was doing. That jazz-influenced playing. Everybody was going the blues route, especially in and around London, and you were doing this other thing, which set you apart almost instantly. Where did that confidence come from?

Peter Frampton: I do say it in the book, but it’s basically because there were too many people wanting to be a blues guitar player like Eric (Clapton) or Peter Green. Everybody wanted to be Eric. And I did too. There’s no getting away from it. It was very seductive. He took the blues and made it something else.

And B.B. King thanked him when he was alive, many times, for B.B.’s own career, because Eric and Peter Green and Mick Taylor, Rory Gallagher, the list goes on, all these people, English musicians that were playing the blues, who actually educated the Americans in their own invention. But I just thought that there were too many people doing that.

Yes, if I were as good as Eric, then maybe I’d have gone that direction. But I decided early on, I’m not going to go that way. I was in, around that time, a band called the Preachers, and we were playing everything from Roland Kirk to the Rolling Stones, and everything in between. So I couldn’t get away with faking it, either. I had to learn all these jazz records.

Rock Cellar: Interestingly, everybody cites Django Reinhardt, but you really did pay attention to what was going on in those records, and it seeped into your playing much more obviously than most of your contemporaries.

Peter Frampton: Yes. Because it’s a way of thinking as well. The older I get, the more I quote him. But yes, and I think he was the first shredder that I had ever heard. But also, he could play, as Les Paul says, that one note that’s the right note. And it’s the melodic sense, too. It’s the choice of notes that someone like Django, someone like Miles Davis, make. I’ve learned so much from Miles’s playing. Because I don’t always listen to guitar players. I’m listening to sax players and trombone players and whatever. And if it’s a great melody, but it’s something on a different instrument, it’s probably not as easy to play on guitar, but if you learn it, it broadens your library of licks, as I call them.

Rock Cellar: We’ve spoken a couple of times. You’ve got a great sense of humor. I wonder if in the process of writing the book — because there are some, as you joked, some down periods in your career — that it was your humor that got you through. But also, in going through the process of writing the book, did your outlook made things easier to deal with? Because you deal very head-on with a lot of things that people would mention and move along. 

Peter Frampton: Well, I kind of wish I hadn’t now, but [laughing] … No, I think that I’ve always been pretty honest. I think the important thing for me was to let people know that there’s no diva here. I’m a regular person, like everybody else. I’ve been put on a pedestal, maybe, but I have the same battles. We all have battles. They can be different, but I have my battles. Whether it was in my teen years or today, I thought that it was important for me to let people know that I am fallible. I make mistakes. And that I’m not about to brush them off, either. Because I learn from those mistakes.

Rock Cellar: There’s a scene where you’re being wheeled in an OR and they’re playing Django over the PA system, but you take a minute to mention, “Oh, he’s a rock star. Why does he get treated differently than me?” You’re very humble about that. “Yes, somebody had done their research and they were playing music I loved, but I was really grateful for that moment and I’m acknowledging here that I’m lucky to be that guy.”

Most people would not think to put just those couple of lines, and it really changed the tone. Or where you mention how you’ve got a great road manager so you can go straight to your room and don’t have to be sitting waiting at the check-in desk. You’re very humble about that. Memoirs aren’t usually like that. Was that something you were aware of in writing the book or did it just sort of happen?

Peter Frampton: No, it’s just me, I guess. That’s the way I think about myself. And it obviously just comes out that way. Yeah, it’s … my life. I’ve been so lucky to have never had to get a day job my entire life. That’s an insane [concept] to a normal person that I meet on the street that works in an office — well, used to work in an office, now works from home!

Rock Cellar: You are very vocal on Twitter in a way that a lot of artists are not. You use your platform to a great degree about politics and the issues of the day. You’re very clear about where you stand.

Peter Frampton: I wasn’t as political until 2016. And then I knew that we were in for a rough time and it scared me. We can see the results of that now. Everything that I thought could happen happened, and a hundredfold. And the Constitution, the democracy, everything is at stake here. So yes.

