Peter Frampton:
The TVD Interview

When you say the phrase “live rock album,” one of the first albums on the lips of many a music fan is always Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive! From his early days with Humble Pie, to recording one of the best-selling live albums of all time, Frampton has established himself as in influential icon to many guitarists around the world. Now in the third act of his career, which involves everything from writing music for ballet to a traveling jam session with other guitar luminaries, Frampton is showing no sign of slowing down.

As he gears up to make 2014 a busy year, Peter took some time to talk to us about the past and the present, and even got surprised by an old review that he had never heard. What struck me most is the fact that Frampton, while fully embracing his past, has greeted the present with open arms, always looking to try something new and finding inspiration from artists of yesterday and today. If time had permitted we could have gone on for another hour.

You’re bringing Frampton’s Guitar Circus back this summer, along with a solo tour and a tour with the Doobie Brothers. You’re definitely making this an interesting year!

Yeah, it’s a three-pronged attack. It’s a solo tour, solo dates, Doobies date, co-headlining with them, which is an honor. Then the Guitar Circus, which will be in California only, I believe, in August-September.

Your new album, Hummingbird in a Box, is described as “Inspired by the Cincinnati Ballet.” That’s not your typical inspiration for a rock guitarist.

No. It came from writing some pieces of new music to be part of this performance we did in April of past year. In Cincinnati, three performances, we did older music in the first act, and the third act, but the second act, I wrote these seven pieces of music with Gordon Kennedy, my writing partner for many years now. They wanted to do just old music, and when I suggested that I actually write a half an hour of new music, they went berserk.

That’s where this came from, that’s why it’s inspired by them, and that’s why it’s a little different. It’s not like my normal type of stuff. It’s still me, it’s still got my flavor, but it’s definitely something that was very freeing to write, because there was no format to follow, as far as songs or instrumentals.

That is fascinating. Did you actually perform it live with the Cincinnati Ballet?

Yes we did! This time last year.

Have you had any other “off-the-beaten-path” ideas for an album?

Not really. Well, one day, I would like to write some music to be performed with a symphony. Just guitar and symphony. That is a goal of mine. Who knows, one day.

That would be amazing. Going back to “Frampton’s Guitar Circus.” You put this together in 2013. You had people like BB King, Steve Lukather, and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. Tell us how that came about.

It was just an idea that I was talking about with Ken Levitan, my manager. We were talking about, “how do we follow up the 35th Anniversary of Comes Alive! tour, which was incredibly successful. I said, “I think I want to have as many guitar players on stage as possible,” [laughs] and we came up with the concept. He said, “Why don’t we call it a “guitar circus” or something.” I said “Yeah! That’s it!” So, it was something I didn’t know how it would go, how difficult or how well it would be received, but it went reasonably easy, but when you’ve got different people sitting in with you on Monday, Wednesday, and then somebody else Thursday and Friday, then somebody else on Saturday and Sunday, you’ve got a lot of material to learn.

Oh, yeah. I can imagine.

I think we had over twenty people sit in with us, so there was a lot of learning material, but the benefit was that the final analysis was incredible fun. It was all worth it, and the crowds loved it. With Don Felder doing “Hotel California,” that ain’t bad!

Not at all! You had such varying personalities, from Pearl Jam to B.B. King, and everything in between.

Yeah, and Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick!


On one of the nights, we had Rick, and Larry Carlton sitting in as well on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the end. There’s Rick Nielsen and Larry Carlton jamming with me. That’s when the “Circus” name really meant something to me. It’s sort of like a traveling crossroads, but it’s all walks of guitar. It’s not just blues, it’s every style. It just went to prove that you could mix it all up, and it always works. Music is music, and people love it. If it’s good. If it’s good music, then people will love it.

Recently you tweeted that you were in the studio recording with your son Julian. What are you guys working on?

