If you were to scan your FM or AM radio dials during any given hour of early 1976, you couldn’t help but hit on a track from Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive. The three singles plucked from the album — “Show Me the Way,” “Do You Feel Like We Do” and “Baby, I Love Your Way” — would make Frampton Comes Alive the best-selling (sixteen million copies worldwide) live album in rock history. Keeping the momentum going from that monumental achievement would prove to be a tall order for the young guitarist. Although his 1977 follow-up release, I’m In You, was certified triple platinum before it was even released and featured the highest-charting single of Frampton’s career (the romantic title track, which hit No. 2), record industry bigwigs viewed it a failure. Between 1978 and 1994, Frampton sunk into relative obscurity, surfacing occasionally to back his friend David Bowie (on the Never Let Me Down and the Glass Spiders Tour) and to record a few solo albums for Atlantic and Relativity/Sony.
The mid-Nineties on, however, has seen the emergence of a rejuvenated Frampton. He returned to the road four years ago, and he’s been on a roll ever since. In May he released the scorching Live in Detroit as both a CD and a DVD — the first to be released in high-definition TV format and 5.1 surround sound. In addition, he worked closely with Universal Music Group on a soon-to-be-released Peter Frampton Anthology and on the re-mastered versions of his solo A&M albums. The classic Frampton Comes Alive is scheduled for an October release and, like Live in Detroit, will be available in surround sound.
In his spare time, Frampton has also found the time to work on two songs each for Disney’s TIGGER.mania album and Cameron Crowe’s upcoming almost autobiographical film Almost Famous. He’s also overseen the Gibson Guitar Company’s production of a Peter Frampton Signature Series Les Paul, and has created his own musical accessory company called Framptone. Yes, Peter Frampton is indeed very much alive.
What was it like going back and listening again to your pre-solo work with the Herd and Humble Pie for the anthology project?
Oh, it was great! It’s part of my career. It’s part of my history. I have fond memories of both bands — and before. I’ve always had a good time in bands, and when I wasn’t having a good time I left.
Your first five solo studio albums have just been re-issued. Was there any one in particular that grabbed your attention upon listening to it again?
I have a soft spot for Wind of Change because it was my first one and it was a departure from Humble Pie — very much so. It showed me the spectrum of what I could do. But there’s something special about Frampton’s Camel, too, [because] it contains “Lines on My Face” and “Do You Feel Like We Do.”
Frampton Comes Alive will also be reissued later this year.
Yeah. That is very special to me because I’ve actually gotten permission and a budget from Universal to go in and remix it. There will be at least three extra numbers on it. Also, it will first come out in stereo, and, at the same time, we’re gonna do it in 5.1. If there’s ever a live record that deserved to be mixed in surround sound, it’s Frampton Comes Alive.
The expectations placed on you after Frampton Comes Alive were pretty incredible. Do you think you unfairly paid the price for rock & roll commercialism run amuck?
I think you can liken it to Rubik’s Cube or [Michael Jackson’s] Thriller. Whatever is the “new biggest.” Cameron [Crowe] put it the best; [he said] it was like I was strapped to the nose cone of a rocket and I was going where no man had gone before. And it was a very lonely place to be, because who do you ask for advice? No one’s been there. When you become the biggest of anything, you are definitely going to reach that point where they just crucify you because it’s overkill. That’s the nature of bigger than big. And unfortunately, you have to take the rough with the smooth because you are not going to come close with the next record — I don’t care who you are. Michael Jackson didn’t. Carole King didn’t with the follow-up to Tapestry. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
You kept a relatively low profile for a long time after that. Was that at all a conscious decision?
In ’82 I started taking a backseat. That’s when my first daughter was born, and it was nice to be with the family. So I basically took time off from ’82 to ’86. Also there was the fact that I couldn’t get a record deal. No one was interested in a Frampton record, so I just decided to go out and tour. And then in ’91, I lost my partner Steve Marriott from Humble Pie. We had just gotten back together and were going to do a Frampton/Marriott album and tour, which I was so excited about. But when I lost him — we all lost him — I did nothing except, wrongly, feel sorry for myself and wonder where the hell I’m going. And then in ’92 I said to myself, “Look, I wanna do six weeks worth of clubs. I’m going to put the band together again and we’re gonna go out and have fun.” And from that six weeks, the agent kept on coming back and saying, “Uh, we got three more weeks. Do you want to do them? It’s bigger places, more money.” By the end of the summer, we were playing amphitheaters. It just started the ball rolling again. It’s very gratifying to know that I’ve always got an audience out there, and it’s getting younger and younger — and older and older [laughs].
Speaking of connecting with younger audiences, how’d you end up doing TIGGER.mania?
They called me up and said, “We know you have kids, and we’re sure they’re into Disney. Would you like to do something for kids?” and I said, “I thought you’d never ask!” Let’s face it — we were all Disney fans, so it’s just one of those things you can’t say no to. We did the video with lots and lots of kids and Pooh and Tigger and Eeyore. My daughter’s in it, too. She was two or three at the time. I did the “Tiggerized” version of “Show Me the Way.” They also played me “The Tigger Bop” and I said, “Oh. We can do that. That’s fine.” So I helped re-write it a little bit, and we did that one, too.
What was the genesis of your role in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous?
Cameron and I have been friends for many years. In fact, I played him Frampton Comes Alive so that he could write the liner notes for it. And we always bump into each other. He called me up and said, “Would you help me out on this movie I’m doing? The main thing I’d like you to do is to be sort of the authenticity consultant on 1973. Do you remember 1973, Pete?” I answered, [hesitantly] “Yessss . . . ’73 is coming in clear, but ’75, ’76 and ’77 — a bit fuzzy” [laughs]. And so I rehearsed with the band for six weeks. I would basically be this information bureau for things like, “What do you feel like when you walk on stage?” or “What are you thinking when you play a solo?” or “What would you do when you walk over to your amp?” I also ended up calling the cameras for some of the live shots. We had four Panavision cameras shooting some of the scenes, which was pretty incredible, and so there I am with a pair of headphones on, shouting at the cameramen, “Drum fill coming in! Yo! Now! There it is!” That sort of stuff. It was like the highlight of my life — it’s called power [laughs]. And then Cameron asked me to write a song. I wrote two and they used both of them. And then he said, “Would you wanna be in the movie?” So I get to play Humble Pie’s road manager, Reg. But don’t blink. I’m in two scenes, but one of them is pretty pivotal.
So what do you feel like when you walk on stage? What are your thoughts on the “live” experience versus the studio one?
The reason I wanted to play guitar was because I saw Buddy Holly and then our own homegrown Shadows on TV in 1957 or ’58. I wanted to learn to play guitar so I could do what they did and be in a band. And what does a band do? It plays live. And that was it from the word go! I always wanted to be on stage, and that’s why I locked myself away in my room for many, many hours — much to the chagrin of my mother, who got very fed up with the sound of my practicing [laughs].
Do you get the same kind of inspiration from any modern music?
I like a lot of it. I hate a lot of it. I’m a big Pearl Jam. I love the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters — they’re good friends of mine. Weezer. I was so thrilled when guitar bands came back. There’s an angst that is not there when you’re seasoned. Just like Humble Pie. There’s an adrenaline thing and there might be a few mistakes, but that’s what rock & roll is all about. There’s nothing quite like the emotion that the younger bands display. It’s not perfect, but it’s so attractive. It doesn’t have to be perfect for me to love it.