The long-haired pretty boy of guitar is gone. In his place is a thoughtful rock technician. The star has given way to the artist, and Peter Frampton wouldn’t have it any other way.
The `70s superstar of “Baby, I Love Your Way,” “Do You Feel Like We Do” and “Show Me The Way” fame who sold-out arenas and broke records with the sales of his live album, “Frampton Comes Alive!” won his first Grammy Award this year, some 31 years after being nominated for the first time.
Frampton won for his all-instrumental album “Fingerprints,” his first completely vocals-free release. The CD is an eclectic array of the British-born artist’s favorite influences, from jazz to blues to Latin and, of course, rock. The CD earned him two nominations and he won for Best Pop Instrumental Album.
“It was 30 years ago I got nominated for another record and everybody laughed,” he said of his megahit “Frampton Comes Alive!” “Like I said in my acceptance speech, I didn’t get the honor as the pop star, but I did get it as the musician. It has changed some people’s perception. They’ve reassessed me in light of `Fingerprints.’”
Why did you decide to make an all-instrumental album?
It was just the right time, in fact I’d been thinking about it for years. Then I got (guest artist) Hank Marvin set to play on the record. He, singularly, is the reason I started to play guitar. If it wasn’t for Hank Marvin and the Shadows, I wouldn’t be playing guitar.
Ten years ago, I met up with him and asked, “If I do this, will you work with me?” And he said, “Absolutely.”
The album boasts a wide range of musical styles, from gypsy jazz to rootsy blues, rock and beyond, how did that mix come about?
It’s everything that I enjoy doing. I enjoy playing the blues, I enjoy playing my version of jazz and salsa. The most difficult thing for me was my parents music, Django Reinhardt and gypsy jazz. I got John Jorgenson, one of the premiere gypsy jazz players, to sit down with me and do this so I had to rise to the occasion and thank God I did. That was the most difficult thing to do, so I left it to the last. I knew it had to be good, there was a lot of pressure. So that track (“Souvenirs de Nos Peres”) means so much to me.
You have a ton of great musicians on the album, what inspired you to collaborate with all those artists?
I met Mike McCready of Pearl Jam through Cameron Crowe and Nancy Wilson when I was doing “Almost Famous.” He was playing on some of the songs for the fake band Stillwater. I asked him and (Pearl Jam drummer) Matt Cameron if they would be interested in doing a track with me when we played a political concert together. Sometimes accidents happen like that. With (former Rolling Stones bassist) Bill Wyman and (Rolling Stones drummer) Charlie Watts, I’ve known them since I was 14. Bill was the first producer I had in a band called The Preachers, pre-Herd. It wouldn’t have been right for Bill not to be on the record. He hadn’t played with Charlie for 10-12 years. So I got the original Stones rhythm sections for my album. The whole thing was pretty exciting.
As a musician, how different is it communicating with an audience instrumentally versus vocally?
Well, you’ve got no lyrics, so you’ve got to keep it interesting. That’s exactly how I felt when I worked on the melodies.
With the solos I just ad-libbed until I liked what I was doing. But the melodies, I’d do the first verse and then I’d get to the second verse and think, how am I going to make this as interesting as the first one?
When the second verse kicks in I wanted people to go, “Oh, that’s nice.”
It’s not elevator music, that was the challenge to absolutely not make elevator music. I wanted it to be something people wanted to turn up.
How have live audiences responded to the material?
None of us expected the audience’s response. We do about four instrumentals. We visit the album for 15 minutes and it’s quite amazing the reaction. It was very nice.
Can you empathize with the music stars of today who are often packaged and promoted like products rather than musicians?
I can definitely empathize. I think if you are promoted as pop, it is more on your looks than your talent and then it’s not going to last if they bury the talent, which is what happened to me. Certain people handle themselves and keep reinventing themselves and that is the way to go.
So, what is next for you?
We’re just finishing the tour. Then we’ll start writing and recording the next one and see what happens there. I am not going to repeat myself, I am going to reinvent myself. The only connection (with “Fingerprints”) will be that I definitely will ask people I admire, and friends, to come and play and sing with me on a couple of tracks.