An Interview with Peter Frampton - NOW!

It's been a little over 35 years since Peter Frampton broke onto the musical scene with that mod band, The Herd. He was all of the tender age of 17, when the single "From the Underground" ripped onto the British Top 10 back in 1967. It didn't take long for his guitar prowess to find a new home and a bigger audience with the band Humble Pie. If you haven't had the pleasure of listening to Humble Pie's Performance - Rockin' the Filmore, you're missing a '70s classic (check out "I Don't Need No Doctor" - egads - remember it's 1971). In less than five years, Peter would go from being an up-and-coming guitar god, to THE pop icon of late '70s. Frampton Comes Alive is still the best-selling live album of all time.

Overshadowed by his pin-up charm and pop-icon status, the media made Peter a larger than life rock star, one that could make his guitar talk. What his musical legacy betrays however, is the simple fact that he is a brilliant guitar player. He's been tagged for guitar work by everyone from George Harrison to David Bowie (he played on Harrison's classic All Things Must Pass and toured with Bowie in support of Never Let You Down).

Peter is about to release his 21st recording. It's called NOW, and there was never a more appropriate title. He took a few minutes to talk to us at about what we can expect from Frampton in the coming years. Find out about his Framptone pedals, how a talk-box can loosen your fillings if you're not careful, and where you might locate a 1962 Ampeg Echotwin, if you look hard enough. Welcome Peter, How are things?

Peter Frampton: Things are great. I hope you are well. I'm doing great, and you've been keeping busy.

Frampton: You could say that, yes I've been quite busy. Busy would be the word. Since the mid-'90s, you've released seven records, did two tours with Ringo's All-star Band, remastered and re-released Frampton Comes Alive in celebration of its 25th anniversary, did numerous headlining tours of your own, and somehow you still managed to find time to start your own company and record label, Framptone. Can you tell us a little bit about the guitar products you're currently manufacturing?

Frampton: Yes, I have been busy, haven't I. (laughs) Right now we're in discussions with various different people to take this to another level We've got another product......I mean, of distribution. That's our weak point. So we're basically talking to people about how to take this to another level. And we've got a third product coming out; a three-banger, which is a three-way guitar switcher with an additional output for a tuner. So it's actually a four-banger. That's exciting.

Frampton: It is, I mean everyone uses clean, crunch and lead and that's what everyone's been clamoring for so that everyone can uses the favorite vintage or brand new amp in the right position. Especially live but also in the studio, obviously. Right and you've already got a very heavy-hitting client list; Dave Grohl, Stephan Jenkins/Third Eye Blind, Joe Walsh, Richie Sambora. You've got the guys, all in the right places.

Frampton: And Richie never shuts up about the talk box, which we love him for that. (laughing) (laughs) Absolutely. Can't get enough of that.

Frampton: Which is great. When I originally said it was a boutique company (Peter has said this in the past about Framptone), I learned what the word 'boutique' means. It means you don't make any money (laughs). Actually, I do believe that is the literal translation in the dictionary.

Frampton: (laughing) It probably is. That was never really the aim (being a boutique brand) of the company. Every penny we get in goes back into the company. You know how that goes All too well, I'm afraid.

Frampton: So it's a long-term thing and I think the name is now established. I think when people mentioned the equipment "Framptone," they think of high-end amp switching or talk-box or whatever. They think of us as more of an upper scale product. We're not going to be making anything that's..... Understood. It's not like you're going to be making some imported knock-off.

Frampton: Right - nothing cheap and nasty. It's got to work and it's got to... the reason Framptone came into existence was necessity. It's got to be roadworthy and that's why it's the expense it is. Well, back in the day you must have been using the Sound talk box.

Frampton: Yes. What, if any, major design or functionality differences are there between that model and the Framptone version?

Frampton: Basically it's just a higher-end version of that. Meaning that everything is more heavy-duty. Right - ready to hit the road, so to speak.

