Peter Frampton Interview: "Every note I play now means so much more than it did before!"
Updated: Nov 16
Peter Frampton says goodbye — although thankfully only to touring. The British singer, songwriter, rockstar and – first and foremost! – guitar player, suffers from a progressive autoimmune disease called IBM (inclusion body myositis) that affects his muscles. It is because of IBM that he has to play the last shows sitting down — fortunately it has not majorly affected his hands. That means, Frampton and his iconic guitar Phenix (a black Gibson Les Paul that survived a plane crash, got lost and decades later found its way into the hands of its rightful owner) are good to go for a last round of European concerts.
Prior to his last show in Berlin on November 15th, I had the honor to have a 45 minute talk with Peter Frampton, which was released as a video by Rolling Stone Magazine. You can read the interview (a little bit truncated) below.
Peter Frampton: The Interview
Hyperlocrian.com: With a career and a discography as vast and diverse as yours: How difficult is it to make a Peter Frampton Farewell setlist? Peter Frampton: Well, I think it's pretty easy! We love doing certain numbers… and we love doing certain numbers better than others. We'll always give the crowd the ones most of them really want — but yeah, we change it up. It's a retrospective, from the beginning to now.
On the last leg of the tour, you played a lot of cover versions — for instance a brilliant rendition of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun". Will the last setlist be comparable, will there be surprises?
I think there will be, I'm not sure. We'll definitely be doing "Black Hole Sun" that's for sure. I love that Matt Cameron, the drummer from Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, played on my version in the studio. So he not only played on the Soundgarden version but mine as well. After he came to see us play in Seattle, he said, "Wow, you've made that song your own, haven't you?" We love it. It's a pretty involved version, because it's not vocal. But there is a little bit of TalkBox in there and stuff like that, it's fun to do.
How is it going healthwise?
It's going well. In fact the head of the myositis clinic in Johns Hopkins came to visit me in Nashville the other day. There's new things on the horizon, new drug trials and things like that. I am very optimistic. Yes, it's affecting my legs more than anything else in my body, so that's why we're going to be sitting down for the show. It is starting to affect my hands. But every time I pick a guitar up …because I'm practicing every day, obviously… the fingers know what to do. So I don't think anybody will notice.
So the playing will be brilliant as usual.
Well, let's hope so! (laughs)
Some jazz players, f they get older and their hands can't keep up with the speed they used to play, they adapt their playing style. They make different note choices. Do you also think about those kind of things? Yes — I do make these choices. It's very similar. It may be less notes, but more soul. There's more meaning behind it. Every note I play means so much more than it did before. And yes, I have adapted my playing a little bit. But as I said, I don't think many people will notice any change. I had to adapt some things, but at this point there's little change… which I am thankful for!
When I read your autobiography, there were two things that fascinated me when you talked about your early socialization as a guitar player. For instance, you said, you weren't crazy about Elvis, but you were crazy about his guitar player. And the second remarkable thing was when you talked about getting into Django Reinhardt. What kind of guitar player did you envision yourself to become when you were a kid?
I wanted to be Hank Marvin of the Shadows. There's no two ways about it. We are really good friends and have been for many years. It's so amazing, to be friends with your hero, the reason that I became a guitar player. Not only that, but I got to record with The Shadows on the "Fingerprints" album. I joined The Shadows for a full day! For the 24 hours that we were in the studio! I can't tell you what that meant to me. It was incredible. I think my melodic sense has come from starting with The Shadows, The Ventures, all the instrumental guitar bands of the late 50s, early 60s.
Then I listened to a lot of blues, and obviously to a lot of rock guitar players. think my style is putting them all together. A little bit of jazz, a little bit of Django … I mean, those augmented runs that he does are just, I love those. I can't do them quite at the speed. I've never been able to do them. I adapt those into my playing too. So it's a combination of things, but if I had to choose one guitar player that has influenced me the most, it would be Django.
