Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career
British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.
Do You Feel Like I Do? A Memoir
Peter Frampton with Alan Light
20 October 2020
Peter Frampton has certainly lived the life of a rock star to the fullest. With so many ups and downs, experiences that ranged from Rocky Mountain sky-high to bottom-of-the-barrel low while meeting fascinating, legendary musicians and unusual characters along the way, the '70s Guitar God could have written a dozen books by now.
It took his battle with inclusion body myositis to convince the Great Brit with the sharp wit to finally write a life story that fulfills the bill. Do You Feel Like I Do? A Memoir — published today (October 20) by Hachette Books and written with music journalist Alan Light — takes a deep dive into his past from musical wunderkind to hiding-in-the-shadows axman to reluctant teenybopper idol and out-of-his-element superstar to down-on-his-luck session player.
The book is cleverly framed practically from start to finish with an adventure involving the Phenix — the name he gave his closest companion, a black 1954 Gibson Les Paul guitar. It went missing for more than three decades after a cargo plane carrying his gear crashed and exploded on a runway in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1980. Frampton knows all about rising from the ashes.
"There were such hallmark events in my life early on that it's, I don't know, I pretty much remember," Frampton says over the phone from his Nashville home in mid-September about relying more on his clear mind than a ton of research in compiling 352 pages. "I might not remember it exactly like my [former] girlfriend [and first wife] Mary [Lovett] did. We spoke about this yesterday.
"She said, 'But you've always had a better memory than me.' So I said, 'Well, you know, it's my view, my recollection of how it happened, and I'm pretty happy with the way it is.' And I probably got some things wrong, and people will probably correct me, but basically, I didn't want it to be somebody else's remembering me."
The incredible friendships and relationships detailed throughout the book are too numerous to cover here. Still, they include Guitar Heroes many of us admire and other intriguing personalities who made their mark in his development. For example:
• Frampton theorizes that his longtime manager Dee Anthony had Mafia ties dating back to when the burly businessman was Tony Bennett's road manager.
• After leaving Humble Pie in 1971, Frampton asserts that he was asked to join Grand Funk Railroad. In the mid-'80s, he claims that Pete Townshend called after deciding he no longer wanted to tour with the Who and asked Frampton to be his replacement. That change never materialized, and Frampton, who entertained the possibility, writes: "No way was this a good idea. I love Pete dearly, but I have no idea what was going on in his life at that time. I don't even know if he remembers calling me."
In the Who's colorful history, perhaps it was another in a series of pranks they pulled. If Townshend has the answer, he was unavailable to respond to Frampton's book passage for this article, according to his publicist last week.
• Often portrayed inaccurately as the "quiet Beatle," George Harrison was calling for Frampton to stand by as a possible replacement for Eric Clapton (strung out on heroin) at the second Concert for Bangladesh benefit show in 1971, but the ex-Cream guitarist managed to pull through and perform. Frampton was later asked to play acoustic guitar on Harrison's ambitious solo album All Things Must Pass, and soon found himself right in front of producer Phil Spector.
Frampton still wonders why he was not credited in the album's liner notes but never approached Harrison to find out. After moving to America, he regrets not staying in touch with his "dear friend" for years before Harrison's death in 2001. In 2019, Clapton asked Frampton to play at his Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas, and they performed Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" together.
• The Rolling Stones put Frampton on their shortlist of players to replace guitarist Mick Taylor before Ron Wood got the job.
• A $1 million film role as Billy Shears in 1978's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band led to satisfying interactions with the Bee Gees, Beatles producer George Martin, Alice Cooper, George Burns, and a wake-up coke contribution from Stephen Stills.
Of course, this guitarist's guitarist soars above the usual cliché-ridden aspects of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, though there's some of that, too, in "Do You Feel Like I Do?", the title a slight variation of one of his biggest hits. Knowing how to become a team player (joining the house band during a 2014 Grammy tribute to the Beatles TV show "was probably one of my all-time favorite sit-ins", he writes), Frampton feels blessed to have learned from some of the best in the business, including Townshend.
Another musical mentor among the guitarists he singled out was the late, great Alvin Lee. "I was just like trying to keep my eyes on where his fingers were going when I first went to see him play," Frampton recollects. The two became close friends who shared a couple of common-bonding moments, though Frampton barely remembers a "crazy lost two weeks" with the quick-draw gunslinger in the Bahamas in 1974.