And I work with various people that are in the business that send me things that are all fact-checked. I try very, very hard when I’m going to say something that’s going to upset half of my followers, that it is fact-checked and it’s absolutely correct. I made the mistake a couple of times of getting things wrong and I will try never to do that again. It’s very easy to make mistakes. But I try not to. And I don’t dive in like I used to.

I’m a lot more thoughtful about what I write.

Rock Cellar: You say upset half your followers, but I don’t believe it’s half. That’s the thing. It seems more like a very vocal 25 or 30 percent.

Peter Frampton: Yes, I agree with you. But unfortunately, they’re so loud and he only talks to them, so they scare me. The Trumpers scare me.

Rock Cellar: And the IBM, do you want to talk about your playing or how it’s affecting your day-to-day life these days?

Peter Frampton: Well, it’s progressing. That’s all I’ll say, really. It goes through plateaus and progressions, and right now I’m in a progressive stage. I’ve already gone down from nines to eights (gauge strings) on my guitar now, which is what I used to play, anyway. I didn’t change to nines until 1980-something. Comes Alive! and all my early stuff is all eights. Because I read, at the time, when I was about 16, that Eric Clapton used Picato strings from Wales, and that they were eights. So why wouldn’t I use eights? [Laughter]

Rock Cellar: But you were supposed to be doing a drug trial, and you write in the book that obviously you couldn’t travel as a 70-something guy during a pandemic for that trial. Is that going to pick back up? Do you know what’s going on with that?

Peter Frampton: I am on the trial drug right now. The problem was being out of state for the trial, so it really isn’t an official trial now, because everyone started it but we can’t go back for checkups. So basically, they gave us all the drug to administer on our own. After three months I should start a slowing down, which is all we can hope for. That’s what they said.

Rock Cellar: You said in the book that you don’t like doing walk-ons because it’s not your band. Do you see a way to do some performances in the future, especially now that a lot of it is online?

Peter Frampton: Yeah. Well, I’ve done some. I did “It Don’t Come Easy” for Ringo’s birthday. I’ve also done something with the Doobies, who I’ve been friends with for years. We toured together. We picked an Eric Clapton song, “Let it Rain.” We’re all under COVID, undercover. So each person filmed themselves, basically, and sent it to my keyboard player Rob Arthur. We have a film company together now called Phoenix Films. So we are doing all these things. He directs them and is the cinematographer, and I’m the producer. We are a team. We’re a 50-50 company.

So he’s been doing loads of things with the Doobies and all sorts of other people. He’s becoming this film guy. Which is wonderful. So we’re hoping to do more of that. He’s actually going to come by masked up. He’s the only other person allowed in my bubble but my girlfriend and my guitar tech. That’s it!

Rock Cellar: Well, thanks for so much time, Peter. It’s always a pleasure. One of these days we’ll be in the same room. But take care of yourself.

Peter Frampton: Well, thank you so much! Same here. I will speak to you soon.

Comments

  • Patty says:

    Great questions & insights to a storied career! Peter Frampton has great heart & never gives up. What an inspiration!
    Next time, be sure to ask the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame why they have ignored Peter for so long. He’s not a one-hit wonder, but that’s how they treat him. His rock guitar god achievements & ’70s fame prove that Peter is long overdue to be honored by the Rock Hall. Some of the inductees are far less worthy of inclusion. Peter was one of the most successful early so rock acts & managed to market an expensive double live album at a time when that was a rarity. The prejudice the R&RHOF shows toward Peter Frampton needs to be addressed for the sake of human decency. Peter’s too fine of a musician & composer to be treated like ann also-ran.
    Thank you, Rock Cellar Magazine, for an enlightening profile of Peter Frampton. I look forward to reading more of your articles!
    Best,
    Patty Knox
    Cleveland OH

  • Paulclevo says:

    I agree Patty. I have been collecting photos and flyers of the countless big shows Pete did where he headlined over current inductees. No one but Peter suffered from being in Sgt Pepper. Didnt hurt the Bee Gees or Aerosmith.

    Native Clevelander
    Paulclevo
    Living in LA now


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