Peter Frampton: "David Bowie was a very funny, caring, good human"
But coming back to Scotty Moore, Elvis' guitar player. It's interesting, most people would have wanted to be Elvis. You did not.
Don't get me wrong, I love Elvis. But I wasn't really into him. When I heard "Heartbreak Hotel" and all these early records, it was Scotty Moore who was always playing the solo, the rockabilly, jazzy solo. At the same time I was listening to Django Reinhardt, I was listening to Hank Marvin. This was another outlook. He kind of invented rockabilly, as well as a lot of other players at that time. But he was the one that we heard, because he was on the Elvis record. He was just phenomenal. Again, it was the choice of notes, but it was a very recognizable style that Scotty had. Later I got to meet him and found out he was the nicest guy! To actually hang with him was a pleasure. I'm honored that I got to meet him.
Looking at your whole career, you have had so many different roles, which is kind of interesting. You've been the frontman, the superstar, the poster boy, the face of 68, you've been the studio crack. You've been the guitar player, you've been the core guitar player. What role did you find the most enjoyable which the least enjoyable, I suppose the "Face of 68" was the most unpleasant one?
You nailed it! Being the poster boy was the least enjoyable — which has happened twice in my career! As Monty Python would say, my comfy chair is a place where I'm not singing. I have a great singer. And I'm playing guitar for them, behind them. And so therefore, when I wasn't singing with Humble Pie, just playing guitar behind Steve Marriott … that was a joy. After Humble Pie, I went through the poster boy thing again. Then in the mid, late 80s, my school chum David Bowie called me up and asked me to play with him — both on his record and on the "Glass Spider" tour. That was my most comfortable position. He asked me: "Will you be doing some backing vocals?" I said "No, I just want to play guitar!". So I mostly sang some ohs and ahs, but he did get me to sing one verse of "Sons of the Silent Age". I didn't realize what David did at that time. It wasn't just him asking me to play in his band. In 81, 82 I had lost my musical credibility. I got screamed at, I wore satin pants and I took my shirt off on too many front covers. David saw what was happening to me after "Comes Alive". He didn't say anything, he just booked me to play with him… and oh my goodness, it turned my career around and reminded people that I was a guitar player first and foremost. I can never thank David enough.
There's this fantastic MTV video of Bowie and you, walking through the streets of Madrid. Bowie was the center of attention, doing his rockstar thing. You were tagging along, seemingly totally at ease with not being the center of attention.
Yeah! When I met David, I was 13 and he was 16, back then he might as well have been 34. When you're young, that's so much older. I always looked up to him and he sort of became a surrogate older brother. So it was almost like being with my older brother. I had so much respect for him and love for him as my dear friend. Not many people knew how caring he was for other people. He treated me like I was family, and I treated him the same way. My father was his art teacher — and when we lost dad, guess who called first? David. He was a very funny, caring, good human.
What I always loved about your playing, and particularly about your solo playing: Of course there is a strong sense of melody, but I always found your solos to be also adventurous. They don't always go straight. They play around the motif. I've read in an interview with guitar.com in which you said that you always start with a blank canvas, and you always like to start from scratch. So like, it's almost a jazz spirit in your playing!
Always! When we do a recording for an album like "Frampton Forgets The Words", the latest instrumental covers that I did, I would have the blank canvas for the solo, as you say, and I would do it. And then, later I would have to learn my own solo (laughs)… which is very demoralizing, because it's not the way I work. So we'd have to do it in sections. You know, I'd learned like 36 bars and then I'd learn another few bars. It's alien to me to play something I've already played before. People ask me: How do you still play these songs that you've played your entire life? I always answer: "Because we play them differently every night". Yes, to you, the song is the same. But everything within the boundaries of that number, we change a little bit every night. I never play the same TalkBox solo, I never play the same solo in "Lines On My Face". I don't know what I'm going to play until I actually play it. Yeah, you make mistakes that way. It's easy to make a mistake, but I don't even think they're mistakes. To me it's like going on an adventure. And yeah, maybe they're not the best built solos, but they're what I feel at the time!
