An exclusive interview with the British guitar god on the eve of an all-new instrumental outing
To restate an obvious cliche, Peter Frampton literally needs no introduction.
A musical idol and an acknowledged guitar wizard while still in his teens, he brought his first band of note, The Herd, due recognition while serving as their guitarist and vocalist in the mid ‘60s at the height of the British rock renaissance. Shortly thereafter, he flirted with the idea of becoming the second guitarist in their immensely popular rival band, the Small Faces at the suggestion of its frontman Steve Marriott. However while that idea was nixed by the other members of the group, he and Marriott did manage to subsequently combine their efforts when they joined forces at the fore of Humble Pie, one of England’s preeminent hard rock supergroups.
Nevertheless, Frampton’s fame would reach untethered proportions after going solo, and his fabled live album, Frampton Comes Alive still reigns as one of the best selling chart-toppers of all time. Granted, there were some stumbles along the way, including a topless pose on the cover of Rolling Stone, his ill-conceived appearance alongside the Bee Gees in a silly cinematic take on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and a near-fatal car crash in the Bahamas in 1976 that resulted in several broken bones.
Fortunately, Frampton’s been able to bounce back from each of those unfortunate predicaments and establish himself as a guitar god given to due admiration and inventiveness. While subsequent attempts to reclaim the heights of Frampton Comes Alive through a series of sequels have failed to come close to recapturing those earlier glories, he’s still managed to pursue a series of decidedly adventurous outings that have found him retracing his early material with acoustic arrangements, delving decidedly into the blues, and now, with his new album Frampton Forgets the Words, offering up a second all-instrumental outing. It also finds him sharing covers of songs by such pals as George Harrison, Stevie Wonder and David Bowie, as well as selections by Roxy Music, Radiohead and Lenny Kravitz.
Sadly though, it may turn into his epitaph of sorts, given that Frampton’s been battling Inclusion Body Myositis, otherwise known as IBM, an inflammatory and degenerative muscle disease that causes painless weakening of muscle and which has no cure.
Recently Rock and Roll Globe spoke to the now Nashville-based musician and gained his perspective on the new album, his illness and his thoughts on music in general.
So, Peter, how did this new album come about?
After we had done the blues album, All Blues, which we recorded right after the tour we did with Steve Miller in 2018. We came off the road, took ten days off and then went right into my studio. We were really hot, kickin, you know? We recorded enough for two blues albums, one of which came out obviously, and which was very successful, and which we were really blown away by. And then I said, “Okay, let’s take another ten days off because I want to do an instrumental covers album. The reason for doing these old songs as covers is because of my muscle disease. Even now, I have no idea how long it’s going to be before I can’t play anymore. So, to be blunt. I wanted to record as much as possible in the shortest space of time. We were so into recording at that point that we had done l over 50 tracks for the blues album. We intended to narrow them down to two albums worth. And then I said, “Okay, let’s all make a list of all our favorite songs that would lend themselves to a terrific instrument album.” So we made this master list. And then I said, “Okay, now what I’m going to do is go to Apple Music, and I’m going to listen to all these, and I’m going to play along with them by myself at home. And that’s how we narrowed it down to these tracks. They were the ones that really lent themselves to what I feel is my other voice, my guitar. I wanted to utilize that, and be able to try and make people forget that there are no vocals there. That was the whole objective of it, to make it interesting. And so that’s what I did, I found that these were the ten songs that worked best. We recorded more, but some of the ones that I thought would work, maybe didn’t work, or I just didn’t feel like came up to the standard of the others.
Given your amazing body of work and your incredible history, are you a nostalgic type of person? Do you ever sort of go back in time and reminisce and reflect and that sort of thing about all you’ve done?
Not so much about what I’ve done. A dear friend of mine, who was my guitar tech for quite a few years, texted me a picture of a Hofner Club 60 guitar with a tremolo arm on it that was made the same year as my very first electric guitar that had gotten lost over the years. So I said, ‘You know, every time you text me, you cost me money.’ (laughs) Naturally, I bought it. It needed some work, but I had it fixed up here in Nashville. When I got it out of its case, and it’s exactly as I remembered. I mean, there was no difference in it at all. It was from the same year, the same everything. I picked it up and it was like an old glove. So it’s that sort of stuff that really, really moves me to go back and forth. That’s a way for me of touching the past.
And what a past that was for you, beginning in the mid ‘60s of course.
That was such a beautiful period for me. When I got that guitar, I got to help form a band called The Trubeats. I was probably 12. At the time, and they were 16 or something. And so, that brings back such great memories of starting out and how quickly things developed. So much happened early on for me in such a short amount of time.
The press hyped you as “the Face of ‘ 66,” or something like that, didn’t they?
Steve Marriott was The Face of ’66. I was the Face of ’68 unfortunately.
You almost almost joined your contemporaries the Small Faces at the suggestion of Steve Marriott before the two of you launched Humble Pie. Had you ever considered reforming that band prior to Steve’s passing? It really was an amazing outfit.
We actually put out a track within the last year, a remake of Pie’s song “Four Day Creep” for a a tribute put together by Molly Marriott, one of Steve’s daughters who happens to be a dear, dear friend. She came over from England and met me in my studio in Nashville. She said, “I’m doing this tribute record for my dad, would you would you do a Humble Pie number and of course I agreed. We had originally done it live on the Rockin’ the Fillmore album, but we wanted to do a more controlled version of it. There are other songs we could do as well, but the only thing is, it’s not the same. We do “I Don’t Need No Doctor” onstage as a tribute to the whole of Humble Pie, but, you know, I only sang background on “Doctor.” So it’s different when we do it live. It’s a nice tribute The crowd seems to love it. But to go back and rerecord any more of the Humble Pie stuff doesn’t really make sense to me.
AUDIO: Peter Frampton Band featuring Rob Arthur and Mike Farris “Four Day Creep”
You’ve lived in Nashville for a few years now. What brought you there in the first place?
Songwriters and musicians mainly. A lot of friends had already moved here, and of course, I made a lot of new friends. I first came here on a 10 day songwriting trip. My publisher recommended that it could get me out of my box, so to speak. We had been living in California but we moved to Phoenix after the earthquake. We didn’t love Phoenix; it was too hot in the summer. So my wife told me as I got in the car, “I hope you like Nashville.” It’s close to Cincinnati, which is where she’s from. So I came, and within a few days, I said “Oh gosh, this is so great. This is for me. There’s a plethora of great players and songwriters. Everybody’s all about the music and it’s just so laid back. It’s a small town city, and the people are really nice. So that was it. It didn’t take long to make the decision to move here.
Given the seriousness of your IBM, have you made the decision to stop touring once the pandemic makes it safe again?
The reality is, it’s not up to me. I have to be aware of what happen might happen when I put that guitar on and I start playing. I don’t want to perform if I’m not at my best.
So have been any advances in treating this disease?
Not yet. I was on a drug, part of a drug trial, but it wasn’t working for me. So I stopped taking it. There have been other exercise regimens and different therapies that I’ve tried, and basically I exercise six days a week quite religiously. IBM affects the leg muscles as well as the arm muscles. I just want to be upright for as long as I can be.
VIDEO: Peter Frampton Band “Reckoning”