Peter Frampton says playing guitar for David Bowie helped him regain “credibility” as a player

David Bowie and Peter Frampton
(Image credit: Robin Platzer/Getty Images)

In the late ‘80s, Peter Frampton was recruited by David Bowie to play guitar on his 17th studio album Never Let Me Down, with the electric guitar star also staying on as part of Bowie’s band for the vocalist’s 1987 Glass Spider tour.

Unbeknownst to many at the time, the Glass Spider experience proved to be a pivotal time for Frampton, who at the time felt like he was “in a sinking ship” and struggling for “credibility” following the release of his own solo album, I’m In You.

In the latest issue of Guitarist, Frampton reflected on the career crossroads he came across in the late ‘80s, saying that Bowie’s faith in him helped him get “the credibility back I felt I’d lost”.

Frampton recalled, “[Bowie] said, ‘Can you come and play some guitar for me?’ That’s when I went to Switzerland and we recorded Never Let Me Down. Then he asked if I would be one of the guitar players on the Glass Spider tour, which blew me away. 

“Finally, having been on the same stage the same evening many times before, I was going to be Dave’s guitar player. He could have chosen anybody. He’d had Stevie Ray Vaughan the album before, but he chose me. “

As for what exactly the move meant for his career, Frampton says recording Never Let Me Down and touring with Bowie gave him “the credibility to continue” as an artist and helped “bring people back to me”.

“David inviting me to do the album and tour changed my credibility; I got my credibility back that I felt I’d lost when I’m In You came out,” he went on. “A teenybopper star, his length of career is about 18 months, whereas a musician’s career is a lifetime. I’m a musician first and foremost. David gave me back that credibility to continue and bring people back to me.”

Though I’m In You – which followed his iconic 1976 live album, Frampton Comes Alive! – became one of Frampton’s most commercially successful album, the guitarist admitted he remembers the record as the time he “started to lose a lot of audience”.

“Even though I’m In You was a huge single in the States and the album went right up the charts straight away, things dropped off pretty quickly,” Frampton explained. “The I’m In You tour was fine, that was good. Then after that, when that had sunk in, I think that’s when I started to lose a lot of audience. That was the situation. I felt like I was in a sinking ship.”

Frampton went into greater detail surrounding the making of the album, saying he “didn’t want to make” it and that “it was a painful record to make”.

“I didn’t want to make [the album] I’m In You,” he admitted. “I didn’t even want to hand it in. I didn’t like it. I knew it wasn’t good enough, but everybody was ‘rush, rush, rush’.

“I wanted to wait until I had the best material I could come up with, however long that would have taken. It could have been a year, it could have taken two years. Various things happened. I lost a cassette tape that had a load of ideas on it – that was devastating to me.

“I remembered some of them but not all of them. The bulk of my new material that I had up until that point disappeared. It was a painful record to make.”

Given the feelings Frampton harbored over I’m In You, it’s no surprise the guitar legend says he could never thank Bowie enough for helping him revitalize his career.

“I can never thank him enough for that," Frampton said of his Glass Spider experience. "He knew what he was doing for me before I knew what he was doing for me.”

To read the full interview with Peter Frampton, head over to Magazines Direct (opens in new tab) to pick up the latest issue of Guitarist.

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Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.