Peter Frampton turns 64 on 22 April. The Englishman first found fame as a pop pin-up – he was dubbed “The Face of 1968” by teen magazine Rave and his usually bare-chested 1970s solo career made him a “heart-throb.” But behind all the stellar pop success, Frampton has also always been a superb guitar player. He still is.
From The Herd to Humble Pie to solo albums, to playing with his school contemporary David Bowie to working with George Harrison on All Things Must Pass, to penning ballets, Frampton has enviable skills as a musician and writer.
Along the way has been his love of Gibson Les Pauls and the incredible tale of his 3-pickup “Phoenix” Les Paul Custom that he was reunited with a few years back.
In his own words, here’s what makes rock veteran Peter Frampton tick…
On his “Saturday job” at the music section of a London department store, aged 14.
“We had the whole deal,” he told Modern Guitars. “This was 1964. We had Gibson ES-335s, 175s. If I think of all the guitars I used to have to clean and re-string every Saturday, my God they would be worth a fortune now.”
On being spotted and then produced by The Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman in his first band, The Preachers, again aged just 14.
“The van came to pick me up to go to the first recording session. We passed by Bill’s house. He lived in South London, over a garage, in an apartment, and Bill came out and everyone went deadly silent. I just kept mouthing to the other guys in the band, who were all much older than me, “We’ve got a Rolling Stone in the front seat!”
“That was my first brush with greatness. [Bill]… is a dear life-long friend. We’ve had many, many great times together. He’s just one of those genuine, wonderful people. I wish everybody was like him. He’s a super guy.”
On his early influences from The Herd onwards…
“During the Herd period, [keyboardist, bassist, and vocalist] Andrew Bown and I were very much into Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell and Groove Holmes - the organ-based jazz groups of the time,” Frampton told Premier Guitar. “We were also taking in a lot of blues, the Kings like B.B. and Albert, which all the other young musicians seemed to really gravitate toward. These influences really manifested in my playing when I joined Humble Pie; I played not just straight blues licks, but something more lyrical. The combination of the two American sides—blues and jazz—was very important to me and began to show in my playing.”
On being considered to join The Rolling Stones…
“It was obviously Bill and Charlie [Watts, Stones drummer and another PF friend.] When I was working on I’m in You, Mick Jagger came in next door in Electric Lady studios. He was mixing Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, one of those live albums, and I said, “Was it true?” and he said, “Absolutely you were.” I said, “So what was the deal? Why am I not in the Stones?”
“I put him on the spot, you know? He very nicely said, “We knew you were about to do what you just did [ie, become a solo star.] But, they knew it was gonna be Ronnie, I think because basically it’s a clone of Keith. They were just so tight, you know? But, to find out from the horse’s mouth that it was true was very nice.”
On the mega-success that was Frampton Comes Alive!
“I didn’t have huge expectations for Frampton Comes Alive!" says he told MusicRadar. “My previous album, Frampton, had sold about 300,000 copies – a decent amount but not mind-blowing. There was talk at the label that maybe the live record could go gold. I was hoping we could do it, but I wasn't sure.
“I remember when I got the call. We had gone to number one in the U.S. and were selling a million copies a week. It was more than I could have ever wished for. It was surreal. The whole thing was too much to take in."
On re-recording the full Frampton Comes Alive! set again in 2011…
“We hadn’t done “Something’s Happening” for years,” he told Gibson.com. “We hadn’t done “Doobie Wah” since the 1970s. The first night we walked out at New Jersey, the atmosphere was electric, people were going nuts. We started with the [spoken] intro to Comes Alive! – I had to include that. But when we started we weren’t quite prepared for the audience. It really was like going back to the ‘70s. It was wonderful.”
On changing arrangements, such as for his hit ballad “Lines on my Face” in recent years.
“It’s just developed. I think I’ve brought a more lyrical side, guitar-wise, to that song over the years. I’m not claiming to be a jazz player. I listen to all sorts of guitar playing, everything is incorporated into what is my style. And somewhere I’ll go what some people think is “wrong” note.
“Listen to Miles Davis. Some people think notes are not ‘right’ there. I don’t know! But I enjoy the experimentation, and the masters who take liberties over chord sequences. But sometimes what everyone thinks is “incorrect”… Well, to me, it’s on the edge.”
On whether his guitar playing is getting better…
“I would hope so,” he tells Gibson.com. “I’ve moved on as a player. More years ‘under the belt,’ many more influences. It’s just experience and experimentation. I still play and write at home, when no-one else is listening, and I make a lot of mistakes. But sometimes I hit on a great riff. And I’m still stealing from the best.
“Over the years, I’ve experimented a lot with bluesy things and some jazz stuff. It’s just a progression, to try and go somewhere you’ve never been before. It’s not about dexterity, to me. I’ve never been someone who finds merit in a million notes a second. It’s always the choice of note, for me. Over the bass and the chord. Find your way.
“The guitar is an extension of me. It always has been. I always want to be playing something tomorrow that I can’t play today. That’s my motto.”
On being reunited with his 3-pickup Gibson Les Paul Custom after it was thought to have been destroyed in a plane crash in 1980.
“It’s a legendary guitar because it’s on that LP cover [Comes Alive!]. But there’s also something about that that guitar, when I play it on those original songs…
“The first day I brought it back to rehearsals, I changed guitars a bit. Mostly, it was the Gibson Custom Peter Frampton Les Paul made for me by Gibson. But when I played the original, everybody would just smile. It just has the sound! I think it’s unique. It’s not necessarily the best Les Paul in the world, I’ve never said that. It just has something.
“It doesn’t have a maple top, like most Les Pauls do. It’s a 1954 ‘Black Beauty’, but is solid mahogany. But it was very light mahogany… unusual. When I got it back after 32 years, I just felt the weight and thought: this is my guitar.”
Peter Frampton’s still got it. Here’s “Show Me The Way” from a Guitar Center showcase of recent years.