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Frampton Comes Alive
Peter Frampton's performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with my friend Warren Haynes and Gov't Mule moved me profoundly and prompted me to share this 2013 interview I did with him.
Peter Frampton joined Gov't Mule at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville last week and their performance of "while My Guitar Gently Weeps" moved me profoundly. Frampton announced his retirement from touring in 2019 after revealing that he had been diagnosed with a degenerative muscle disease called Inclusion-Body Myositis. He performed his final shows in 2022 while remaining seated because of the condition. So him coming out here was a big deal, and Warren Haynes took a stool next to him.
Frampton's singing is clearly impacted by his condition, but he adapted in a way that is so moving to me, as is Warren's smile throughout and the joy and intensity Frampton brings. Just look at him as he starts his first solo. Watch his face. These are two lifers, who have given us everything they have in thousands of performances sharing a song that means so much to them, and to us, and it just hit me in the heart. I can barely begin to count the number of such moments Warren has provided me in the past 34 years and I thank him for it. Something about this performance felt validating for the way I’ve chosen to lead my life. I know that’s a big and grand statement, but it’s the truth.
Enjoy the moment, and enjoy every sandwich as Warren Zevon said. I see now that Frampton is returning to the road this summer for a Never Say Never tour. I’m going to try and catch him at the Capitol Theater.
It inspired me to share the following 2013 interview which I did with Frampton for the Wall Street Journal, ahead of his Guitar Circus show at the Beacon Theater, which I attended and thought was terrific.
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This interview ran in the WSJ’s excellent Speakeasy blog on June 27, 2013. I did a lot for Speakeasy and I miss it! I have not altered or updated anything.
Peter Frampton was a veteran guitarist by the time he released 1976’s double live album "Frampton Comes Alive!" Though just 26 years old, he had already founded Humble Pie and played on many landmark recordings, including George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and Harry Nilsson’s "Son of Schmilsson." Still, when "Comes Alive!" sold 16-million copies, Frampton became more known for his goldilocks than his golden chops and his career became viewed through a pop prism, which eventually led to disappointment and his retreat from the spotlight.
Over the past 20 years, Frampton has rebuilt his reputation as a guitarist first and foremost, a process that has peaked with Frampton’s Guitar Circus, his current tour featuring a rotating cast of guest pickers, including B.B. King, Steve Cropper, Sonny Landreth and others. Tomorrow night, the circus pulls into New York’s Beacon Theatre, with the Robert Cray Band opening and special guests Roger McGuinn (the Byrds) and Don Felder (the Eagles). We caught up with Frampton on the road.
What is the concept behind the Guitar Circus?
I took a year off after completing The Frampton Comes Alive 35th Anniversary tour in March, 2012. It was probably the most successful tour I’ve done – 116 three-hour shows over 13 months — and my manager Ken Levitan and I had to decide how to top that. I decided that I wanted to have lots of guitar players, with someone I really admire opening the evening and returning to jam with me, and old and new friends sit in and do a couple of numbers of theirs and mine. I wanted to make it a real circus, where anything can happen.
How did you choose the guests?
We sat down and made a list and lo and behold, the first person to say they were in was B.B. King. You could have blown me away with a feather. I was so honored that he wanted to leave home and join the circus – my circus! Then it was like a deck of cards falling: Steve Cropper, Vernon Reid, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Roger McGuinn, Steve Lukather, David Hidalgo, Mike McCready, Vinnie Moore, Rick Nielsen, Dean DeLeo. We wanted it to be special and it is; people are not just getting their regular “here he is again” show and they are responding wonderfully.
Instant, in-depth feedback is a big change from the first part of your career.
It’s remarkable. You get on your iPhone and read a review from the lady in the third row or the guy in the balcony before you get on the bus. I’m of course pleased that fans and reviewers like the shows, but for me it’s a success because I’m enjoying myself. I made a vow when I started up again in the 90s: If I can’t have fun, I’m not going out.
How long were you off the road?
I took off most of the 80s, then my old school pal David Bowie called and asked me to play on his "Never Let Me Down" record and play on his "Glass Spiders" tour, which started everything up for me again. He and I go back a long, long way and he understood what I needed. He knew exactly what I’d been through – being this respected musician in Humble Pie and on many recording sessions, then "Comes Alive!" became a huge phenomenal success and I was turned into this pop star and the music was forgotten. I had a long track record, but a picture is worth 1,000 words and that iconic photo of me on the cover of "Comes Alive!" changed my image forever. People called me “the singer Peter Frampton” and that really disturbed me. David saw this, understood what I needed and reintroduced me to the world as a guitar player. I can never thank him enough for that. He’s a very clear thinker and a very clever man.
And now this tour is putting an exclamation point on “I’m a guitar player first.”
Absolutely, and the fact that all these incredible players are joining me is such an honor. It’s more about guitar than it is about me.
Do you still play the "Frampton Comes Alive" material?
Yes. We do what people would really want to hear; if I didn’t do “Do You Feel Like I Do” people would be very upset and I enjoy doing it because we all get to stretch out and play. Comes Alive is a very musical album. That was a great band and there’s a lot of great guitar playing on there — and I played it.
I’m proud that that is the one people will remember me by. I understand. Every time I go somewhere, it’s the same headline: “Frampton Comes Alive Again in Worcester.”
Some day I will drop dead and the headline will be “Frampton Comes Dead” and the first line will be “…known primarily for Frampton Comes Alive… “ I wish I could be around to chuckle at that.
Alan Paul’s fourth book, Brothers and Sisters: the Allman Brothers Band and The Album That Defined The 70s, will be published July 25, 2023, by St. Martin’s Press. His last two books – Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan and One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band – debuted in the New York Times Non-Fiction Hardcover Bestsellers List. His first book was Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing, about his experiences raising a family in Beijing and touring China with a popular original blues band. It was optioned for a movie by Ivan Reitman’s Montecito Productions. He is also a guitarist and singer who fronts two bands, Big in China and Friends of the Brothers, the premier celebration of the Allman Brothers Band.