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Peter Frampton: Peter Principle

Ten years after he became a megastar, the veteran artist tries to come alive again

Peter Frampton

Peter Frampton

Chris Walter/WireImage

American Bandstand, 1986. “I want to talk to you about this,” says Dick Clark, America’s oldest teenager, “because this is the only serious thing you’ll ever hear me say on this show.” Clark is sitting in the bleachers, surrounded by teenagers. He motions toward a man standing in the dark on the Bandstand stage. The man is slight, has long, wavy hair and is holding a black custom-made guitar. “This man is extraordinary. When you were six years old, he had the biggest-selling album of all time, ever, up to that point. A thing called Frampton Comes Alive! Man, you talk about hot, he couldn’t walk anywhere. Then all of a sudden, things got quiet for 10 years. He didn’t disappear, he’s not a failure. But he had to start over again. Put it all back together again. . .and I gotta say, ‘Wow, what a head trip you gotta go through to live through that.'”

Then the lights go on, and Peter Frampton is there, in the spotlight once again, the harsh lights enhancing his beatific smile, the periwinkle blue of his wide-set eyes, the fine, pale gold of his hair. The song “Lying” begins, and he performs it with the power and charm that elevated him, 10 years ago, from third act on the bill to the biggest single act in the world. Though he is lip-syncing, his exuberance and conviction make it seem that he is singing live. This is the closest he has been to performing at any time in the past four years.

Later, Frampton’s response to the taping, like so many of his emotions, is easy to read. When he feels ill at ease, for example, he crosses his arms in front of his chest and thrusts his head downward, as if his entire body were engaged in an act of self-protection. But when he is happy, as he is now, he seems buoyant and light, and his arms swing back and forth, and he moves with a gymnast’s swift, sure grace. At such moments, his pleasure is contagious, because there is no vanity in it at all. It is accompanied by the humility and deferential graciousness he developed as a shy child and refined in his years as an opening act. Those who know him unfailingly describe him as “a very nice guy.” He has spent 20 of his 36 years on the road, yet that tenure has failed to convince him that he is the only significant person in the world.

He changes quickly into street clothes, then hurries to the phone to call his wife, Barbara, and their three-year-old daughter, Jade. As he tells them about the taping, he is both the contented family man and the rock & roller, teasing his young daughter while relaxing on a dressing-room couch and wearing skintight black leather pants and a black leather jacket.

One of his managers, Patrick Spinks, drives him back to the hotel in a Budget rental car. It’s cold and rainy in Los Angeles, and the car moves slowly up Hollywood Boulevard; Frampton sits forward, looking for the enormous pagoda that is Mann’s Chinese Theatre, the purple structure that is Frederick’s of Hollywood. He remembers the day a star bearing his name was placed in the sidewalk along this street. They pass a Budget office, and it dawns on him that the star is there, at the corner of Hollywood and Highland. “We’ll have to return the car ourselves then,” Spinks says, and smiles. Frampton laughs, then sits back in his seat. They drive in silence a moment. The windshield wipers brush the rain away. Frampton says, softly, almost to himself, “I’ll have to bring Jade here someday.”

As much as anyone in the brief history of rock & roll, Peter Frampton understands precisely how good things can be and precisely how bad they can get. And if his spectacular success did not scar him, his season of defeat and rejection clearly did. The pain of those years manifests itself in his firm, repeated vows that he will not make the same mistakes again, in his insistent supervision of every aspect of his recent comeback and, above all, in the way his face and voice alter when he speaks of the past. His voice will become hesitant and trail off into half-uttered thoughts, his jaw will jut forward in a defensive set, and the light will drain from his eyes, to be replaced by something impenetrable and wounded.

His suffering is attributable to many people and circumstances, though Frampton’s own contribution to it derives from a familiar, inevitable conflict: the tension between the desire to be the biggest and the desire to be the best. He had always wanted to be one of the best rock guitarists; that he could do that was never in doubt. But he also loved to perform and loved applause and yearned to be a star. The guitarist was a serious musician who loved jazz and the blues; the aspiring star would dress in satin pants and become the virtual embodiment of the mid-Seventies rock hero. And Frampton would revel in this glamorous persona, and he would suffer for it.

