I was thrilled when I was offered the opportunity to speak with singer/songwriter/guitarist Peter Frampton, after all he is a part of music history and is known for his easygoing manner. Then I learned he was ill and would have to cancel our interview. What happened next shows why Frampton has managed to stay alive for so long in a fickle industry-- he had his manager contact me just three days before his show at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Cerritos, California, and ask (very politely) if I would still be willing to speak with him. Of course I would and now, I can share our talk with you.
Frampton was born and raised in England and currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1976 his effort, "Frampton Comes Alive!," went multi-platinum and has sold more than 16 million copies to date. He played in the bands, Herd and Humble Pie and appeared on George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" album.
Frampton released "Fingerprints" (A&M/New Door Records/UME) in September 2006. This is a different take for him, an all instrumental work, with 14 cuts running the gamut-- jazz, Django, swing, blues and rock. His bandmate guitarist Gordon Kennedy co-wrote some of the original songs, co-produced the album with Frampton and plays on it as well.
Looking back, Frampton recalls that he picked up his first instrument at age 7.
"I started playing my grandmother's banjolele, a banjo-shaped ukulele. Then I graduated to guitar when I was eight," Frampton says.
He took on classical lessons when he was 12.
"My father played guitar and my mother, her side of the family was very musical too," Frampton adds. "There was a lot of music around the house."
Frampton attended Bromley Technical School in England. He explains that it had a basic high school curriculum and at 16 you took first level exams and then you would go into work force or stay until you were 18 or 19 and take advanced level exams.
"I got an offer in summer vacation after I was 16 to go and play with The Herd, which was already a professional band, so I took that instead of what I was going to do which was go to music college," Frampton tells me.
"The only thing I ever did which was totally directly linked to what I was going to do later was on the weekends I worked in a music store where my job was making sure all the instruments were fine and well-played. That was the only job I ever had and that was for pocket money. I've never had a regular job as it were, my dad never got his wish," Frampton laughs. "No, they knew pretty early on that I was going to do music, I think it scared them, but that's very early."
I ask him what are his hobbies.
"It's sort of all related to any gadget sort of thing," admits Frampton. "Computer, photography, but I'm always writing ideas and my hobby is playing guitar anyway. Whether I had a job at it or not, I'd still be doing it. That's what I do for fun as well, it's all encompassing."
Going back to the staple of our conversation, I prod Frampton to explain how he writes.
"When I sit down at night or whenever there's a quiet time for me to get to play guitar I just always stick a recorder on and record ideas and things that I just play. So practice and writing are all in one really," Frampton explains. "And then if I get a ten second idea of a little riff or something, I log it down and I start building ideas that way. Then when I'm actually sitting down one day and I'm going to get a song completely finished, it's always nice to be able to go back and listen to ideas that you've already done so you can jump right back in and finish it."
When it comes to lyrics, he writes them down as soon as possible so they aren't lost.
I'm intrigued by why Frampton would make a completely instrumental album like "Fingerprints."
"It was really something that I had to do because I hadn't done it already," Frampton responds. "It's just I'm a guitarist first and a singer and songwriter next, so I think that it was overdue and the perception of me changed from 'Frampton Comes Alive!' on as the entity instead of the musician.
"I've been delving back into my roots, going back listening to some blues and some jazz and attempting some things that I've never done before like Django tribute with (gypsy guitarist) John Jorgenson." Frampton goes on, "It's also a nice challenge for me because it had to be good. I just feel that it's by no means perfect, but definitely a lot of work went into it."
So how did you pick the songs, I wonder.
"Gordon Kennedy and I were really partners on this, ideas, it's always great to work with Gordon as a songwriter. It was just a nice challenge for us." Frampton clarifies, "I've had some ideas, like 'Float' for instance, that was the first one we worked on together, Gordon and I. I had one part and he had the other part and they perfectly married together. It's just a pair of different ideas and it's still one of my favorite tracks on the record."
As always, I want to know how an artist feels about the current music scene.
"I have my favorites. Right now Audioslave's the 'Revelations' record is highest on my list as far as a band is concerned," Frampton replies and then looks inward. "Where do I see myself? I don't know, that's for you to say. I don't really see myself anywhere but in my own career. Where I am in there is a very desirable position right. Making the decision to do an instrumental record and having A&M/Universal bring me back to the fold as it were, put me back on a major label where my entire catalog is, was a lot of extra muscle behind this, so it was great to have that much muscle from the record company because it seems to be getting out there. I'm very pleased about that."
My mother is also from England and became a United States citizen when I was two. Frampton shares his reason for becoming a citizen here.
"So I could vote. I just lived here for so long and felt American. America was where I lived and I did everything as an American would except I couldn't vote, so I figured after 9/11 it was time to sign up. I was fed up with not being able to vote." He continues on his patriotism, "I think that I owe a lot to this country. It's been my home for a long time. I wouldn't say I go around waving a flag, but when someone does something to us then it's very important to know how to deal with what we do next. It's nice to have a say in that. Unfortunately it's gone to deaf ears up until hopefully very soon."
After working straight through for nine months and then going on tour, Frampton was looking toward some time off. But he was already compiling more material: "It doesn't ever really stop. Just when I stop to count what I've got and sift through the ideas and finish what really has promised."
He left me with the best plug I've heard in a while for seeing him live.
"Come to the show, the show is where it's at. That's what I love doing the most and it's usually different every time and that's why I think people can keep coming back." Frampton says, "This show will be a cross-section of my career, not just the instrumentals. Everybody will get what they want."
Learn more about "Fingerprints" and find out when Frampton is back on the road at www.frampton.com
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