Peter Frampton On Life, Music, And The Highs And Lows of His Career

Peter Frampton reminisces about his early career, his parents, and getting way too stoned.
Peter Frampton On Life, Music, And The Highs And Lows of His Career
Photo credit: Austin Lord

Peter Frampton still wants to know, “Do You Feel Like I Do?” It’s the title of his new memoir and, of course, a reference to one of the all-time great live songs. The artist writes about his peaks and valleys in rock ‘n roll and beyond with both candor and grace. “Do You Feel Like I Do?” is more about self-reflection and self-deprecation than self-aggrandizing. 

Frampton looks back and forward in his memoir. He tells stories of playing in clubs and on television as a teenager, his days in Humble Pie, the highs and lows of his solo career, his epic farewell tour, and even his rejuvenating experiences such as collaborating with his schoolmate, David Bowie, and recording his Grammy-winning album, “Fingerprints.” 

We spoke to Frampton on the day of the 45th anniversary of “Frampton Comes Alive,” which is exactly where we started.

Congratulations on the 45th anniversary of “Frampton Comes Alive.” How are you feeling today? 

If I had told you 45 years ago or you had said to me, “People are still going to be digging this 45, 50 years from now,” I’d have said, “You’re nuts.” I’m so proud of it. It’s been held up there, it’s been knocked down. I’ve been held up there, I’ve been knocked down. And guess what? “Frampton Comes Alive” has survived and has risen to the place I think it should be in history as one of the best live albums of all time.

You wrote about some of the tough times that followed that album, but now, people only hear and think about the music. Nothing else. 

Exactly. The thing that lives on is the music, and I knew that when we did it, when we listened to it, when we mixed it, when we put it out, the one thing that I was so proud of was the band, how terrific the band were and how terrific all the playing was on that thing. And it’s a best-of off six studio albums in one live package.

So it’s one of those things where we were well-oiled, it was the stage show for many years, apart from the only couple of new numbers. The three new numbers would have been, “Baby, I Love Your Way,” “Show Me The Way,” and “Nowhere’s Too Far (For My Baby),” I think. Or maybe even “Money.” “Money” was new for that tour, yeah. Very proud of it.

Something else to be proud of, which you write about fondly, is your last Madison Square Garden show. I was there and left with such a high. 

Oh, thank you so much. You can probably tell how moved we all were to be on that stage again. It’s been a complete circle for me from the mid-70s, because of the big success, and then the fall from grace, and then all these years building back, and then to finally get back to Madison Square Garden and sell it out, it couldn’t get better than that. It’s just a great feeling of accomplishment of the rebuilding of my career.

And not saying goodbye at the end.

Yeah. Can’t ever say goodbye.

Looking back at your body of work and a lot of your life so closely with a memoir, did it change your perception at all of certain times?

Well, I think that time obviously gives you that. It’s very easy to be 45 years later and think, “Wow, I should never have done that,” but while you’re in the storm, not even in the eye, in the storm, it’s very difficult. I don’t think it’s any one particular thing. I think the main thing I learned is my resilience at the back of my mind all the time, even from when I was very young and was thinking, I’m not good enough, I’ve got to be better. I’m not good enough, I’ve got to be better. And that recurs throughout the book. I think when you think you’re the bee’s knees and you’ve done it all, been there, that you are the best and people are putting you on a pedestal, it would be very easy to say, “Yes, I am,” but I’ve never been able to do that. 

I get it from my parents in as much as we never give up. I just thought about my parents. They were so lucky to be alive at the end of World War II, my father being in every major battle in Europe and Africa and my mother never going to the bomb shelter because she liked to watch the bombs come down.

Incredible story.

And she worked for Churchill, the Americans, and knew when D-Day was before my father. My father never knew when it was, but before anybody else, she knew.They were very strong personalities and the combination of the two, genetically, I think, gave me this. 

Was it your mother who said, in support of your career when you were a kid, “Have you ever tried to stop Niagara Falls from falling?”

Yes, my mother. She said that to my next door neighbor when they were hanging out, and she asked, “Why do you let your son go and play shows on a Sunday night? He’s still at school,” and that’s when my mother said that. When she saw I had this talent very early on, I think that’s when she was damned if she was going to let anyone get in my way.