The influences go back much further, to gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, whose recording career began in 1928. "And he's always there because of my dad [the rhythm guitarist in a Reinhardt tribute act during college] and my mum bringing the music into the home so early," points out Frampton, whose appreciation for musical history started in grammar school.
Prior to putting his rise-and-fall-and-rise-again saga on paper, Frampton concluded — even before the global pandemic hit in 2020 — that life is often unpredictable, and sometimes cruelly so.
Photo: Rob Arthur / Courtesy of Sacks & Co.
Anatomy of a Book
Despite being diagnosed in 2015 with IBM, a rare progressive disorder marked by muscle inflammation, weakness, and atrophy in the arms, hands, and legs, he was trying to work at his usual pace, seeking ways to reinvent himself, even if the Guitar Hero-worshipping stage was waning. His first co-headlining tour with Alice Cooper was in the planning stages.
Previously putting off thoughts to write a book, an idea first proposed by his manager Ken Levitan, Frampton stumbled badly and broke two bones in his back on the last day of a short trip to Maui in 2018 with daughter Mia, the youngest of his three adult children.
Returning to New York, Frampton decided, "Now is the time." He not only wanted to tell his story but put together a farewell tour that would be unlike those by many groups and solo performers who just tease this is the end. Make a list that's "unending, as long as you can play", Levitan presented, and have the chance to "get to say goodbye to all the places you want to say goodbye to".
The tour schedule was announced in February 2019, and Frampton revealed news about his condition the next day. When he began writing the book, taped sessions lasted as much as two and a half hours a day with Light over weekends in Nashville or Manhattan. They "ended up with a huge manuscript, which we went through and chiseled at," Frampton offers with a laugh.
Sharing that he had just completed the audiobook version a day earlier, Frampton laughs again when asked how he thinks his memoir turned out. "That's a loaded question," he answers wickedly. "I've been working on this for the best part of a year now. And so I'm sick to death of it myself. (laughs) Oh God, it's like it's the same as music when you record something and you hear it over and over again. By the time you've mixed it, you never want to hear it again before anybody else has heard it. And it takes me a year or two before I can go back and say, 'Oh, that's not bad!'"
Peter Frampton enjoys a vacation in Mustique, among a chain of islands in the West Indies. / Credit: Courtesy of Peter Frampton
Turning serious for a moment, he adds, "I know that it's just basically me being pretty honest about my life in most ways, and so far, people that I don't know that have read it who I want to hear what they think about it seem to find it a quick read and enjoyable … and funny and sad. So that's life, isn't it? …
"The thing as you can tell — apart from my perseverance, from having read the book — is my humor. And I think that's something that you have to have about yourself first of all before anything else. And if you can not take yourself too seriously and just figure that you're just one of a gazillion people on this planet, and you really don't mean that much, you just get up and do your thing, whatever it is."
Frampton found sources of inspiration such as Bob Dylan's heralded Chronicles Volume 1 and Light's collaboration with Gregg Allman on My Cross to Bear. "Very nice to hear that Bob Dylan actually had writer's block at one point," Frampton interjects, chuckling again. "He just didn't feel it. He was panicking. And then, all of a sudden, he grabs a legal pad one day, and he doesn't stop writing for ten days. And he's written like a whole album of new material."
Paraphrasing Dylan, he continues, "It wasn't writer's block. … I was on input, not on output. You have to have influences; you have to have experiences. You have to have feelings, time to have the feelings. Otherwise, you start pulling from this library of your brain, which doesn't have much left. You've used it all. And you need more experiences in life."
Frampton surmises, "That was a wonderful way of putting it. … But he's a clever chap, you know, that Bob Dylan." The same can be said of Frampton, whose funny side ranges from cornball to cunning while often ringing through in his anthemic songs, enthralling live performances, and entertaining stories. Let him show readers the way as he asks: Do You Feel Like I Do?
