After surviving the rigors of being a teen idol in the U.K., Peter Frampton went on to play with the influential jam band Humble Pie before finally going solo. In 1976, his album Frampton Comes Alive sold more copies than any other live record in history, generating hits like "Show Me the Way" and "Baby, I Love Your Way." The album (or 8-track, depending on how cool you were at the time) was so huge that advance orders for the follow-up record I'm In You numbered in the millions. After appearing alongside the Bee Gees in the awful 1978 rock movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Frampton's career took a nosedive. Though he never really went away, it wasn't until he worked on Cameron Crowe's film Almost Famous that Frampton really came back into the public eye. Now he's coming to Memphis to play a benefit for Planned Parenthood called Choice Rocks. Here's what the golden-tressed guitar god has to say about his career to date.
Flyer: I have to admit, when I found out I was going to be interviewing you, I got a little bit depressed.
Peter Frampton: Why is that?
Well, think about it from my perspective. You've given thousands of interviews. A&E has done an episode of Biography, VH-1 has made the Frampton Behind the Music. What's left to ask that we don't already know about Peter Frampton? Are there any questions that you are just sick and tired of answering?
"How do you make your guitar talk?" That's the most-asked question. And I don't really mind talking about it because the talk box is basically something I'm known for. Of course, Stevie Wonder has used it. Jeff Beck and Joe Walsh have used it. DJs can use the talk box to make loops. But I used it on "Show Me the Way," and I guess I got known as that guy who makes his guitar talk.
Have you ever just said to a reporter, "Look, I've explained the whole talking-guitar thing a million times before. If you want to, you can look it up somewhere."
Well, no. You do try to change the way you answer from time to time to try and make it more interesting for yourself. Otherwise, you start sounding like a computer. There are some stories I've told so many different times and so many different ways that I don't believe them now myself.
While we're on the subject of the talk box, let me ask about the great debate over "Do You Feel Like We Do." Do people still ask if your guitar is really saying "I want to fuck you?"
Oh yeah. And if people want to hear that, fine. What it really says is, "I want to thank you." But if people want to believe it says the other, well
I just got word from someone who teaches in Puerto Rico. It seems the education department in Puerto Rico has decided that I really did say "I want to fuck you," and so they've been going around to schools using me as an example of devil music. The pupils are walking out on them. They can't believe that people would come into the schools in a "communistic way" and tell them what they should and shouldn't listen to. I'm in the process of contacting the Puerto Rican government. It's ridiculous.
It is ridiculous. It's also a 25-year-old question. Everybody asks you about things that happened 25 years ago. Don't you ever wish someone would say, "Hey, Peter, what's on your mind these days?"
You know, I'm still working. It would be great to have a CD that reached a lot of people again. But I'm still able to be out there making a good living. And there was maybe a moment or two where I got fed up, but if it wasn't for people asking about what happened back then, we probably wouldn't be doing this interview. Even if something happened and I had a [comeback] hit like Santana did, I'm still going to be known for Frampton Comes Alive.
What has been more personally satisfying in your career: playing in front of an audience of 100,000 screaming fans or getting a call from Gibson guitars saying, "Hey, we want to do a special Peter Frampton signature Les Paul?
I'd have to say it's about 50/50 there. If I had to choose, I'd still say that playing live is the most enjoyable. And not the singing but the playing. Adulation is very gratifying. But there is another person who has his name on the [Frampton signature] guitar: Les Paul. He didn't invent the electric guitar, but he developed the solid-body guitar. He also invented multitrack recording. There would be no Sgt. Pepper without multitrack recording. So, yes, having the guitar is also very exciting.
You worked on the film Almost Famous as an authenticity adviser. Again, you are being asked about things that happened 25 years ago. Did you ever feel like a professional fossil?
No, I felt good. And I wasn't telling war stories, you know? They say if you can remember the '60s and '70s, you weren't really there. Well, I was really there, although I sometimes had to call people to help me remember. Years ago [the director] Cameron [Crowe] and I spoke about rock movies. We both hated them because they were never authentic. A film set in 1954 would have a microphone that wasn't produced until 1963. I'm anal about these things.
Now you say you always hated rock movies. But you had some experience with at least one rock movie before Almost Famous. Did Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band make you hate rock movies?
No. I hated them before that, but being in [Sgt. Pepper's] cemented it for me. At least now I can say that in my career I have been in the worst rock movie of all time, and because of Almost Famous I can say that I've been part of one of the best. n
Peter Frampton will be playing Choice Rocks, a benefit for Planned Parenthood at the Gibson Guitar Lounge on Saturday, April 12th. For ticket information, call 725-3003.