Frampton: Unfortunately, even when I first started using the Heil, the drivers were a little stronger. But you would start putting a 50 or 100 watt amp through the driver and it was gone. We have a special driver made now, outside the country, specifically for the job that it does. We went through lots of different speaker companies trying to find this one. What I was trying to emulate was, ever since I had the Heil, I used to replace the driver with a University driver. So as soon as you get it, you'd have to modify it?

Frampton: Yeah, we'd have to mod it and after I realized that it... well I'd take it to the first level, which was "Bing, there goes the first driver." Then we just put the University driver in. I think we used to get them from Claire Brothers because they were using them in the high-ends of the monitors or something. Basically, whatever was around (laughs). But when we tried it, it didn't blow and it sounded good. So that's what we did. The necessity was when we couldn't find anymore University drivers. They stopped making them years ago. So that's when we said, we've got to start making them ourselves. The mother of invention... necessity! The Heil is still in production. Dunlop makes them, right?

Frampton: Yeah, Jimmy Dunlop still does them. They're a good company. It's really more of an entry level talk-box. I see, it's really not the road-dawg that you need, when you're out doing 50, 100, 150 dates at a clip.

Frampton: Well, unless you have a slew of drivers, but it depends on how loud you play. But in order to get certain sounds out of it, it's got to be somewhat loud. I use a 50 watt on it. Richie (Sambora, of Bon Jovi) uses, I think a Fender Showman 200 or something. I'm not sure. I don't know how he puts that kind of volume in his mouth (laughs). (laughing) I've played the Heil through a 50 watt and it can really rattle your fillings.

Frampton: Yeah and he LIKES it loud. (laughs some more) And how is your dental work after all this time?

Frampton: (laughing) It's okay, actually, not too bad, not too bad. (chuckling some more) I'm glad to hear that.

Frampton: I've had a few fillings shaken loose but not many. So now you've also got a record label going. Is that exclusive to Peter Frampton releases or is that something where you'll begin discovering new talent and/or producing other artists?

Frampton: Well that's to be decided. Yeah, I think that right now, the idea right now is exclusively just for this record and hopefully for the next. I just [started] the company [with] Morty Wiggins there, who has got years and years in management and record companies. It sort of reminds me of working with A&M in the old days. Nice, right.

Frampton: It's just on a musical level. We're dealing with - to give you an idea of our budget compared to the Pac-man/monopolizing-eating companies that go around devouring other companies. Our print advertising, if we did one ad in People Magazine, the budget would be gone. (laughs) So it's a tight budget and there must be some inventive marketing going on.

Frampton: So we're dealing with a much smaller level of advertising dollars and being creative is far more important. And I have to do a lot more of the work. I basically have to go to work with radio, which I am so thrilled that classic rock radio has begun to play new stuff by classic rock artists. Yeah, they have woken up to that finally. We have a few stations here in Boston where you can hear the classics along with new releases from the same artists.

Frampton: I think that people; you know that many of these companies have done focus groups and phone surveys and stuff. People have obviously said, especially from the baby-boomer generation, they've said "Let's hear what Kansas is up to today." Right - in fact I just saw Kerry Livgren at the recent NAMM show. Though he's no longer in Kansas, I think the band is promoting a new DVD or something.

Frampton: Yeah, and it's great that radio support that. I have to say I'm thrilled because I didn't think we'd get any play at all and "Verge of a Thing" is number 7 on the classic rock chart. Wow that's great, congrats.

Frampton:Yeah, can't complain. No need to with that.

Frampton: So it's really great. We're not expecting to be in the millions for sales. A couple of hundred thousand would be a nice goal. Sure.

Frampton: We have to think that way. You can't be unrealistic at this point. This next question was asked by several of the members: I'll pose it a little differently but, as you look back at your extensive recording career; you leave The Herd and form Humble Pie with Steve Marriot. I hear a guitarists' guitarist breaking out with his own voice, a guitar-hero in the making. But when Pie breaks up and the growing success of your solo career, your guitar-playing became a bit overshadowed. Was it frustrating to find your playing getting a back seat to the label of pop icon?