In 1958, Peter Frampton strikes a pose with his "first decent guitar — a Hofner Club 60 that cost £25." / Credit: Courtesy of Peter Frampton
Born to rock, Peter Kenneth Frampton arrived on 22 April 1950 in Beckenham, Kent, England, to parents Owen and Peggy Frampton. He wasted little time taking up the guitar from the time Owen handed his seven-year-old son an "old vaudeville banjolele" they found in the attic of their home in Bromley, Kent. By 1958, he was playing his "first decent guitar … a Hofner Club 60 that cost £25", then started performing with the Trubeats in 1962. In quick succession came the Preachers, a band managed by Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, then the Herd followed by Humble Pie, which he formed at 18 with Steve Marriott.
For starters during those formative years, the young apprentice saw Jimi Hendrix take a right-handed guitar and play it left-handed at the Bag O'Nails club, was dangled out a fourth-floor dressing room by the Who's Keith Moon and John Entwistle, and jammed with Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green, whose parting words were "I don't like Tauruses" after asking Frampton for his astrological sign.
With Marriott serving as a boisterous frontman-lead singer and Frampton proving to be his formidable guitarist who let his instrument do the talking, Humble Pie became a rollicking bunch of heavy metal kids whose popularity in England didn't quite catch on in America. Until Frampton left, that is. One of the things disclosed in the book is that the band excluded from concert set lists what some might regard as Frampton's best Humble Pie song, which also provided him a rare lead vocal opportunity. According to his former partner, Marriott thought the exuberant "Shine On" was "too poppy" to be released as a single.
"Well, to be honest, it was voted down that we should play it by Steve," Frampton explains during our interview. "I don't know why. And because [album producer] Glyn Johns thought it should be the single. And I think that just scared everybody that it would come out as a single, would be a hit, and I'd be singing it. I don't know. That's the only thing I can think of, really. "The other thing, though, we never played [a live version of Marriott's] 'Natural Born Bugie', which was a top-five hit for Humble Pie when we first started. So maybe it wasn't about me; it was just about singles in general. If it was too catchy, don't release it. (laughs) I think he was scared of success in one way, but then did everything possible to get success." (laughs)
When Frampton decided to leave Humble Pie in 1971 to embark on a solo career, he recalls, "I knew what I wanted to do. I didn't have any qualms about it. And if I was going to make it or not, so be it. The music I wanted to do, I was now able to do. And make my own decisions. I knew it was going to be a hard slog. I've never been afraid of that.
"I'd only thought I'd made the worst mistake in my career when [live double album] Rockin' the Fillmore came out and zoomed up the charts. For three weeks, I thought, 'Oh, God … that's it, that's the end. Back to music college for me.' But no. If anything, that pushed me harder. You know what I mean? I've had a situation like that where it was my decision to go down the ladder, drop down a few rungs. And it's given me, through my perseverance, it's always a challenge. And there've been other cases where it's been of my own doing or the lack of success. Where I've had to start again quite a few times. And some of those weren't so wonderful, you know, but you get over that feeling, and you push and push and push. And I kept going."
Humble Pie's Steve Marriott (left) and Peter Frampton huddle backstage before a show. / Credit: Courtesy of Peter Frampton
Change of Scenery
Frampton's solo career, officially beginning with his debut album Wind of Change in 1972, didn't soar initially. Opening for acts like Foghat or New Riders of the Purple Sage (a $6 ticket came with a "Framton" misspelling in 1975), he also supported Black Oak Arkansas at the cramped Warehouse in New Orleans, where I first saw him perform in 1973, two years after his previous visits there with Humble Pie. "So I knew what I was in for down there," Frampton suggests. "But it was just … I don't know, it was a special time, that's for sure. It was a very creative time for me, playing those large clubs, halls like that, with the people right up against you and building a following."
Managed by Dee Anthony and guided by booking agent Frank Barsalona of Premier Talent, the same men partly responsible for Humble Pie's success, Frampton did get a fair share of attention as an opener, though. "We were put on the bill with all these acts that could fill places that we couldn't, obviously," states Frampton, who insists he was never frustrated during those early days of his solo career.
From what I remember, though, and have witnesses (my older brother John and wife Carmen) to back me up, a fiery Frampton did seem extremely agitated when he took out his frustrations on a malfunctioning keyboard during that brief 1973 set with his band then called Frampton's Camel.