Now, 10 years after his initial success, he has taken his own measure with the unsparing honesty of someone who senses he has little left to lose. “I started out as a musician,” he says, “and I ended up as a cartoon.”

He was born in 1950, in Beckenham, Kent, the first of two sons. He was reticent, small, polite, with a ready, eager smile and huge, inquisitive eyes. His mother was a housewife, his father a trained cabinetmaker and the head of the art department at a local high school.

The first time he played guitar in public was at a Boy Scout variety show. He was eight years old, and there were about 600 parents in the vast auditorium. He did the Cliff Richard song “A Girl Like You,” then Adam Faith’s “Poor Me.” The audience cheered, and he was exhilarated. He was supposed to do just two songs. But then he saw the beaming faces, and his blue eyes shone as he beamed back at them. “Seeing as you all like me so much,” he said, “I think I better do you another number.”

And so it began. From then on, he practiced in his room, above the kitchen, until his mother banged on the ceiling to make him stop. His school hours were spent thinking about musicians, music and guitars, especially red Fender Stratocasters, whose sleek shininess had become the focus of his daydreams and desires.

When he was 16 he joined the Herd, a pop group that played everything from “Dancing in the Street” to Jimmy Smith numbers. He played with them a year, singing just one number, a cover of Ray Charles’ “Hide nor Hair.” But soon the group’s managers told him he would be the lead singer. Shortly after that, the Herd was booked on TV.

“It was very important, this,” Frampton says now, “because whoever sings the song on TV gets the attention.” The managers also insisted that Frampton appear on television dressed in a long-sleeved black top with one of the sleeves cut off. “It may seem a bit strange,” they told him, “but people will remember it.”

“Oh, no,” said Frampton. But he went along with it, and it would not be the last time he would go along with what he sensed was a mistake, or the last time that his essential niceness, so integral a part of his appeal, would contribute equally to his making and his undoing.

Just two weeks after that first TV appearance, the Herd’s song “From the Underworld” was a hit, the group was on Top of the Pops, the British equivalent of Bandstand, and the strangely attired lead singer was the new idol of screaming, eager British girls. He was called the Face of 1968 in a British music magazine, and with that, the screams got louder. “It was great and it was terrible,” Frampton says, “all in the same time. It was incredibly exciting to be screamed at, but on the other hand, it wears thin very quickly, and the music was being forgotten.”

Ttestimony. I used to jam with Steve Marriott of the Small Faces. Steve had been through a lot of problems with the Faces. Not so much with the teen thing. Businesswise. He heard we were also having troubles. There was a lot of money per week going somewhere, and it wasn’t going to us. One day he said to me, “Why don’t you form your own band?” I said, “That’s basically what I want to do.” So we started Humble Pie. We wanted people to listen. We grew beards, which was pretty difficult for me at the time. We didn’t dress the way pop bands should dress. We’d wear the same clothes again and again. As long as they weren’t shiny, they were okay. I enjoyed this. This was good. I wanted to be known as a guitarist. We did everything possible not to go for the teenybopper thing.

Humble Pie was formed in 1969 and built up a considerable following, mainly on the basis of almost nonstop touring. In 1971, after several moderately successful studio albums, they recorded a live album, at Frampton’s insistence. After listening to the playback of Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore, Frampton was convinced that Humble Pie would be a major group and that its music was leading in a direction that he did not want to be restricted to. He had a vision of what his own music should be and enough stubborn strength to be true to it. Before the album was released, he left Humble Pie, ready to try on his own, hoping to succeed, willing to fail.

At first, Frampton did session work in London. One day, a friend of his invited him to meet George Harrison at Trident Studios, where the former Beatle was producing “Ain’t That Cute” for a singer named Doris Troy. It was a momentous event for a 21-one-year-old who had worshiped the Beatles. Frampton was led into the control room. Harrison looked over at him.

“Hi, Pete, nice to meet you,” he said.

Frampton just stared at Harrison, who handed him a Les Paul guitar. “Okay, it’s in A,” said Harrison.