Frampton: The perception was the thing that changed. I didn't change at all. It was just unfortunately the perception of what the media put out there. You can't ever control the media but unfortunately I wasn't a bad looking guy. And they played that up to the hilt because they thought that....the record company and management thought that that would be the thing that would bring in more money. Honestly it was the greed factor. Whereas, that is the thing that will kill you quicker. That might be the thing that takes you over the top, right this second, introducing more buyers to the record. But basically what it's doing is short-circuiting a musical career. Once the cat was out of the bag; a few pictures of the front covers of a few magazines with my shirt off and the look. Yeah, there was no stopping it at that point.

Frampton: Right, that was it. I know better now but the good thing is, it could never happen cause I've got no hair left. I won't do that again. (laughs) (laughs) Yeah but the really good thing is you have this amazing musical legacy left over from that time. I heard "30 Days in the Hole" on the radio the other day and I realize that isn't specific to your time in Humble Pie. But those songs, like "Stone Cold Fever," "Hallelujah, I Love Her So," "I Don't Need No Doctor," which you covered on the new DVD, "Live in Detroit." (you can also find these songs on the pivotal Humble Pie Release Performance - Rockin' the Filmore)

Frampton: Yes we did. I haven't seen the DVD yet, but I most certainly will be picking that up.

Frampton: Yeah "Doctor" we did as a tribute to Steve (Marriott) [Editor's note: Marriott died an accidental death in a house fire in April, 1991.] There's actually some footage of Steve, right in there. You should see it I definitely will. That's really great. So you spent most of this time then, in the early to mid-'70s, more as a lead guitar player and less as a frontman, which you were about to become. Did your approach to the guitar change all that dramatically, once you left Humble Pie and picked up with Frampton's Camel?

Frampton: Basically, that was me, doing the best I could without Steve (laughing). (laughs) Well, that's honest at least, but a really good way to put it; cause now you've got to sing, you've got to play, you gotta dance, you gotta juggle.

Frampton: Right, the whole nine yards. Most of it I didn't do very well, to start with (laughs) but give me a solo and I'm there. It was a major shift and it took me some time to get my confidence on stage, just being in complete control. But once I got there is was a very comfortable place to be. I enjoyed that and here we are. Let's fast forward to the post-Comes Alive period. Guitar-hero talk starts to re-surface when you hook up with your former classmate, David Jones (aka David Bowie) to do the "The Glass Spider Tour." Does playing the role of sideman give you greater flexibility or do you find yourself more comfortable in that position?

Frampton: I felt, very much like, my time in Humble Pie, re-visited, when I played with Bowie. Because you're more of the lead guitarist as opposed to the front guy.

Frampton: Right, yeah. So do you find that more comfortable?

Frampton: Being the hired gun? Yeah, it was a good time. Really?

Frampton: Well, I'm either or, you know? Right.

Frampton: I don't go both ways (laughing) but I'm either or. I either like not doing anything. I tried to even get out of even background singing on Bowie because I just wanted to concentrate, which I didn't, I wanted to concentrate on being the guy to the left of Bowie playing the licks and supporting him. That was a really enjoyable tour all the same. You've done some great instrumentals over the years, "Nassau," "Penny for Your Thoughts," "Young Island," your Grammy-nominated "Off the Hook," and on your new release NOW, "Greens." Have you ever thought about doing a strictly instrumental release?

Frampton: I've thought about it for so long. In fact, I have lots of people that are already committed to being on the record. It's just that I had to get this record out first. Sure.

Frampton: I would like to over the next couple of years concentrate on doing that when I can meet up with the right people. What I would like to do is a trip through my influences. That would be a fitting tribute.

Frampton: Yeah, it would start with Hank Marvin (Editor's note: Hank Marvin was a major influence on many British guitar heroes. Marvin played lead guitar for The Shadows, one of the U.K.'s top instrumental outfits and the backing band for Cliff Richard on most of his hits). Oh goodness, six years ago he agreed to be on it. So I really want to do something with Hank. The two of us playing together; that would be completing the circle for me. He was the reason I started playing the guitar. I'm sure you've heard of Steve Vai's label, Favored Nations.