He sang on my last record. We wrote a song called…oh, god, it left me. Anyway, we wrote a song, and he sang lead on it. Geez, that’s bugging me that I’ve forgotten what it’s called. [laughs] Anyway, you can look it up.

It turned out so great, it was one of the better tracks on the album. It was only a matter of time. He’s a very, very prolific writer. I made him choose half a dozen, which I helped him do. We cut six of them, we kept five, I think we’re gonna redo one. He’s coming in at the end of next week to do the vocals and finish it up. I don’t know what’s gonna happen to it. I hope that we can get a home for it so that people can hear his talent. It’s a very difficult time in this music industry for someone new, unless you’re, as David Crosby calls them, a “pop-tart.” [we both laugh]

That’s a great description. Is it pretty fulfilling to be working with your next generation, who’s getting ready to carry the torch?

Absolutely. Yes. He’s got all these influences that I do. He loves rock. He loves real rock. He likes three guitars and drums.

Not “pop-tarts.”

No. You know, Pearl Jam and Jack White, Soundgarden. Audioslave. We share a love for that kind of music. On top of that, he’s listening to other stuff that I don’t listen to. Tool, and all sorts of other stuff that I don’t quite understand like he does. He’s got that influence in there as well, so of course it’s a new thing.

That’s cool. You mentioned Soundgarden…you did a fantastic cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” on 2006’s Fingerprints, and you regularly play it live. What first drew you to the song?

It was one of those songs…there’s two songs that sort of hit me the same way. When you hear something and you don’t know why it’s grabbed you more than other songs. One of them is “Whiter Shade of Pale,” many years ago, in the ‘60s, by Procol Harum. This song, “Black Hole Sun,” I don’t know what it is about that song, but it just, from the very first time I heard that song on the radio, it became one of my favorites. I got frustrated because I would have loved to have done it, but I could never do justice to the vocals. Chris Cornell is phenomenal.

At the time, I was sitting in with Pearl Jam on the 2004 Rock the Vote. They invited me to come up and jam with them, in Ohio, so I did. While I was there, I spoke to Mike [McCready] and Matt [Cameron] and Jeff [Ament] of Pearl Jam and said, “Look, I’ve decided it’s time to do an instrumental record. Would you guys help me out on a track?” “They said, “Well what track are you thinking of doing?” I said, “Black Hole Sun.” Of course, it didn’t dawn on me at that particular second that Matt is the drummer from Soundgarden! [laughs]

What a coincidence!

So I said “Oh my god! Do you mind playing it again?” He said, “Of course not! It’d be a great thing to do.” It had to be really good, you know what I mean? That was the genesis of it. Of course, when we got together, we jammed on another riff I had, so Pearl Jam, Matt ,and Mike, ended up on two tracks on Fingerprints.

What did they think when you decided to bring out the talkbox later in the song?

It wasn’t my idea!


Yeah. It was Matt’s. When we finished the track, Matt said, “You know what Pete, can we just hear, maybe cause it’s not a vocal, just do one chorus through the talkbox?” I said “Really??” I don’t know what it is, but everybody…they can’t wait for me to put that tube in my mouth! [laughs]

Even though many musicians have used it, did you ever think that you would be the guy that was forever linked to the talkbox?

I have to share that with my good friend Joe Walsh. We’ve spoken about it, we are both custodians of the instrument. People look to us, and we’re very honored that they do. I still think that “Rocky Mountain Way” is the definitive talkbox solo. He did that before I was doing the talkbox. JUST…only a few months, but he was the first, and it’s a beautiful sound on that.

Yes it is.

I can’t get the sound he gets, and he can’t get the sound I get with it. It’s different.

Well it’s funny, because the minute you say “Rocky Mountain Way,” it’s like OF COURSE, but if you say to any rock fan, “talkbox,” Peter Frampton is their first response.

I know, I know. And I’m not sure Joe’s thrilled with that [laughs]. When people mention it, I always bring him up, because he deserves that. If it weren’t for him doing it, I wouldn’t be doing it.