“What?” said Frampton.

“It’s in A,” Harrison said.

Frampton took a deep breath. “Okay, fantastic,” he said. He began chunking out chords.

Harrison stopped playing. “No, no, no, no,” he said. “I play rhythm. You play lead.”

Within the next few months, Frampton began working on Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, an album featuring Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, Billy Preston and Eric Clapton. Frampton’s time as a studio musician may have been the most contented year of his life, a time when his love of the music and his ability to play it were the only things that mattered. But as the recording of the Harrison album went on, Frampton knew he could no longer wait to make a solo album. One day he said to the assembled musicians, “Look, guys, any chance you might come and play on it?”

He got out his notebook and took down phone numbers for Voorman, Preston and Starr. “And they did come and play on the record,” Frampton says. “I had balls, I must say.” Had he remained a session player, his life might have been simpler and far happier, and a simple, happy life was certainly what he thought he wanted. But Frampton was increasingly obsessed with another thought: “Let’s see how big I can be.”

His first solo album, Wind of Change, was released in 1972, and Frampton began four years of extensive touring, during which he played as many as 200 gigs a year. With the touring he solidified his relationship with his manager, Dee Anthony. It was a curious partnership that could not have existed without a fundamental split in Frampton’s mind and character. All that was nice and easygoing in him must have found it proper to remain with Anthony, who had managed Humble Pie; all that was ambitious in him must have seen the value of remaining with Anthony, a caricature of the appetitive hustler.

Anthony, had earned his reputation as a tough bastard when he had managed Tony Bennett, and he was embellishing that reputation in the early Seventies as manager of the now extremely successful Humble Pie and the J. Geils Band. His theories for attaining success involved almost constant touring, during which the artist was to practice what Anthony liked to call planned spontaneity: saying hello to the audience, saying goodbye, standing still while singing ballads. Anthony’s theories on maintaining that success would prove to be somewhat less developed.

For the next four years, Frampton opened for anyone, anywhere, trying to be seen by as many people as possible, going off the road each year for three months to write and record an album, then going back out again with ZZ Top, Edgar Winter, the J. Geils Band, Steve Miller, Santana or Humble Pie.

He realized that he could read an audience, that he could touch them and excite them, that there was something combustible between him and them. But his albums weren’t selling well, and when his fourth album, Frampton, fell just short of gold, it dawned on him that the best of his work happened live and that he should record a live album.

Frampton comes alive! was released in March 1976. The week it came out, Frampton went to the Bahamas for a brief vacation before playing a one-nighter in Detroit. The first day in the Bahamas, he called Dee Anthony’s office. “We’ve added another night in Detroit,” he was told. “It sold out in an hour.” The next day he called again, and Anthony told him, “We added another night in Detroit. It sold out in half an hour.” Another concert was added the following day, another the day after that.

A week later, he stood backstage, in the dark, in Detroit’s Cobo Hall. The houselights went down, then he heard a roar from the audience, a mammoth sound of anticipation he had previously heard only when he himself was in the audience at concerts by the Who or the Rolling Stones. Then the road manager said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Peter Frampton,” and Frampton ran onstage, and the roar grew. He picked up his guitar, and the audience went wild as he began singing “Somethin’s Happening.” He had sung it literally hundreds of times since its release more than two years before, but now there were tears in his eyes as he sang, “I know it’s my year,” because the words were true, for the very first time.

Those first shows were magical. Frampton was the headliner now, performing on some nights for 100,000 people, audiences so vast that the applause came to him like waves to the shore, taking several seconds to reach him. After the shows, he and the band would go to clubs. Once disc jockeys had put on his records when he walked in. Now his songs were already playing. Other musicians turned up at his gigs; in that summer of 1976 it seemed that everyone wanted to sit in with him. One night Stephen Stills was there; another night, Carlos Santana. His girlfriend, Penny McCall, small, blond, nearly his twin, became a celebrity by association and held court backstage, surrounded by admiring, envious young ladies-in-waiting dressed in lace stockings and leather miniskirts. He was named Artist of the Year by Billboard and by Rolling Stone‘s readers; he was the favorite singer of President Ford’s son Steven. He was 26 years old.