Frampton: Sure. Steve has really created a great market for guitarists, especially those playing instrumental guitar-based music. It lets you know that there's still a market for instrumental music. So back to your new release, NOW, you recorded "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with a great emotional lead-in to the piano part and at that point, it plays out pretty close to the original. Had you been planning on covering this prior to the unfortunate news about George Harrison?

Peter Frampton

Frampton: No, no we hadn't planned on covering that at all. We were in the middle of setting up this benefit for 9/11 in January, 2002, and we were getting ready to do that show. And either that week or right around that time George passed away and I just asked the guys to just listen to it on the way into the soundcheck and let's try it. I thought it would be a nice way to just say goodbye. And especially being that it was a benefit and the people there loved the Beatles. It was very important to me to do that. At the soundcheck it felt really good. So we did it as the last number that night. It was a very moving moment and the band just said 'You know, if we're ever going to do a cover, this is the one to do on the record.' And I was like, 'Let's try it.' I'm not that big on covers but, if we can do it well enough...So there you go. I thought it was a strong track on the record.

Frampton: Thanks I think the emotional attachment added a lot for me as well.

Frampton: Yeah, I think so too. Now here's something I learned in prepping for this interview. You penned a number of songs for Cameron Crowe's movie "Almost Famous," a couple of which appear on your new CD ("Hour of Need" and "Not Forgotten"). Cameron had written the liner notes for a number of your recordings, including Frampton Comes Alive. Were you returning the favor so to speak?

Frampton: I don't think so. Well....(pauses). I think I needed him when he first did the liner notes. Not so much the returning of the favor but we've been friends ever since that. He was the first person that ever heard Frampton Comes Alive after the band and management. Over the years, we've remained friends. He just called up out of the blue and said 'Hey, I'm making a rock movie.' And I said 'No you're not. We hate rock movies (laughing), Cameron.' Right - they don't make any money.

Frampton: (laughing) Right, and they're never realistic. And he said 'Well, that's why I need you to come out to L.A. straight away.' So I flew out to L.A. He gave me the script, which I read in like a couple of hours., it was a really good movie.

Frampton: Yeah, really good. And he said, 'I need someone to work with the band and keep everything as authentic as possible on the shooting. I want you to be there. Make sure that there's nothing there that will say that this wasn't done in 1973.' I also worked closely with Billy Crudup and Jason Lee. Billy hadn't played guitar six weeks before we started shooting. [There was] a lot of work there but he was such a great actor and threw himself into it. It was very realistic looking. Well, it came off great.

Frampton:Thanks. I did a couple of songs for that with Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kilpatrick, one of which is on the new record, "Hour of Need." And then Cameron asked me to play Humble Pie's road manager in the card game scene. I didn't know that. I'm going to have to back and revisit that.

Frampton: Yeah, I'm the guy that wins the girls. Very nice, very fitting indeed.

Frampton: For uh, what was it...Hmmm....a 6-pack of Heineken and $50 bucks. (laughs) (laughs) So it was pretty authentic.

Frampton: Yes, that was my job after all. So you're out touring to support Now. What guitars did you use for the recording of that?

Frampton: Oooh, well obviously a lot of my PF Les Paul Custom. My '58 Les Paul Junior, a lot of that. A John Suhr Strat. One of the newer ones?

Frampton: Sort of new. These are the Suhr Guitars ( and actually, I'm a partner in that guitar company. Really, that's interesting. I just contacted John. We're going to do a feature on him. I think John makes some great guitars and I don't think there are enough players that know he's out there making some amazing guitars.

Frampton: No I don't think so either. Well, I'll let you know when we do that feature. He really does some brilliant work.

Frampton: He always has. It doesn't matter whether it's guitars or amps. He's just as good. I never got to tinker with his amp but I've played a few of his guitars and they're really great. But his amps were supposed to be something else. Talk about boutique????

Frampton:Yeah absolutely. about amps?

Frampton: I've got my, sort of '70s Marshalls, 100 watt, those boys, which I use on stage. Marshall and Vox mainly. I've got a JTM45, 1962 that just blows me away. It's pretty damn good. And Marshall made available to me one of the Reissue Offsets. Oh right, how was that?