Because someone, her parents, had got in her way. I benefited from that and whatever my father said, my mother was going to overrule. I was very lucky to have the parents I did have, because he was the voice of reason, and she was the voice of the creative, because she was very creative, so she saw the creative in me. My father was very creative too, as an artist, but she was the one that I think that really could emotionally get involved in my career, not by tampering with it, but just opening that locked door for me, occasionally.

You were around 14 years old when Billy Wyman took you under his wing. Even though you are hard on yourself, at that time, you must’ve had some idea of, “These people are seeing something in me,” right?

Yes, exactly. It was because I was playing obviously pretty good guitar at a very early age and, yeah, Bill kind of took me under his wing, which was great. Bill is Bill. We both emailed the other day. What is he, 83 now?

84.

Oh my God. He’s still doing fantastic, by the way. He’s like my older brother, so I’ve got two older brothers, him and David [Bowie].

Cameron Crowe is also present in the book. He, too, was thrust into the world of rock and roll at such a young age. Is that what bonded you two? 

I think so. I think that’s why we’ve been kindred spirits for years now. He was the first person that ever heard “Frampton Comes Alive,” other than the band and management, and because he wrote the liner notes. And so, yes, I think the fact that he was a young upstart like me, but in a slightly different field, I think we definitely did bond on that and became very, very good friends. I’ve been speaking with him a lot recently.

Good friends are always, even if you don’t speak to them for a year or two, they can come back into your life, it’s like they never left. So yeah, he’s a lifelong friend that I’ve admired, and always called for advice, like I did with David, like I did with Bill. I’ve had some wonderful mentors. Even though Cameron’s younger than me, obviously, but not much, I’ve had some wonderful teachers.

In almost any rock memoir, David Bowie is a wonderful supporting character. He always comes into somebody’s life and makes it better. 

Well, he was a very positive man. He was, apart from being one of my earliest friends in life, he was someone that I looked up to, like I did Bill, and I just felt that all these people that I admired, I was doing an apprenticeship for, and it was like learning from them. David was in a band before I was in a decent band, and so I learned from that. And then with Bill, he had me on sessions, so I became a session musician when I was 14. It’s just ridiculous.

You seem most comfortable behind-the-scenes and servicing someone else’s vision. Is that accurate? 

That is my default comfy chair. When we were rehearsing with David for the Glass Spider tour everyone said, “Well, you’ll sing this note in the background.” I said, “No, I don’t want to sing any background. I want to play guitar. I want to concentrate on guitar, so there’s enough of you to sing, you do that.” I just sang one song with David, and that was great. I just wanted to be back there, and I have my little feature in “Loving the Alien” and extended guitar solo. It was just a huge, wonderful gift that David gave me by, as I say in the book, revitalizing my musicianship, my musician career, by re-introducing me as the guitar player around the world in stadiums and arenas.

I didn’t know you worked on George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.” You had the most relaxed reaction to not getting credit, though. Did the credit just not matter that much to you?

Oh, it always sort of irked me a little bit, but that’s okay. I know I was there. But now, there’s great shots of me in the studio. Yeah, the shot of me, Pete Drake, Ringo, Billy Preston, and George all sitting around Pete Drake’s pedal steel is one of my treasured possessions, obviously.

You write a lot about The Beatles. Have you heard “McCartney III” yet?

No, I haven’t yet. I should. Everyone’s raving about it.

It’s wonderful.

Oh, good.

What have you been listening to lately?

For me, it’s Miles Davis and Django Reinhardt. I’m still listening to the old guys, and I guess that’s where I came from was that more jazzy side and blues, of course. So jazz and blues, I listen to a lot. In the mornings, I’ll get up, and when I’m having my cereal, like this morning, I put on “Kind of Blue.” I couldn’t finish preparing my breakfast because I had to stop and listen again. I’ve heard it so many times.

I’m not really interested in what’s going on right now. I know I should be, but I’m just in my own world. As far as music and, and as much as I want to learn from others, I don’t want to be influenced by others, if that makes sense. I don’t want to affect what comes from me naturally rather than trying to be inspired by other people. I know a lot of people would disagree with me there, but I’ve always been like that. I want to learn that solo of somebody else and everything, but I don’t want to have my creative side affected too much by what I listen to. 

