Peter Frampton, the British guitarist-singer-songwriter who became an arena-rock idol in the mid-1970s, had no qualms about covering the Soundgarden grunge anthem “Black Hole Sun” on his late 2006 all-instrumental Fingerprints CD.
“Since I first heard it on the radio, I had to have it. Certain songs you hear give you chills, and that’s one of them,” says Frampton, a U.S. citizen since 2004, from his home in the Indian Hill suburb east of Cincinnati.
Frampton’s version raised enough goosebumps at The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences that both “Black Hole Sun” and Fingerprints were nominated this year for Grammy Awards, for best rock song and best pop vocal album, respectively.
Though nominated twice before, in 1977 and 2001, if Frampton wins a Grammy on Feb. 11 it would be the first of his nearly 40-year career.
Frampton’s fat and tastefully flamboyant rendition—arguably Fingerprints’ highlight—features not only guest spots by Soundgarden/Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready but also the trademark talk-box/vocoder effect Frampton used on his mid-‘70s concert recordings of “Show Me the Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do.”
Though hardly boastful in conversation, Frampton, 56, speaks elatedly about the track. “It is a powerful rendition,” he says. “I knew it was going to be something special right away.”
Frampton also expresses admiration for the song’s writer, Chris Cornell. “I love what he’s doing with Audioslave, as well as the Soundgarden stuff,” says Frampton. “And his solo record is brilliant.”
But when he is asked if he would ever do “Black Hole Sun” with vocals, Frampton answers quickly, and somewhat surprisingly:
“I would never sing it. I knew I could get away with doing the instrumental, but if I tried to sing it, well, it would be like Peter Frampton versus Steve Marriott,” referring to the diminutive Small Faces vocalist with the leviathan voice, whom Frampton worked with in Humble Pie starting in the late 1960s.
Frampton says “there was no template” in putting together Fingerprints. “I wanted it to be a journey through my influences. I managed to have the very first person that made me want to play the guitar (The Shadows’ Hank Marvin) on the record. That started the ideas rolling.”
Frampton says from inception to completion, the disc took about a year and a half—“between six and nine months of actual work.”
He tags the strummed spacey track “Float” and the funky, muscular, Stonesy opener, “Boot It Up,” as “very Frampton.”
Saxophonist Courtney Pine wails away on the latter, playing Bobby Keys to Frampton’s Mick Taylor. Pine was suggested by long-time Frampton friend David Bowie. “After he had his heart problem (in 2004), I was calling up to check up on him, and asked if I was going to have sax on (the song),” Frampton recalls. “Courtney was a great recommendation.”
Another notable track, the playfully titled “Blooze,” is not only, as Frampton puts it, “Allman Brothers-esque,” it features licks by Allman Brothers/Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes. “I had thought of Warren way before I even thought about doing the blues track,” says Frampton. “I wrote a blues track just in case he was available. It was meant for him.”
Asked the disc’s biggest challenge, Frampton promptly fingers “Souvenirs de Nos Peres (Memories of Our Fathers),” by Nashville guitar virtuoso and American gypsy jazz pioneer John Jorgenson. “I have been saying for so long how much of a fan I was—am—of Django Reinhardt, and then I went to the best exponent of Django in this country,” says Frampton. “He said, `We could write something in a few days, or I’ve written this tune. Hope you like it.’ It was phenomenal.”
The disc’s shortest track, at 1:09, is “Oh When ...,” but it is the most personal to Frampton.
“I was just back from England from (his father Owen’s) funeral (in late 2005), and was due back in the studio,” says Frampton. “But I just said to the engineer, `You know what? The only thing I want to do today is this thing.’ My brother and I sang `Not Forgotten’ at the funeral, and this little piece was like a prelude. We recorded three or four takes, all different. ... It was my wife’s idea for the title.”
Asked what he remembers most about his father, an art teacher who lived to be 86 and numbered Bowie among his pupils, Frampton replies, “He was very much a supporter and I learned from him how, when you’re passionate about something, you have to work at it. He was a passionate artist and a passionate teacher. I saw his personal work ethic and how he would do something every day. He honed his craft.”