Testimony. At times it felt like I was being thrown into the deep end, but sometimes I work very well in that situation. But there was nothing to relate this success to in my prior history. And people that were advising me were obviously looking at this as a short-term thing, even though it would be said, “We’ve got to look at the career long term.” . . .I was on The Mike Douglas Show twice. I was on the cover of practically every magazine in the United States. I never said no to anything. I told everything to everybody. I gave everything away, and when you give it all away, you have nothing left. . .  .

It was like “He’ll do this, he’ll do that, he won’t say no to anything.” And I’m saying, “Hold on a minute.” You know, “Let’s calm down.” But it was. . .it was too late. It was like “Open the doors, okay, here’s Peter, you can have him now.”

Most personal histories contain a particular moment that divides before from after. For Frampton that moment occurred in the studio of photographer Francesco Scavullo, where his identity as a musician began to recede and be replaced by his identity as a celebrity. Frampton had gone to the studio to have his picture taken for the cover of Rolling Stone. When he arrived, the hairdresser and the makeup artist began working on him. He had never had mascara applied for a picture before, and it made him uncomfortable, but he thought to himself, “Well, this is what happens.”

Scavullo took a lot of shots. Then he said, “Why don’t we do just one without your shirt.”

“Fine,” said Frampton.

A week or so later, he was on a plane when he was handed the envelope containing the picture Scavullo submitted for the cover. The picture was the single shot he did without his shirt. “I couldn’t wait to get to the other end so I could make a phone call to say that I didn’t really. . .that I really wasn’t thrilled with this.” A few weeks later, Frampton posed shirtless for the cover of People.

Ttestimony. I have this picture in my mind. In many presidential suites around the world, there is Peter sitting at his room-service tray. There I am, in this huge room, the table set for one. And of course — I mean, there’s me and the TV. All the guys in the band — well, they went out, they went to play racquetball or they’re sitting by the pool. Those people around me made it very obvious that it would be better if I didn’t go out. Which kind of puts you in this prisoner situation. . .  . It was a period where it was like “We don’t think it would be a good idea for you to come out of your room.” Of course, I could have gone and sat by the pool, signed a few autographs and said, “Look, give me a break. I just want to relax a little bit.” I’ve done it since. And obviously if I knew then what I know now, it would have been a lot different. But I didn’t.

Frampton Comes Alive! stayed at the top of the charts thoughout the summer of 1976, and then into the fall, remaining at Number One for an unprecedented 17 weeks. Frampton was a beneficiary of the post-Watergate yearning to feel cleansed, which gave rise that same year to Jimmy Carter’s candidacy and the film Rocky. Like Carter and Sylvester Stallone, Frampton was perceived as brimming with sincerity. But while Carter and Stallone were mavericks prevailing over an established system, Frampton was allowing his career to be run by a manager whose handling of him could be characterized as inspired greed.

He played as many as seven shows a week. The exhausting schedule was punctuated by incredible highs that he wanted to prolong, and obtaining cocaine was not exactly impossible. As the months wore on, and the pace did not ease, his story was becoming an all-too-familiar tale, with a bit of Machiavelli thrown in, for it was also being said that Anthony was retaining Frampton as a sort of human toy, his personal, highly lucrative performing machine. Anthony refuses to speak about any aspect of his association with Frampton, whose comments about Anthony are exceedingly circumspect. “Put it this way,” he says of his drug use, “no one made any great effort or attempt to make me stop.”

By the end of the summer of 1976, Anthony decided that Frampton should capitalize on the success of Frampton Comes Alive! He was convinced that the way for Frampton to do this was to record another album. Decisions about when to record had been exclusively Frampton’s. But now he agreed to the follow-up album though he knew he could not possibly write, in a few weeks, songs to equal the live album’s material, which had been culled from his best work of the previous six years. He knew, too, that this album did not have to be as good as the live album. It had to be better.

“I started out as a musician,” Frampton says, “And ended up a cartoon.” 