I know that sounds weird, but I just want to see what comes out because the best place to be is not thinking, and then listening back to it, if you’ve recorded it, and going, “Wow, I didn’t know I could do that. What is that I just played?” It’s stuff that just happens and I’m more spur of the moment. That’s why, every solo that I ever play on stage or in the studio is different. 

I just like ad lib and play. It’s like I’m drawing a drawing or painting a painting with my notes that come out, and I throw them on the canvas, as it were, and I don’t know where they’re coming from and I don’t want to know where they come from. I just want to freeform all the time.

How did you freeform with your upcoming covers of Roxy Music’s “Avalon” and Radiohead’s “Reckoner”? What made you want to cover those songs for your next instrumental album? 

Well, obviously, “In Rainbows” is one of my all-time favorite albums. And so is Roxy Music’s “Avalon.” I used to use “Avalon” when I would move from place to place. I’d use “Avalon” to EQ my speakers in the new space, because it’s such a well-recorded album and, of course, the material and the playing is great, but it just is one of those albums that’s as good as “Kind of Blue,” for me, in a completely different way. I’ve always loved “Avalon,” on every track on there, but that track just lent itself to an instrumental version. We’re working on a video right now for it. It will be much more of a small movie, but yeah, I’m very excited for people to hear that. I think that’s one of the best tracks on the album.

Making your previous instrumental album, “Fingerprints,” that sounded like one of your most positive experiences, just a real lightning in a bottle moment.  

Yes. When I’ve got something new, it’s like I’m bipolar, that I’m really excited about, yes. And that’s when I know I’ve got something that I feel others will like, and that’s the one to work on, when I get that spark, when I go, “Oh, wow.” And I get that feeling in my stomach of like, “Ooh, I really like this,” and maybe if I get a couple of goosebumps, we’re ready. We’re ready to rock.

Being from High Times, I have to ask about one of your earliest experiences with cannabis, in which you got sick and David Bowie looked out for you. Is that something you just look back on and laugh about now?

Yes, yes. I had tried pot before that, but every time I would smoke it, it would be too much for me and I would pass out. I remember, in the book, I think I say, “I couldn’t get out of the kitchen quick enough.” And it was cold outside and I was so thrilled. I was in the cold because I was overheating, and then I passed out in the rose bush. So that put me off pot for a while. And then, I wasn’t even smoking in the car going up to that show, where I got out and that’s when David saw that I was green and he said, “What have you done to him? What have you given him?”  

And the next thing I know, that’s what I wake up in the breasts of his wonderful girlfriend. I literally passed out. She was sitting on the couch and I woke up. David was mad, though, that they got me [high]. It wasn’t anything. It was just being in the car with the windows up because it was raining, I had to take in everything they were taking in. 

You also have a great Stevie Wonder story with him playing you music when you were in the hospital, just the two of you hitting buttons on your phones and creating music together. Did you two ever officially collaborate? 

Oh, man. He is a wonderful person and I haven’t spoken to him in ages, but I did get to work with him on the 50th anniversary of, I guess, the Beatles show. It was wonderful to actually say I had played guitar behind Stevie Wonder, me and Steve Lukather, so it was, oh my God. When I look at that, I’ve seen pictures from that. I don’t think my smile could be any bigger. My part was just the Motown chunks, when you, “bink,” on the off-beat, and I enjoyed every one of them.

You’ve maintained that excitement and curiosity you had when you were a kid. Do you still feel like that teenager who was just messing around with the guitar and having a good time? 

Oh yes, yes, yes. I’m a huge fan of great musicians and artists, and so I still feel like the kid is still in there, “I like that. What’s that?” And I hear a line, whether it’s a horn line, or it’s a baseline, or it’s a violin, it doesn’t matter what instrument it is, if it’s something that moves me it’ll just really give me a spark, and then I get creative because I am inspired by what I’m hearing.

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  1. He was my next door neighbor. I’d hear him play all the time. I had a Strat body shot up with a .22 that I found on the place that he rented. As a player and builder, I wish it didn’t get lost when my family moved.

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