Peter Frampton Reflects On Life As A Guitar God And Unlikely Teenybopper Idol In New Memoir
Audiences went wild when guitarist Peter Frampton's best selling album "Frampton Comes Alive!" hit the shelves in 1976.
But the young men who would hang onto the stage to watch Frampton's guitar playing in his previous band Humble Pie were replaced by screaming fans fascinated by the English rock musician's sex symbol image, complete with silk pants and flowing blonde hair, that was immortalized on a shirtless Rolling Stone cover.
"I'm sort of a rock and roll zelig," Frampton says.
But his transformation into a teenage idol sensation wasn't matching up. David Bowie, a lifelong friend of his since primary school, took notice, Frampton says.
"David had seen what had happened to me," he says. "He knew me as a guitar player and he saw that I’d been pushed into this other position, the teenybopper kind of situation."
Bowie invited Frampton to join his worldwide Glass Spider Tour in 1987 — an opportunity that Frampton calls "a gift."
"Everything changed for me. I was much more in demand again. People saw me with David and gave me a second listen," he says. "And then within seven years, I came out with an instrumental album and won a Grammy for it."
Frampton writes about his wild journey — one that includes leaving school early, finding his signature sound through the talkbox guitar effect, dabbling with alcohol and drugs, and discovering his manager was taking his money — in his new memoir, “Do You Feel Like I Do?”
On playing the guitar
"It’s not what the guitar says to me, it’s what I can say with the guitar. I think I am more expressive with my guitar playing than I am even with my singing. I was listening to Django Reinhardt because of my father’s interest and mother’s interest and also at the same time listening to The Shadows, Cliff Richard’s backup band, with all these incredible early instrumentals which were very melodic. Then rock and then blues, and then put it all together and it came to fruition, I think, during my time with Humble Pie."
On playing the talkbox, introduced to him by George Harrison of The Beatles
"People went berserk. ... Not only did I love doing it, but they loved hearing it."
On how his life changed after releasing "Frampton Comes Alive!"
"Unfortunately, I got scared at that point because No. 1 album is one thing, but to then go further and become this Guinness Book of Records kind of person, it made me think of how am I going to follow this up? Because all the material from 'Comes Alive' had already been on albums that I had released, and now they wanted me to rush into doing another album straight away, which meant I had about three months to write the music. That was a disappointment to me, to say the least."
On seeing friends in the industry lose their way while struggling with his own demons
"I was very lucky that I got through the period of the '70s and drinking and drugs. And I think the way I got through it — or it came to an end — was when unfortunately I had a car accident in the Bahamas and I broke just about everything. It was a wakeup call. I realized that not only did I need to calm down, but I needed to find out who had stolen my money."
On being diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, a progressive muscle disorder
"I’m very lucky [because] mine moves very slowly, the progression. So, you know, it’s one of those things. I know my journey. I know how it’s going to end. It’s not terrific. But I have had the most amazing time, my life. Yes, I’ve had ups and downs and I’m better off for the downs, I think, because you get knocked down. And I’m a survivor and I get back up and brush myself off. And then here we go again. That’s just my nature."
Click here for the Peter Frampton Myositis Research Fund.
Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Serena McMahon adapted it for the web.
Book Excerpt: ‘Do You Feel Like I Do?’
By Peter Frampton
My career was in the toilet, basically. I can't afford the mortgage; it's not looking good. I was in the kitchen one day and I got a phone call from Pete Townshend.
I love Pete. We've known each other for a long time. I wouldn't say we're close friends, but we have a mutual respect. So I get this call from England. "Hey, Pete, it's Townshend here, Pete Townshend." Oh, blimey, how are you? Long time. He said, "Yeah, so I've made this decision that I'm not going to tour with the Who anymore. I'll still write the songs, but I want you to take my place, and . . ." Wait, what? I remember the first thing that I said — when he paused — I said, "That's an enormous pair of shoes to fill! I can't do that." He said, "Yes, you can. I'll be there with you."
I said, "Wait a second, Pete. Have you spoken to Roger or the others about this?" And he said, "Not yet, I'm going down to talk to them tomorrow." I said, "Okay, why don't you call me back when you've had a chat with them about this. They don't know you're not going to tour anymore?" "No, not yet; they'll know tomorrow."
So I hung up and I told [Frampton's then-wife] Barbara [Gold], and I freaked out. I said, "This doesn't sound right. This is off. This doesn't make sense at all." I would be laying myself open to scrutiny and the fury of every Who fan. But on the other hand, what a wonderful offer, an honor to say the least that Pete considered me that serious a candidate. I would love to have played with the Who, but only with Pete in the band, no way on my own. I couldn't do that! But, well, maybe I can. Half of me was saying, "I got nothing going on, and maybe this could work." But I'm just grasping at straws; realistically, I knew this would not be good for the Who or me. No one would accept the band without "Towser." And my windmill needed a lot of work, as well as my ten-foot jumps into the air. No way was this a good idea.
So a week goes by, nothing. Two weeks goes by and I'm losing it. I kind of knew he must have thought about the offer he made to me, but I wasn't going to let him off the hook. Three weeks goes by and my wife said, "For Christ's sake, call him!" Because I was total hell to live with at that point.
I find him in a studio somewhere in London; it took me four or five calls to get him and all I let him get out was, "Oh, hi, Pete." And I said, "You haven't called me back in three weeks! I got nothing going on in my career and the inventor of the Who—the songwriter, and the major player in the Who—calls me up and offers me his position in the band and then doesn't call me back! You've left me hanging." He said, "Oh, I'm so sorry." I've never heard Townshend like that before. I had to make him understand, hey, you fucked me up for three weeks here; it's not been a good three weeks for me. He apologized profusely saying, "I'm so sorry, I should never have done that."
A few months later, Bruce Springsteen was playing the Garden, so Barbara and I went to see the show and go backstage at the halftime intermission. We were standing right behind the stage and guess who I see talking to Bruce? I looked at Barbara and said, "Wait here."
I went over, and Pete's talking to Bruce, and I just stood there with a smile on my face. He's taller than me, so he just looks at me, gives me this big hug, and leans over and kisses me on the top of my head. 'Nuff said—it was over. We moved on.
I love Pete dearly. I have no idea what was going on in his life at that time. I don't even know if he remembers calling me.
Excerpted from Do You Feel Like I Do?: A Memoir by Peter Frampton. Copyright © 2020. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc., New York, New York, USA. All rights reserved. This excerpt first appeared in Rolling Stone.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.