Peter Frampton was a leader of English Rock & Roll movement in the 1970s, sparked by the massive popularity of his epic 1976 live album, Frampton Comes Alive. Frampton is celebrating the 35-year anniversary of the album on the road with his "Comes Alive 35 Tour," which comes alive at Riverbend's PNC Pavilion this Sunday and features a performance of the entire milestone album in the first set. Frampton continues to evolve as an artist, as evidenced on his Grammy-winning 2006 album Fingerprints and his newest record, Thank You Mr. Churchill, released last year. CityBeat spoke with Frampton recently about the album's impact and how special music still is to the legend.
CityBeat: Frampton Comes Alive came out in 1976 and really defined a whole decade of music. What was your greatest Rock & Roll moment of 1976?
Peter Frampton: That’s a tough one isn’t it. When you get the call from management or the record company that your album has gone to No. 1 in the U.S.A., which at that time meant you had sold a bunch of records — today it is completely the opposite — that was such, for me, an incredible moment, realizing that not only do I have a hit album but it went to No. 1. That is very, very special for an album. A single is one thing, but an album …
I remember where I was, where I took the call. I was sitting in the bed in my bedroom. I was just getting up late in the day because of the partying back then. I took the call from my manager and he told me to “Sit down.” So I sat back down and he told me. It was pretty incredible and it stayed No. 1 for the entire summer. It was pretty amazing.
CB: What has been your highlight of 2011, 35 years later?
PF: I think it’s pretty much the same feeling every night when we walk out on stage. The first couple nights on the tour in New Jersey and at The Beacon in New York, when we walked out to see the people, it was like they had been transported back in time. The ovation was something pretty incredible. It gave me chills. It made me realize we do normal shows where we do bits and pieces of Comes Alive but to actually tell people we are going to do it from beginning to end just this year because it’s a big year to celebrate it, to see and experience the audience and their reaction, it is pretty incredible. You see people crying. It is very hard unless you are there to explain it. We get the same feeling every night because the audience reacts about the same way everywhere. But the first couple shows were very special because it was new to us to see this incredible reaction.
CB: You are playing the whole album in its entirety this tour, right, instead of just playing pieces of it like you have done in the past?
PF: Yes. We do the whole thing then we take … at Riverbend we are going to take a short intermission after doing Comes Alive and then we come back and do some newer stuff from Thank You Mr. Churchill and also the Grammy award-winning instrumental record. Then we’ll do some Humble Pie and do some covers. You come to see Comes Alive and then we take a short break — we have given them cake and now it is like hors d'oeuvres. We start again and show them what has been going on ever since Comes Alive and I think it is eye-opening for a lot of the audience. I say after Comes Alive, “Don’t go away because the best is yet to come.” The audiences have really loved the second set. I’ve gotten some wonderful comments like, “Frampton Comes Alive was great, it was everything I expected and more but the second set was mind-blowing.” So we have got some amazing comments on it.
CB: You have lived in Cincinnati for over 10 years now. Do you ever check out local bands on the growing music scene?
PF: I haven’t been out in Cincinnati in years, only because I am only there long enough to re-group and off I go and work again. I will, I promise when I get some time, I will go out and yes, I do want to check out new music there. But I haven’t been home. I am either on the road, in Cincinnati for a few weeks or in Los Angeles because my daughter is out there in school. So, it’s difficult. I am very transient.
CB: One of the questions I am sure that has come up a lot lately is whether you plan to stay in Cincinnati and continue to live here? (Ed. Note: Frampton reportedly recently filed for divorce from his wife, who was the reason he moved to Cincinnati in the first place.)
PF: Yes, yes I am.
CB: You started music at a very young age playing guitar with friends like David Bowie. Did both of you know you were going to be Rock stars when you were growing up when you were playing so young together? When did you guys start having discussions about your future of music?
PF: I think David and I were both very determined, (but) maybe we didn’t know we would actually be musicians for the rest of our lives. David was training to be an artist, my father was teaching him art. He is a terrific artist, as well. I don’t know whether he was thinking that would be what he would do. Music was just so important to both of us that we didn’t know at that particular moment, but as soon as I started playing in bands when I was 12 or 13, I didn’t understand passion or associate passion with what I was doing, but I realize now that is what it was. I found my passion very early in life. It doesn’t go away. It always rejuvenates itself because a passion is a passion and it is lifelong. We did not know were going to be professional musicians but I think we were the same kind of people. We are very determined and we don’t give up. It is like I am an Energizer Bunny — my battery might run out, but there is something else that keeps me going.
CB: You guys have remained friends throughout = the years and still work together?
PF: Yes, yes we have.
CB: Were your parents always supportive of your choice to pursue music?
PF: Not at the beginning because, as I said, my father was a teacher and my mother worked for the head mistress of the girl’s school, she was an assistant. They both were in education. When I finally came to my parents and said, “Look I have this offer from a professional Rock band,” and I am 15, it didn’t go down very well. But they knew, they could see. They couldn’t keep holding me back.