For the devoted few who recognized the perfectionist in Peter the Pied Piper, that incident was just a minor blip on the way to eventually seeing him become an "overnight sensation" with the release of Frampton Comes Alive! His 1976 double-live album recorded primarily at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom sold eight million copies that year and more than 17 million overall. But it took years of following a game plan he borrowed from Humble Pie to get there: "Our agenda was to steal as much of the headliner's audience as possible," Frampton wrote.
With mounting popularity that led to headlining sellout shows and prestigious festivals, then acting gigs on American TV (Baa Baa Black Sheep) and a major cinema fail (the horrid Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band), Frampton's runaway hit record proved to be a blessing and a curse. By then, "Everybody wanted a piece of me," he mentions more than once in the book, then confirms over the phone with an exclamatory, "Right!"
Asked during our interview what he would have done differently, Frampton proclaims, "Well, hindsight is so clear, but I should have got out of my own way, got some of the best producers, record producers in the world, some of the best writers. And I should have woodshedded with those people until we had the best material that we could come up with, where everyone felt that it was equal to the power of the songs on Comes Alive!
"But of course, I didn't get out of my own way and, unfortunately, thought that I could do it all myself. At that point, having taken six years to write all that material for the live album, I needed help. Because in three months, I wasn't going to come up with six years worth of material. I had failed before I started. That's what I felt."
Peter Frampton (below right) is among a group of stellar musicians — including (from left) Pete Drake, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Billy Preston — who participated in 1970 recording sessions for Harrison's All Things Must Pass. / Credit: Courtesy of Peter Frampton
Coming Back for More
After surviving a life-threatening car crash in the Bahamas in 1978, Frampton's career in the early '80s continued to take a nosedive ("in the toilet, basically," he wrote). But fewer professional projects enabled him to spend more time at home after the births of his first two children (Jade and Julian) with his second wife, Barbara Gold, whom he married in 1983.
His resurrection began with the Premonition album in 1986 followed by a call from childhood chum (and Bromley Technical schoolmate) David Bowie, who asked him to play guitar on his next album (1987's Never Let Me Down) and perform on the memorable Glass Spider tour that went worldwide.
Frampton was slowly rebuilding his career, yet couldn't avoid associating with tragedy. This timeline comprised from the book encapsulates some moments of his topsy-turvy world heading into the 21st century:
• A reunion and possible record with an ex-Humble Pie bandmate was derailed when Marriott suddenly returned to England and died in a fire at his home in April 1991.
• The next year, Frampton found a doctor (Lisa Kudrow's father) who finally was able to relieve the excruciating pain of his cluster headaches. "The whole nightmare was a 24-year cycle," he wrote.
• In 1996, there was reason to celebrate with the marriage to his third wife, Tina Elfers, and the birth of Mia that same year.
• For 2000's Almost Famous, he served as "authenticity advisor" and wrote two songs for the fictional band Stillwater in director Cameron Crowe's nostalgic rock epic. Frampton also played a small part as Humble Pie's road manager who coughs up $50 and a case of Heineken during a poker game to "win" Penny Lane (played by Kate Hudson) and two other Band-Aids. The film "almost made up for Sgt. Pepper," he contends.
• Paying taxes in the States since 1975 and moving from Bel Air in California to Arizona to Nashville before Y2K, he decided on the day after 9/11 to become a U.S. citizen following a 2000 relocation to a Cincinnati suburb, where a recording studio was built in his new house. But in November 2002, Frampton believes he hit "bottom", getting thrown in jail for drunk driving, then vowing it's "my first and last DUI".
Attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every day for a year following that episode, Frampton proudly pronounces in the book, "I am in the 18th year of no alcohol. And for the last 18 years, things have gone from worse to great for me."
Peter Frampton rests after what he called a "rough day" in 1976 at Day on the Green in Oakland, California.
/ Credit: Photo by Michael Zagaris / Courtesy of Hachette Books
That's even after the diagnosis of IBM, which didn't stop him from proceeding on his spectacular series of concert dates in 2019 for what was called Frampton's Finale —The Farewell Tour. Only the United Kingdom/European shows scheduled to start in May 2020 were canceled, and that was because of COVID-19.
First realizing the severity of the coronavirus on a flight following a short vacation in Florida with girlfriend Robin Rains in March, he still manages to find humor in the darkest situations.