Before Frampton had written a single song, there were three million advance orders for the new album. It was the first time something spectacular had been expected of him, and the expectation intensified his fears. His hopes hinged on a cassette he had made of all the musical ideas he had had since the live album’s release. He went to Mexico for a brief vacation and lost the tape.

Throughout the sessions he was late, he was morose, he was drinking, and he was filled with the special rage of someone who has believed the worst is past, only to find out it isn’t. When I’m in You was released, he knew it wasn’t right. The critics knew it too, and so did the record buyers. This was not a fall from grace, but it was a very public stumble. “And it’s almost, obviously, a little bit embarrassing,” he says now, “and it makes me mad sometimes.

“What should have happened was that we should have done the tour of ’76, we should have gone round the world, and I should have said — and everyone should have been of the same feeling — ‘Okay, Pete, take some time off, recuperate. We got there. This is going to sustain us, sustain you for a long time. You don’t have to rush back into the studio. Go and relax and write the songs you want to write for the next album.’. . . Thinking back, that probably was where it all could have been saved.”

Testimony. There were not quite as many numbers on our new album that one could do on the stage. So the act was getting stale. Obviously, we did four or five numbers from it, but what did they want? They wanted the live album. . .  . So there were times when we were going through the motions. When you start doing an act and something new happens, you say, “Oh, look, that bit we did, let’s do it again,” and it’s a challenge. You’re building it up, and you get to the point where it’s totally accepted, where you’re known for that part of the show, and it becomes very exciting to play that, but then you get to the point where it’s so slick that you play the same things every night because you know it’s going to work, it’s safe. And it’s dangerous then.

In the summer of 1977, Frampton awoke around three in the afternoon in a room at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. His suite was decorated in mauve velvet, and on the living-room coffee table there was a huge bouquet of flowers from Elvis Presley.

That evening he was to do two shows. He had come to dread performing, although once he got onstage, some of the old excitement would return. He was 27, and he knew what it felt like to lament the good old days.

He ordered his usual breakfast: raisin bran, toast, juice and coffee. He turned on the television and paced the room. His band was at the pool. He was so accustomed to the idea that he must not leave his room that it did not occur to him to join them.

What did occur to him was that he wanted to go home. He called Dee Anthony. He’d had it, he said. He was through. One of Anthony’s assistants appeared in his room a moment later. They conferred for several hours, and when they were done, Frampton agreed to go on with the tour. “The consensus of opinion was that if I pulled out it wouldn’t look good,” he says. “What that really meant was that a lot of revenue wouldn’t be coming in for the rest of the year. And at that point, no one really thought about my health, except that I was starting to consider the fact that here I am alone in a room with a bottle of Remy Martin drinking myself to sleep. Thinking, ‘Let’s get to the next gig.’ Let’s get it over with, you know?”

After the I’m in You tour ended, in September 1977, Frampton began work on the movie version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He sensed that the movie was a terrible mistake and tried to justify his participation in it by reminding himself that George Martin was producing the music and that Paul McCartney would be in the picture.

“That was my credibility for doing the movie, that Paul would be in it. But in the end, his part was played by Billy Preston. That’s as close to a Beatle as we got.” As shooting went on, his discomfort grew, and he began thinking of it in karmic terms. “I’d transgressed the unwritten law, I’d messed with the Beatles, something I swore I would never do.” Having compromised so much by now, he was uncomfortable with himself, and he began speculating about what others must have been thinking of him. “I’m sure a lot of people thought I was selling out,” he says.

In the summer of 1978, after Sgt. Pepper was completed, he went to the Bahamas, where he fell asleep at the wheel of his car and woke up in a hospital room with six broken ribs, a broken hand, a broken foot and gashes in his face and his leg. He looked down and saw a little green curtain around his right arm. “Is it a compound fracture?” he asked the nurse.

“Oh, yes,” she answered.

He said nothing. But later he asked what he was afraid to ask: “Will I be able to play?” No one could answer the question.

He was flown to New York, to a room at Lenox Hill Hospital filled with flowers from the Rolling Stones, from Milton Berle, from Stevie Wonder, from Don Rickles. And it was there, for the first time since he had gone on the road as a solo act, six years before, that he had time for reflection. What he thought was “Here I am, having given a lot of people a lot of enjoyment, and I’m miserable. Something’s wrong.”