My mother was a frustrated actress and was awarded a scholarship for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in England when she was younger, but couldn’t accept it because in those days you didn’t become an actress. You went out, got a job, learned to type and you brought money into the family. An acting job back in those days was similar to a prostitute or the same respect (level) basically. So my mother I think had always been a frustrated actress. When she saw that I had the passion for music, I think, she never pushed me, but I think she was the one that worked my dad around to the fact of saying, “I think we are going to have to let him do this.”
CB: I saw your tour schedule and it is pretty packed for six months this year. How is touring different now than it was on your first world tour?
PF: I think it is much easier now. We don’t travel by plane because, who wants to wait three hours at an airport to get on a plane? We travel by bus and it is really like a traveling hotel suite. We are very lucky. We have a great organization, the people that I have picked to work with me on the road. It’s sort of like a traveling circus. We are a circus. I have some wonderful, wonderful people working behind the scenes, as well as in the band, obviously.
Everybody is doing this because they want not because they have to and we are lucky to have that. We are lucky to have a job because so many people don’t right now. And we are so lucky because we love what we do. I have often said that I haven’t worked a day in my life and that is the way I really feel. We play music, we don’t work at it. I realize how lucky I am and we are.
Touring now, we have it down to a science. Yes, we get tired sometimes when we get a lot of shows in a row very quickly, but we pretty much have it planned out. It is a very healthy situation nowadays, rather than the old days when substance use and liquor was plentiful. It’s no secret I am working on my tenth year of sobriety. In November, it will be 10 years. Everyone in the band calorie counts with our little apps on our iPhones. Basically, everybody says, “Did you workout today? The gym is pretty good.” We are very health conscious and we know we have a long, arduous tour and it is much easier to tour these days because we are in shape. I have a very in-shape band.
CB: You can design a Peter Frampton workout and sell that.
PF: Absolutely. You know what, that is so great. I came up with this but someone else would have anyway. I am lucky enough I have a gym at the house in Cincy. I work with a trainer; it was three times a week and now it is going to be more. I would be home for a few weeks and we’d get up to speed and then I’d leave and I have no will power. She’d say, “Don’t forget you have to do these exercises,” and I’d say, “Ok, no problem!” and then I don’t want to go to the gym. So now we Skype. We did it the other day, we did it four days a week and there she is on my screen with my bands and my weights. She puts me through my paces while I am away. It’s phenomenal. I think I am going to start "Frampton’s Skyping Workouts."
CB: Not guitar lessons, workouts.
CB: A lot of musicians are now writing autobiographies and books. I saw a couple books about you, but not a book that you had written. Is that something you would consider in the future?
PF: There are plans to do a book but it is just waiting for the right situation. I think there have been so many musician books. The problem is that a lot of the books have to be sensational and I’m not really into that — when you live it, it doesn’t seem so sensational. I’m not going to be the sort of author that is going to write all this seedy stuff that people want to know. Because of reality shows, people want to know everything about you, from morning, noon, and night for your whole life. I have a story to tell, but my personal life is pretty private and publishers are not outwardly interested right now unless you dish the dirt and I do not want to dish the dirt on anybody else. I absolutely have no dirt on myself. I know nothing! (Laughing)
CB: We’ve got an election year coming up next year. Are you planning to be involved at all in the campaigns as you did in the past with the Vote For Change Tour?
PF: Yes, I am sure. I’ll do my bit. I think a lot was made of my signs being stolen out of my front yard last time which I thought was hilarious. I’ll be putting them up and they’ll be taking them down again I am sure. We are such a polarized country and we are digging our own grave here. Something has to change. I’m mad with them all now.
CB: Why don’t you run? You can run.
PF: Right! I think there are so many fundamental problems within government that it’s incredibly frustrating. I think the rest of the world may have the same financial problems that we do but they seem to be getting down to agreeing on what would be the best way for their particular country to figure it out. We can’t even agree because we don’t want to give the other guy any good ideas or give him the benefit of their success and it goes both ways. I think we have to get over that and I have no idea how you do that but start again and that is not going to happen. We are in a very difficult situation time period in government in this country and it has to change. I’m sorry I have no idea how that is going to happen.
CB: So I shouldn’t start the Frampton for Governor grassroots campaign?
PF: Oh yeah, that will be great. I wouldn’t be able to spend all my time on the state because I’d have to practice guitar every day. I’d get flack for playing guitar then.
CB: I assume you play guitar every day, but what is the longest you have put it down?
PF: I think a couple of weeks. Sometimes at the end of a very long tour I might put it down for a week. I tend to think it is good to take a break sometimes. When you pick it up again, it is all brand new again and you realize how much you love what you do. At the end of a three hour show I don’t go back to my hotel room and practice. I am exhausted. The following day, I wake up and I look across the room and I have my acoustic there. In fact I just put it down before this phone call. I’ll never get over it. I’ll never get over the lust of playing guitar. I don’t know where it comes from, but I am glad that I got it.