Peter Frampton evolved from British teen idol to guitar hero to international pop star. During his 50-year-and-counting career, he also played sideman for George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Jerry Lee Lewis, John Entwistle and his old school chum, David Bowie.
Forty years ago, Frampton released Frampton Comes Alive! The album sold 11 million copies, becoming, for a time, the bestselling concert album of all time.
Frampton modeled Frampton Comes Alive! upon Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore, the concert album he’d recorded when he was a member of the furiously rocking Humble Pie. Just as Humble Pie followed its popular 1971 studio album, Rock On, with Rockin’ the Fillmore, Frampton followed 1974’s Frampton, his likewise most successful studio project to date, with Frampton Comes Alive!
“We saw how we worked it with Humble Pie and just followed the same template,” Frampton said in advance of his August 5 return to Champions Square in New Orleans. “I followed the same plan and it kind of worked.”
It worked amazingly well. But matching the massive success of Frampton Comes Alive! proved impossible. Even though Frampton’s 1977 followup album, I’m In You, and its title song were hits, his career had already begun a steady descent. More setbacks came in 1978. Frampton costarred in the movie musical flop Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And on a rainy morning in June in the Bahamas, he crashed his rented car into a wall. New Orleans businessman John Georges (and now The New Orleans Advocate owner), then 17 and staying near the accident site, came to the seriously injured star’s aid.
Georges was the first person on the scene, Frampton said.
A decade after Frampton Comes Alive! Frampton’s fortunes ticked upward. Rock radio played “Lying,” a song from his 1986 album, Premonition. Also that year, Bowie, whom Frampton had known since he was 12, asked the guitarist to play for Bowie’s 1987 album, Never Let Me Down. And then Frampton joined Bowie’s band for the Glass Spider tour.
“David could have chosen anybody,” Frampton said. “Anybody. He’d just had Stevie Ray Vaughan on ‘Let’s Dance.’ But he chose me. And that was the biggest gift he could have ever given me—because I was then regarded as not a musician but a pop star. David knew that.
“So he reintroduced me as guitar player in stadiums all ’round the world. I’ve never been able to thank him enough. So, yeah, he was always there to help me. It’s sad that he’s not around. We miss him terribly.”
At 66, Frampton is happily engaged in his own busy career. He tours constantly. He’s a prolific songwriter. Frampton’s Nashville-based writing partner, Gordon Kennedy, cowrote the Eric Clapton hit “Change the World” as well as songs recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Garth Brooks, Alison Krauss and many more. Their collaborations include the singer-guitarist’s 2014 album, Hummingbird in a Box.
A Nashville resident for the past five years, Frampton loves it there.
“This is it for me,” he said. “Even though Nashville is growing by leaps and bounds, the core of it is still the same. So many incredible musicians and writers of all types here. And I’ve got so many musician friends here. If you’re a good player, you’re probably in Nashville.”
Frampton’s Champions Square show is a stop on a 27date summer tour. In New Orleans, he’s appearing with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Frampton, a genuine classic-rock star, believes that touring groups that assume the names of classic bands even though they have no original members are ludicrous. He’s fine with Lynyrd Skynyrd, though, which includes classic members Gary Rossington and Rickey Medlocke plus the late Ronnie Van Zant’s brother, Johnny.
“Skynyrd sounds like Skynyrd, because Gary is the original guy and he knows how to choose the people to keep it going,” Frampton said. “Many bands have changed members. Pink Floyd, they changed with Syd [Barrett] going and Dave [Gilmour] coming in. Things can change for the better or for the worse. But I do understand the crux of wanting to continue, because that’s what you do and you’ve made your name at it.”
A musician since childhood, Frampton has no thoughts of not continuing.
“I started off in my bedroom and then I came downstairs and played for my parents,” he said. “And then I went out the door and played for everybody else. Even if I can’t get a gig, I’ll still be playing.
“And I’ll always be writing. A painter paints. A writer writes. A photographer takes pictures. I write and play music. And not only do I get to write, play and record music, I get to play it in front of people. That’s the best part.”
For Frampton, an artist so heavily identified with performance, performing possibly is the most important work he does.
“On stage, I play from wherever it comes from. Certain parts of each song are written, but when it gets to a solo, creating is what it’s all about for me. Always has been. I never play the same thing twice.”
Peter Frampton and Lynyrd Skynyrd perform at 7 p.m. August 5 in Champions Square.