While he was in the hospital, Sgt. Pepper was released, and it confirmed his sense that it would be a disaster. Nonetheless, the première was televised, and it was a gala occasion, featuring his costars the Bee Gees. He watched the festivities from his hospital bed.

By November 1978, Frampton’s arm was on the mend, and he was well enough to go on the road. That was the good news. The bad news was that it was time to record again. He had become phobic about writing or, more accurately, about trying to write, and faced with this new project, he panicked. The reception of I’m in You necessitated that this album be far better. “And I just didn’t feel confident that it could be,” he says.

His long relationship with Penny McCall had ended, and with her trademark mixture of crassness and savvy, she had filed a palimony suit against him. (The suit is still pending.) Alone now, he moved to Los Angeles to record the album, living in a rented house, feeling that he had no roots, no center, no ideas. And in the middle of the night would come the thought that he had, perhaps, no future.

Where I Should Be was released in 1979. Only one cut, “I Can’t Stand It No More,” was released as a single; it reached the Top Twenty. Frampton began touring again, but now, instead of playing three nights at Madison Square Garden, he played one. The tour was very good. The audience seemed to love it. Still, he says, “I knew it was different. And I suppose that was the only time when I ever maybe thought to myself, ‘Damn the live album!'”

Fans began saying to him, “Hey, Peter, you used to be great,” and the tiny bit of confidence he had managed to retain became impossible to hold on to. And now, when his accumulated anxieties had made writing impossible for him, there was yet another album to do. He knew he could never do it, and finally a friend, songwriter Mark Goldenberg, helped him cobble it together. Of course, it wasn’t as good as it needed to be, and, of course, he knew it. “But there was. . .there was nothing I could do at that point. . .to make it any better. And that was the time I realized that it was time to … completely start all over again.”

The name of the album was The Art of Control. It was released in early 1982. A few months later, just six years after the release of Frampton Comes Alive!, Frampton was dropped by A&M.

He had long since severed his relationship with Anthony, but he remained trapped in the quicksand of the past. He spent hours obsessively reviewing all that had gone before, trying to figure out what went wrong. This ritual looking backward immersed him in enough rage and obsession to distract him occasionally from his true loss, but finally the loss had to be acknowledged. “I suppose there was … a feeling of despair,” he says. “I suppose it was the fact that I had it here in my hand, and it … it disappeared.”

It was humiliating to imagine what other people might think of him. “It was that cartoon character,” he says now. “I was embarrassed that they confused me with him.”

Frampton knew he required a life that was focused on something more substantial and reliable than the music business. In 1983, he married Barbara Gold, whom he had met three years before. When their daughter was born, a year later, it was additional proof that not all his hopes for a good life resided with his music, and this sense lowered the stakes, enabling him to begin to practice the guitar again and to do some writing. He grabbed at any evidence that suggested he was still what he always most wanted to be, a songwriter and a guitar player who was respected by his peers.

In 1983, Frampton and Chris Spedding recorded “Work,” one of the most difficult Thelonious Monk tunes, for That’s the Way I Feel Now, a tribute to Monk released by A&M. In 1984, Steve Morse, an acclaimed guitarist, asked Frampton if he would co-write a song for Morse’s album. Frampton said he would and then went to Atlanta to record the song with Morse. They jammed together, and later they played a duet at a Carnegie Hall guitar concert.

He began practicing each morning, in a studio over his garage in Westchester County, New York. “And that was great, getting back into playing a lot again. And the thing just snowballed, and it’s almost like being 16 again and practicing and playing and writing.”

By the end of 1984, he had written almost enough material for a new album and had signed with a new manager, Tony Smith, who represents Phil Collins and Genesis. The album was initially conceived as a group effort, with Frampton functioning as lead guitarist, but when all the songs were written, Frampton knew that he had to be the one to sing them and that this would be a solo album.

