Peter Frampton - Biography
By J Poet
Grammy-winning rock star Peter Frampton achieved his crowning moment with Frampton Comes Alive! (1976, A&M, 2008 A&M), a live double-album that went platinum six times in US sales alone. Frampton Comes Alive! moved another 16 million copies around the world, making it one the best-selling albums of all time, and elevating Frampton to the pantheon of rock’s greatest. He would follow up his triumph with five more gold and platinum albums over the years, but never recapture the momentum he created with Alive!.
Peter Frampton was born in Beckenham, England in 1950. He taught himself to play a multitude of instruments beginning at seven years old when he discovered a dusty banjolele in his house. He then taught himself to play guitar, and first performed in public at a Boy Scout variety show when he was eight. Frampton would take classical guitar lessons when he was 10, before joining up with The Preachers, a band that was managed by The Rolling Stone’s bassist, Bill Wyman. He dropped out of school to join the pop band The Herd in 1966, and with his boyish good looks and curly blond hair, he helped the outfit to become a teenybopper phenomenon. Rave magazine named dubbed him “the face of ’68.”
Though the band had a hit single that year—“I Don’t Want Our Loving to Die,” which hit #5 on the UK charts—Frampton left The Herd to start Humble Pie with Steve Marriott, the former frontman of Small Faces. The Pie’s hard rock-cum-R&B sound was immediately successful, especially in the States. As Safe As Yesterday Is (1969, Immediate UK), the debut release by Humble Pie, was the first album ever to be called heavy metal by a reviewer. Town and Country (1969, Immediate UK) and Humble Pie (1970, A&M) were hits, but Rock On (1971, A&M) and Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore (1971, A&M) went gold. Though Humble Pie was teetering on a major breakthrough in the mainstream, Frampton was dissatisfied with the direction of the band. He quit Humble Pie and moved to Los Angeles in 1971 to pursue a solo career.
After working with George Harrison on All Things Must Pass (1971, Apple) he cut his first solo record, Wind of Change (1972, A&M)—which featured cameos by Ringo Starr and Billy Preston—and took to the road. For the next four years Frampton toured the States incessantly while dropping Frampton’s Camel (1973, A&M), the gold-bound Frampton (1974, A&M), and Somethin’s Happening (1974, A&M; 2000 A&M), all of them doing fairly well and earning his live show a rabid reputation. Even still, nothing could have prepared him or his label for what happened next.
Frampton Comes Alive! (1976, A&M; 2008 A&M) exploded within a week of its March release, and established Frampton as an arena-rock icon. He went from playing mid-sized theaters to selling out 100,000 seat venues, as Comes Alive! remained at #1 for the entire summer and most of the fall in 1976. The three hit singles—“Baby, I Love Your Way,” “Do You Feel Like We Do” and “Show Me the Way”—became staples of radio rotations. The stage was clearly where Frampton translated best, and, though it was later discovered that the live album was doctored for production value, the live vitality on the album would ultimately prove hard to match.
The subdued follow-up I’m In You (1977, A&M) went 3X platinum, but it couldn’t compete with Alive!, which even a year later was still a best-seller. Again, Frampton was broadening his musical palate on I’m In You, as songs on the album such as the piano-centric title track proved.
After starring in the film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Frampton went on vacation and nearly died in a car crash in the Bahamas. He didn’t know if he’d ever be able to play again, but recovered fully and made Where I Should Be (1979, A&M), which still proceeded to go gold in spite of media criticism.
Distressed and disillusioned after a lackluster album Breaking All the Rules (1981, A&M), Frampton stopped touring and recording until Premonition (1986, Virgin)—which spawned the hit “Lying.” In 1987 he played on Bowie’s Never Let Me Down (1987, EMI) and played in Bowie’s band on the Glass Spider world tour. The lo-fi outing Peter Frampton (1994, Relativity; 2008, Sony Legacy) was followed by Frampton Comes Alive! II (1995, IRS), which was once again a great live set, but still not the blockbuster he was seeking.
In 2000, Frampton had a bit part in Almost Famous playing Reg, the road manager for Humble Pie. Now (2003, Framptone/33rd Street), his first studio foray in nine years was well received by critics with its dabblings in ballads and edgier rock numbers like “Verge of a Thing.” The all-instrumental album Fingerprints (2006, A&M), with heavy does of vintage Frampton guitar, saw him return to peak form. The album won a Best Pop Instrumental Album Grammy that year, and proved that there’s still some tricks up his sleeve.
Frampton continues to tour and is planning another album for 2009.