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He Knows the Way

Peter Frampton talks about music, short hair and hitting the road again.

October 06, 2000|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Peter Frampton will come alive yet again, this time Tuesday night at the Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks. The 1970s rock legend is on the road to sell his latest release, "Live in Detroit," as well as to play all of his many hits, such as "Show Me The Way" and "Baby I Love Your Way."

After surviving a number of kid bands, Frampton became a rock star as one of the long-haired hunks fronting Humble Pie. By the early '70s, he was on his own, touring like a madman, sometimes doing more than 200 shows a year. At the age of 26, the young guitar player hit the jackpot with "Frampton Comes Alive," a huge hit and still the top-selling live album of all time.

Now 50 years old, Frampton lives in Cincinnati, is married with children, has a lot less hair but is still touring and making albums. He's pretty much done it all.

Frampton has appeared on "The Simpsons" and has two of his songs featured on a recently released Disney project, "Tigger Mania." Frampton's music has been heard the world over, and he was honored this year with a Peter Frampton Signature Les Paul guitar.

He has stories to tell.

You've been doing this for more than 30 years, which is an eternity by rock 'n' roll standards. How do you account for your longevity?

Well, I don't know, really. I don't ever really let commercial success, whether it be there or not, affect my drive for my music. When I don't have family things to do and everyone quiets down at the end of the day, that's my time where I play every day for a couple of hours at night, and I've done that my whole life. It's just something I have to do. The longevity as far as the audience is concerned, I guess, is that I've got a couple of tunes that have stood the test of time. Over the last four years I've really concentrated on getting back on the road, and whenever I start to do something live again, it reactivates my career because I'm the live guy. Sometimes, you know, you have no control, and other times, you still have no control.

When did you decide you wanted to be a musician?

The first time I saw Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly on TV on one of the very few rock shows we had around 1957 or 1958. Once I saw "Summertime Blues," that was it. It was the guys with the guitars--that was what I liked. But my main man, who I am now friends with, was Hank Marvin from the Shadows, the English group that used to back up Cliff Richard. If Cliff wasn't No. 1, the Shadows were No. 1 with all their instrumental stuff in Europe. They were sort of the Beatles before the Beatles in England, instrumental Beatles really. Hank Marvin & the Shadows were my teachers. Ask Pete Townshend or Jeff Beck or any of those guys and they'll probably say the same thing. Hank Marvin was the man, then the Beatles came along and we all had to learn to sing.

How did the success of "Frampton Comes Alive" change you? What did that sell, a bazillion copies?

Yes, it's up to a bazillion and three now. That album definitely put me on the map. Up until that point I was well-respected [as a] guitarist and somewhat [respected as a] singer, but mainly a guitarist. I think "Frampton Comes Alive" brought that to the general public, but it also brought with it the way I looked. Cameron Crowe said something like, "The best thing about Peter was that he was a good-looking guy with a lot of talent." The point is, if you look too good, people don't take your talent seriously. This has happened time and time again for both men and women. I've heard someone call it the Brad Pitt Syndrome, then again, Laurence Olivier once called it the Vivien Leigh Syndrome.

It's been a few years since you cut your hair; can you go to Starbucks and get away with it these days?

Well, I used to, but since "Behind the Music" on VH-1 and all that stuff, people recognize me now with short hair. Maybe I'll have to get a wig. To be honest, it was overnight anonymity when I cut it back in '92 or '93. Everyone knows that it's the easiest way to change your appearance without plastic surgery. Bank robbers pull a job with a wig, then take it off.

Tell me a Humble Pie story.

Humble Pie was the best band I ever could've been in. It was great with me and Steve working together--he was my mentor. I was and still am a huge Steve Marriott fan, a man oozing talent from every pore of his body. Just to be around him and to be able to play and write with him was just a privilege. We didn't get along that well, but we had a tremendous amount of respect for each other. Onstage, Humble Pie was dynamite. A lot of people thought I was just the sweet lyrical jazzy rock lead lines over the top of everything guy. Steve was more responsible for the R&B side of it and I was more responsible for a lot, but not all, of the rock riffs that became Humble Pie songs.

You were in the hilarious "Homerpalooza" episode of "The Simpsons." What was that like?

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