What goes through in your head when you improvise?
I'm just trying to be aware of what chord we're on. What the bass is playing? I don't want to go too far out. I go outside the box pretty often but more in a jazzy sort of approach. I try not to think and just let it happen. Some nights I'll listen to what we did the night before and I go "oh, I shouldn't have done that". But then I'll listen to the night after and I go "wow, how did I do that? It's a mixed bag for me. I think my worst playing is still pretty good (laughs) And my best playing surprises me sometimes.
In an interview with Rick Beato you talked about the creation of "Do You Feel Like We Do" and said you were just improvising in the studio, putting everything on tape — and later on your colleagues told you: Make a whole song out of that improvised line.
Yeah, that was with the Frampton's Camel Band. We were rehearsing after the "Wind of Change" album and we were going to do our first American tour. We were in this rehearsal hall in the Old Kent Road, in London. I would bring my tape machine to every rehearsal, put two mics up, and record everything we did… just in case, someone played something where we went "Oh, what's that?" After we finished this one jam, all of them just looked at me and said, "Hey, wind it back about, I don't know, two minutes. You played something that could be like a song". So I wound it back and found [sings the famous lick]. That whole phrase. We were like: "Wow that's pretty good!" Then we spent the rest of the afternoon arranging it. The night before I had written the chorus and the words, too. I had a party at the house the night before. I woke up with a wineglass in my hand, with a hangover (laughs). I don't drink now, but I did then. I said: Let me write something for now: "I woke up this morning with a wine glass in my hand".
I need to find something that gives me goosebumps
"Baby I Love Your Way" was born out of improvising with those Blackbird-chords. Do coincidences like that happen often to you?
I've got a couple that I've done recently. I don't know when it will come out, but I'm making an all Peter Frampton written album, new stuff. We've recorded about five tracks so far. I'm taking more time to write. There's a couple that I haven't played ith the band yet, that were born out of little 10 second pieces, like that piece from "Do you feel?" I'm always looking for something new. Something that I've never played, something that's uniquely me. It has to give me goosebumps. When you've got a couple that do that and then the next one doesn't, you go "Meh, we need to put that one away. I need to find something that gives me goosebumps". Ones where I am happy that they're mine! When I write, it's like my solos: i don't know what will come out next.
Frank Zappa making fun of me? I'll take it!
There have been a lot of popcultural references to your work. Just think about Wayne's World, where Wayne and his girlfriend Cassandra discuss the "Frampton Comes Alive" record, a bit tongue in cheek. Do you enjoy those tidbids and references?
Oh, to be made fun of by Wayne's World, that was great! I filmed something for them for another one, but it never got made. Mike Myers told me he was in San Francisco's Winterland when "Frampton Comes Alive" was recorded!
What did you think of Frank Zappa's "I Have Been In You", a persiflage of your song "I'm In You"?
It's a funny story. Frank and I had met before. He called me up and asked "Will you do the radio ad for my single?" I hadn't heard the song at that point. He said that the song will be called "I Have Been In You" and I dropped the phone laughing! Frank Zappa making fun of me? I'll take it! He said: "I don't want you to say that you like me. I want you to say how much you hate my music". It was so weird! So I said: "I've never liked him. I've never liked his music. I can't believe he did this to me with this song." It was all a put on! I found him to be a very charming person. A down to earth guy that was very, very talented and has inspired so many.
You never worked with him though, right?
He wanted to! He wanted me to come on stage and do "I Have Been In You" with him. I didn't want to do it. Later on I thought: "Maybe I should have done it". But back then I didn't think it was necessary.
It would have been a great fit as guitar players.
You know, I have regrets — and that's one right there!
One last question: So you'll keep recording new music, even though you won't be touring anymore?
Yes! I am going to keep writing, playing and recording. Who knows, I might even do a couple more gigs over here in America. That's not under my control, unfortunately.
For more about Peter Frampton, visit his official website PeterFrampton.com.