Frampton: It's a newer version of the '62 that I have with a completely different sound but it's still really good. Vox AC-15; Vox AC-30, I've got one of each. My little Ampeg Jets. Did you ever find one of the Ampeg Echotwin's (Peter lost one of his most beloved amps many years back in a plane crash that was carrying his gear to a gig in South America - he had been searching for years to replace it with very little luck)?

Frampton:Yes Did you really?

Frampton: I found one that had never been taken out of guy's closet. Still had the manual and it looked brand new. How long ago did you find this?

Frampton: This was about 6 months ago. Really? That's recent.

Frampton: Yeah, it was Fretware up in Franklin, Ohio. Dave Hussong? I know the name.

Frampton: Well he called Larry Acunto. From 20th Century Guitar (Magazine)

Frampton: Yeah, right and said, I've got this amp and I want to put it in the magazine. I'm never going to sell this. And Larry said "I think you will." And I think I know who's going to buy it. And I did. (laughing) Oh that's great. I've read a number of times that you bought a few but couldn't find anything close to the one you lost.

Frampton: I just had to buy this one. This one is being recapped right now because of some noise and stuff but.... What year was it?

Frampton: 1962 Jeez - that just shows you that they're still out there.

Frampton:Yeah, yeah, and there's not a mark on it. Not a single mark.'tcha just love that.

Frampton: It's even got that Ampeg dolly on it still. If you took that off, I won't even want to put it down on the floor because you'd scratch the bottom (laughs). Well I suppose it's hard to scratch the thing up, sittin' in a closet for the last 40 years.

Frampton: (laughs) I know, that's true. Apparently, he had a 1961 Gretsch White Falcon and that, sitting in his closet for all those years. What happened to the White Falcon?

Frampton: Dave Hussong sold that (laughs). I'm sure he got a nice price for that one. But could you imagine: This thing had hardly ever been played. So I finally found "the one." That's great - well congratulations on that. You're not taking that one out, I would think.

Frampton: No, no - it doesn't leave the house. Although, currently it's down in the locker, getting ready to be worked on. I'll have to assume that you're obviously using that amazing new Framptone Talk Box I've been hearing so much about, as well as their great amp switching unit, but what other effects are you running live?

Frampton: (laughs) Well, now my rig has been updated a little bit. Techstar helped me out with that. We actually built a baby rig, which is downstairs right now. I've never had a backup rig so we just built that. And you're using that for radio station promo gigs or TV appearances or...

Frampton:Yeah but, it's really my stage backup. I've never really had a real backup. I mean if it all goes down, where do you plug in? All I need is an amp and some pedals so this serves that purpose. We used the Egginator preamp for the rack and I'm using the VHT power amp. Also just the TC Electronics G-force multi-effects unit and that's it. Well that is pretty stripped down.

Frampton: I can get just about everything I need from that. Here's another question from one of the users: Did you ever use a Mutron in conjunction with the Talk Box?

Frampton: I have a Mutron but I don't use it in conjunction with anything. I use it separately. I was just at the Philly Guitar Show. I had three Mutron's in High School and the price tag these things were carrying...I was stunned.

Frampton: Remember the Auto-Wah? Yeah

Frampton: I've been using one of those on stage. It needs a little help (laughing) That's why they call them Vintage, I suppose.

Frampton: Right, I know, I know. I know you're booked pretty heavily through the fall throughout the US, including a segment that's being sponsored by VH-1? What's that about exactly?

Frampton: They're promoting the dates from the end of this month through October and they've also got some interview footage that I've already done, that they'll be featuring. Basically from the New York dates through Seattle which I believe is the end of October. I'm sure it's going to make a good deal of noise for you. I'm thrilled that both radio and TV have jumped onboard to help promote the new release.

Frampton: It was an added bonus and totally unexpected. Well, best of luck on tour. We'll try and track you down when you come to town. Thanks for your time and we'll talk soon.

Frampton: Absolutely - same here.

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