Peter Frampton

Peter Frampton’s FCA!35 album and DVD/Blu-ray is in stores now. In Part 1 of Peter Frampton’s exclusive interview with he talked of recording the live discs. In Part 2, we delve deeper into his life as a guitar player and the story of his special Gibson Les Paul.

FCA!35 – 1976’s Frampton Comes Alive! revisited, reworked and replayed with extras – shows English guitar legend Peter Frampton to still be on top of his game. His golden locks may be gone, but his guitar chops remain. And his playing is arguably better than ever…

On FCA!35, “Lines On My Face” is one of your big ballads, but it swings a little more now, in a good way. Is that a song that you wanted to re-work?

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.

Have you always tried to push yourself, in terms of guitar playing?

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.

There’s a few Humble Pie songs on the FCA!35 album, a pretty heavy version of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” for starters…

My son Julian sings that. On this album we’re doing “Shine On” and “Four Day Creep” too. We’re doing more of the Humble Pie era, and I’m sure I will dig out more along the way. I enjoy doing it.

But something like “Stone Cold Fever” might be hard to do – few can sing that high with that force except Steve Marriott. I can do Steve’s verse my way on “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” but “Stone Cold Fever” is hard! I’d love to do it, it’s a great riff. Maybe someone else can sing that for me. They’re going to need very tight trousers!

The Rise of the Phoenix!

FCA!35 also boasts the live return of Frampton’s 1954 Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty” that was presumed lost in a plane crash in 1980. Frampton had his Les Paul Custom returned late in 2011. Read the whole story of Peter Frampton’s 1954 Gibson Les Paul Custom here.

The guitar is now repaired, and does appear on FCA!35. “The first time it comes into play is “Doobie Wah.” It’s on 50% at least,” says Frampton.

It’s an amazing tale of a lost guitar – now it’s back with you, is it holding up well?

Oh, yeah. I made a rule that we’d only change it if necessary. The electronics weren’t working, so I took a liberty there to replace it with New Old Stock (NOS). Volume pots, pickups, capacitors, wiring… it took some doing. But there was very little on the body that needed doing. I could have refinished it, but that would be sacrilegious I think?

It’s been cleaned up, but it still has its battle scars. The back of the neck was a little dented – I’ve had some cosmetic work done there.

And it’s singed around the headstock – the guitar with the singe on top! There’s no edging around the top of the headstock, it was melted in the heat of the plane fire. But it’s an interesting-looking piece now. I’ll never refinish it now – it needs to show its battle scars.

As the guitar you used for most of the 1970s, and the one pictured on the original Frampton Comes Alive! album, it must have a lot of sentimental value?

“Oh, yes. From 1970 to 1980, it was there. And the most that ever happened to me was during those 10 years. It’s a legendary guitar because it’s on that LP cover. But there’s also something about that that guitar, when I play it on those original songs…

The first day I brought it 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.

And does it sound different to you?

It doesn’t have the very deep sound of a normal Les Paul with a maple top. It has a mid-to-high register sound that cuts through. I have another Les Paul that I call the Buzz Saw – it’s got that ZZ Top-is full range and can bite your head off. This one is more lyrical sounding. And when I pick it up, you hear the difference – it’s amazing.

So does your original have a nickname too?

It’s the Phoenix! Suggested by the gentleman who gave it to me, in 1970, when I was in Humble Pie. I spoke with Mark Mariana (who gave Frampton the guitar) when I got it back and he said: you should call that the Phoenix. It rose from the ashes!

FCA!35 has obviously been a big undertaking: what’s your next project?

Right now, I am writing music for a ballet. Yes, really! I’ve lived for the last 10 years in Cincinnati, Ohio, and they have one of the best ballet companies in the country. They asked me about six years ago if they could use some of my recorded music to accompany a small part of a performance. Four songs, two instrumentals – I said yes, I was honored.

Then they sent me a DVD of an in-house performance. It was a pas-de-duex – one male, one female performer. But I was just blown away. So I contacted the head of the Cincinnati ballet, Victoria Morgan. And she said they’d done this once before with another live artist, but would I like to do another show with me playing behind the ballet? The idea is to choreograph the dance to the music I choose to use.

There are three 20-minute sections in a ballet performance. So we agreed to have beginning and end sections with music of mine that people might know. But then I suggested I write some brand new music for the center section. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m working on Number 3 at the moment… there will be five pieces, I think. I just can’t wait to do it.

This will be quite a surprise to some fans?

It’s certainly different. It’s scary! But this is what I should be doing. But it will be with a band. Or whatever I choose to have. But the center section – I haven’t quite worked it out yet.

And are you working on new rock guitar material as well?

Yes, I’m working on songs now. They will come out on an EP or something before we tour again in 2013. I’m sure we’ll play some of the Comes Alive! songs. But only some, it’ll be a smattering.

This is the beauty of playing now, for me. Old stuff, new stuff. It will be a different show for me.