Premonition was released in early 1986, and Frampton is not discouraged by the album’s moderate sales so far. His albums had always had less public acceptance than his performing. Now he is looking forward to the release of his new single, “Hiding from a Heartache,” and his summer tour, when he will open for Stevie Nicks. He is naturally aware of the discrepancy between where he was ten years ago and where he is now.

“But I don’t want to focus on being angry about the past,” he says. “Anger isn’t — the past is just gone, you know. I can’t redo it. It’s all done. There’s no point wasting time on being angry at that era. Obviously there are things that upset me about it. But it’s a waste of energy to be mad, and I try not to be.”

And so he knows what it means to be sadder but wiser, just as he knows that it is no small thing to live to tell the tale. And he understands what Hemingway meant when he wrote, “I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it, you learned from that what it was all about.”

Peter frampton gets into a limousine. He sits across from Graham Nash, who, nearly 20 years ago, was the first person to make him aware that the Herd wasn’t getting all the money due it. Tonight they’re in Los Angeles, headed to a cocktail party for some members of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers. The last time Frampton attended the NARM convention, he made a speech at the awards dinner and got a big laugh when he said, “You all know me as SP6505.” That was in 1976. This year, the dinner is being hosted by Julian Lennon.

At the cocktail party this evening, the dark-suited owners of the nation’s major record stores and their conservatively clad wives wear plastic-covered name tags and shake hands with David Lee Roth, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, Marilyn Martin and Stephen Pearcy and Robbin Crosby of Ratt, get their autographs for their children and, presumably, either envy or overlook the often flamboyant appearance of those whose output constitutes their livelihood.

When Frampton arrives in the claustrophobically crowded room, he looks around and hugs his arms to his body, an apprehensive rock & roller dressed in black leather. No one approaches him, so after a few moments, he gets a Perrier from the bar, then goes to the edge of the room and sits on a couch, motionless, except for the finger he repeatedly runs around the rim of the bottle. Perry Cooper, the head of publicity at Frampton’s label, Atlantic, spots him. “Peter,” Cooper says, “you have to work a little bit here.” Frampton stands, makes a wry, boyish face, like a child caught being naughty. He shrugs and says, “I thought I’d wait till they came to me.”

He looks around the room, takes a deep breath and says, “I think I might break down and have a beer.” He takes a few quick sips of the beer, then glances around again, half-expectant, half-cautious. Then the record-store owners and their wives begin to approach him.

“Your new record sounds more like your earlier stuff,” a man tells him. “The consumers are realizing it’s Peter Frampton.”

“Your new album is immensely better than the last few,” says another, “and really selling.” Frampton shakes their hands and thanks them. He is courteous, polite and very sweet. He finds Graham Nash in the crowd, and a photographer takes pictures of the two of them with the two members of Ratt, all of them grinning with their arms around each other. When the photographer is done Frampton looks around the room again, then keeps looking. Finally, he turns to Nash and says quietly, “I haven’t done one of these in ages.”

As the record-store owners keep talking with him, he begins to relax, and his arms no longer hug his body, and he is delighted when a young party crasher tells him, “You were one of the first records I bought when I was a kid,” and when his girlfriend loudly proclaims, “Peter Frampton is rad.”

Next comes an overweight man who owns a record store in the Midwest. The man’s name tag is slightly askew. Frampton reaches over to straighten it, saying, “Let me fix this for you,” and as he adjusts the badge, he suddenly grins, and his face crinkles and shines with delight. “I’m getting into it now,” he says.

Ttestimony. I think at some point I might have said it must be great to be as big as Elvis, but that wasn’t a realistic dream. So now, in the same sense, in the same way, I suppose I’m wondering if it could ever happen again, if I could ever be as big as I was. But that’s not a realistic dream. The reality of what I want to happen is on a much smaller scale. Probably people won’t even believe that I say this, but that sort of success is not the most important thing. It really isn’t, and I mean that seriously. Obviously I don’t make albums to play for myself, I make them for other people to play. I am in the record business, but my success now is in building slowly to. . .I don’t know. My success is enjoying what I do, and if I can maintain that enjoyment, that is more success than however many albums I sell. That other kind of big success. . .the only way for that to happen is. . .I never thought. . .that just isn’t in my dreams.

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