I totally agree. Does he use your signature model talkbox?

No he doesn’t! Heil still makes his, and I think his has like ginormous speakers in it now or something. He’s got his own special brew, of course I use my own Framptone here.

Years ago, you lost your beloved black Les Paul in a cargo plane crash in 1980. Years later, it’s recovered and back in action. Did it feel like a piece of your soul had been returned to you?

You know, it’s so incredible…it’s a fairy story, something that doesn’t happen. It only happens in books and movies. Having thought that it was completely burnt to a crisp and back to the earth for thirty years, when I first saw a picture of it, two years before I got it back, it was earth shattering. I had gotten used to the idea, for thirty years…begrudgingly, I missed it terribly. It wasn’t the world’s greatest Les Paul, it was just my Les Paul. It was on two very important live records—Humble Pie’s Rockin’ the Fillmore and mine, and everything in between and afterwards for ten years I had that guitar. It’s on George Harrison’s stuff, it’s on Harry Nilsson’s stuff, it’s on John Entwistle’s stuff…it’s on everything I played on in that ten-year period. To get it back, words don’t mean anything. There isn’t a word to describe the feeling. I think, “Oh fuck!” was my main loud word. [laughs] “You’re kidding me!”

Let’s go back to Frampton Comes Alive! Legendary live record. 1975-76 proved to be a huge leap forward for live rock albums. You had your album, Kiss’ Alive!, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same, and Bob Seger’s Live Bullet, just to name a few. Did you have any idea at the time that you would be part of such a turning point for live rock albums?

No, not really, because I’d already done the Humble Pie one, Rockin’ the Fillmore in ’70 or ‘71, so to me, the reason for doing Comes Alive! was that I felt the same thing was happening during my career as happened with Humble Pie, that the audience reaction was bigger than the record sales, so let’s give ‘em what they want. It was time to do a live record. I didn’t really have any idea, it was my own personal agenda as far as what to do next. That was in the cards. It was pretty obvious, management, agent, record company, we all came up with the idea at the same time. It worked before, let’s do it again. I didn’t realize what it was gonna be at all. No one had any idea.

Are you pretty proud that it’s become sort of a benchmark for live albums?

Well, yes, obviously. I’m proud and very lucky that that night was such a special night. The band was so good, and we played great. Are there things on it that make me wince when I hear it on the radio still? Of course there are. That was before tuning! [laughs]

Well, you’re always your own worst critic. Every musician is.

Yeah, absolutely.

What was it like to revisit Comes Alive! 35 years later?

It was great, because when we started playing, it was the first time with this incarnation of my road band that they had done all these numbers together in one show. I just remember rehearsals were very exuberant, it was very exciting, because I could see that they were excited to play them, and the very first gig, which was somewhere in New Jersey, the audience went berserk! We used the introduction, Jerry Pompili’s introduction from the live record, and that was it. From the opening drum fill from “Something’s Happening” onward, it was a phenomenal night, every night.

I’d like to rewind the clock a bit further. In a 1970 Rolling Stone review of Humble Pie’s As Safe as Yesterday Is, Mike Saunders said, “Here Humble Pie were a noisy, unmelodic, heavy metal-leaden shit-rock band, with the loud and noisy parts beyond doubt.” What was yours and the band’s reaction to this review?

Well, I’ve never seen it, I’m devastated!

Really? [we both laugh] You all didn’t see that review way back then?


Oh, wow. So, what’s your reaction now, 44 years later?

You know, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, and we don’t like bad reviews, obviously no artist does. We were thrilled with it, so that’s a good thing about a band, because you can go, “Ah, fuck them.” It’s like, we know we enjoyed it, we like it, and that’s all that matters.

Be sure to catch Peter Frampton live on tour this summer.
Head here for a full list of tour dates.

Peter Frampton Official Facebook Twitter


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