"On the plane back, I saw someone in front of us wearing a mask. And I thought, 'Wow, did I not get the memo?'" he jokes on our call. "And, of course, the following day when I looked at the news, there it was. We just got back home under the wire."
He even modeled a "Frampton Stays Inside" T-shirt on Facebook this summer to lighten the mood during these dark times. That might have helped ease the pain of not being able to visit his first grandchild, Elle Frampton Homburger, after Jade gave birth in New York on 6 April, two weeks before Frampton's 70th birthday. He was first introduced to Elle via Zoom and FaceTime.
"Us Tennesseans aren't allowed in New York, so that's … they don't want us there, so … as soon as I can, I'll be there," promises "Frampa", the punny name Frampton chose for himself. "It's very, very difficult,"
Saying he was playing it safe during the outbreak "because I have a weakness somewhere in my body," Frampton was upfront about his condition during our September interview as he and Rains were still dividing time between what he called separate "bubbles" in the Nashville area, where he returned to live in 2013. "She's got a lovely place out in the country, and so it's nice to have my weekends with her out there," notes Frampton, who has been taking walks in secluded areas to stay active.
While believing he's in good health and hoping to see positive results from a trial drug started a few months ago, Frampton admits, "It's a very slow progression, but it is progressing. So, yes, it is becoming harder to move the old legs, and it's harder with the arms and the fingers. So it's starting to create a few problems with playing, but I'm just changing my technique. (laughs) You gotta go with what you've got, right?"
If he never plays a live show again, at least Frampton sounds content that he could perform for a lot of his loyal (but maturing) followers again. Many of them (like myself) saw him transform from startling youngster in the early '70s to confident headliner in 1976 to a Grammy-winning artist selling out prestigious venues like Red Rocks in 2019, even if what's left of his once-golden locks are a whiter shade of pale.
Peter Frampton and Penny McCall (left) are welcomed at the White House by President Gerald R. Ford and his son Steven in 1976. / Credit: Courtesy of Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library
The 31 July rain-delayed concert at the majestic Colorado outdoor setting that I had the pleasure of reviewing was my favorite from last year for many reasons, particularly since it seemed so right and feel-good familiar after not seeing Frampton onstage for 43 years. While it wasn't quite the same as it ever was, the show that lasted almost two and a half hours still delivered with hit singles like "Show Me the Way", "Baby, I Love Your Way" and, with the trusty talk box that helped make him famous, "Do You Feel Like We Do".
Then there were hokey jokes (referring to protection for the instruments during a brief shower as "condoms on my gear") and genuine sentiment, updating the audience about his health and adding, "I believe you are gonna cure me" with their expression of "incredible, loving warmth." Other highlights were a stunning tribute to Chris Cornell (Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun", which appears on Frampton's Fingerprints, the award-winning 2006 album of instrumentals of which he writes, "they finally gave me a Grammy for not singing") and Humble Pie's "I Don't Need No Doctor" cover.
That night's final song seemed to be the perfectly fitting (and implicitly tongue-in-cheek) sendoff for fans wishing him well and getting perhaps one last chance to watch him celebrate in surprisingly fine form. As an inventive musician, solid vocalist, and charming entertainer, his comfortable stage presence and nimble, almost effortless playing appeared to be as fresh as that "Pretty Power Rocker" who graced the cover of Rolling Stone in 1976.
"The thing that I do that people like is I put on a good show," contends Frampton, who keeps on going while prominent '70s venues like the Warehouse, Winterland Ballroom, and Fillmore East sadly vanish. "And I've always been able to do that, and I think … the more people who have seen it, the bigger following I've had. And it's not like I've had huge No. 1 hits over the last 20 or 30 years, but my audience I built back to playing huge places again. Which was amazing to me. But that's what I planned."
This handyman's list of plans keeps building, too. As Frampton indicated in the book, he'll release an album of instrumental covers (to include Harrison's "Isn't It a Pity" and Jaco Pastorius' "Dreamland"). Some may call them swan songs but don't think this is the final chapter of his life.
A documentary film might even be in the works. Before rushing off to his next interview, Frampton allows, "Yes, we have" considered it. "I'll have to say more about that next time." Until then, feel really good while reading Do You Feel Like I Do?, an encore that hits all the right notes. And feel even better while anticipating Frampa's Grand Finale.
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