Peter Frampton: Come Again?
Originally published in Guitar World, June 2010
Back in the spotlight with a new album, Peter Frampton gives an in-depth look at his rig and talks about his years in the wilderness after Frampton Comes Alive!
"Show Me the Way" was one of the biggest hits on Peter Frampton's breakthrough 1976 live record, Frampton Comes Alive! Yet, for all the acclaim that album brought him as a guitarist, songwriter and performer, it seemed that he was still trying to find his path for most of the Eighties and Nineties.
“After Frampton Comes Alive! became a huge success, I really needed to take time off to work out what the hell just happened. Instead, I just kept working,” says Frampton, who has just released his 14th album, Thank You Mr. Churchill. Though he didn’t take a break at the time, he certainly deserved one. The double-disc live album was one of the biggest sellers of 1976 and held the top spot on the Billboard Top 200 for 10 weeks, thanks to the hit songs “Do You Feel Like We Do,” “Baby I Love Your Way” and “Show Me the Way.” Prior to it, Frampton was relatively unknown, despite four well-received solo albums, three hit singles with the British group the Herd, and a stint in Humble Pie that culminated in the group’s classic 1971 live album, Rockin’ the Fillmore. After its release, everyone knew the British guitarist with the long curly locks.
While hits like “Show Me the Way” and “Baby I Love Your Way” dominated pop radio, Frampton was equally popular on FM album rock stations, which played the album’s full 14-minute version of “Do You Feel Like We Do,” complete with extended talk box solo and an abundance of tasteful melodic chops that the guitarist performed on a three-pickup Les Paul Custom.
In the course of things, Frampton became something of a guitar hero for his time. His powerful, soaring guitar solos—characterized by a sonorous, singing midrange and thick Leslie rotating speaker tones—were among the factors that helped Frampton Comes Alive! become so successful. But immediately after releasing the album, he traded the role of guitar hero for that of pop star. His follow-up, 1977’s I’m in You, downplayed his taut rhythm guitar work and massive swirling leads in favor of synthesizers. In 1978, Frampton starred as Billy Shears in a poorly conceived film version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and when the movie flopped, it seemed he had done irreparable damage to his reputation as a musician.
Frampton notes, “I was only a teenager when I played with the Herd and Humble Pie, and I was still in my early twenties when Frampton Comes Alive! came out. That was an immense amount of work in a relatively short period of time. I needed to stop for a while and grow up, but I didn’t do that. Somewhere along the way things got confused and the pop-star side of my career got in the way of my musician side.”
Several more solo albums followed, none of which served to further his status. When his 1995 live album, Frampton Comes Alive II, failed to meet sales expectations, the guitarist decided to put his solo career on hold. He found satisfaction and steady work playing the sideman role, making records and touring behind artists like Ringo Starr and Bill Wyman. By 2003, he was ready to hit the road on his own again, and he released Now, his first studio album in nine years. Frampton’s follow-up, the 2006 instrumental effort Fingerprints, earned him both critical acclaim and a Grammy, and it seemed that he had finally found the direction he had been seeking for so many years.
“Fingerprints finally put me back in the spotlight as a musician,” he says. The album, which included Frampton’s cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” featured a number of guest guitarists, such as Warren Haynes, John Jorgenson, Wyman and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. “I needed to make a guitar record,” Frampton says. “The perception that I was just a pop star was pushed upon me by the public, and it’s very hard to change the public’s perception even though I never really pushed aside the musician aspect of my career. After I released Fingerprints, my peers reassured me that I was on a level that I always hoped I would be on. I was regarded as a guitar player again, as I was when I was with Humble Pie and before the Frampton Comes Alive! period. It felt really good to do that and to play with all of my heroes and people who inspired me, like Warren Haynes, John Jorgenson, Hank Marvin and the Shadows, Pearl Jam and the Stones.”
Frampton has kept that creative energy flowing on his latest album, Thank You Mr. Churchill. While the album contains mostly vocal-oriented songs, Frampton delivers some of his most spirited and inspired solos since his Humble Pie days. His playing is as fiery and aggressive at it was in his youth, but he now attacks the instrument from a more refi ned and mature perspective.