Peter Frampton

Rock's golden boy

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By Gary Graff  

Peter Frampton likes to joke that "there's still life in the old dog yet," and that certainly is true. His latest album, Fingerprints, takes listeners to a place they've never really been before with this iconic pop vocalist -- into instrumental territory.

Joined by members of the Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, the Shadows, and Gov't Mule, Frampton takes on fourteen tracks sans vocals, including a strong cover of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun." His hair may be considerably shorter now than it was in his halcyon heyday as rock's golden boy in the 1970s, but Frampton is still long on six-stringed talent that most definitely 'comes alive' whenever he picks up his guitar.

Q: Why an instrumental album?

Peter Frampton: Because I could, and it's been way too long with not doing one. I've always been a little nervous about doing it even though I started off playing instruments when I was a kid. Pre-Beatles, Europe and especially England was very much into the Shadows and Cliff Richard. That's where I cut my teeth, so it was time to go back there.

Q: Does something like this allow you to re-claim your reputation as a serious guitar player?

Frampton: I hope so. The guitar playing really got forgotten about because of the misguided press, and all the rubbish we went through after Frampton Comes Alive. For awhile there, I almost lost interest in playing guitar. I felt like "They don't even care whether I'm playing it or not." I was known as this sort of entertainer as opposed to a musician. It was kind of, "How did this happen?"

Q: What's your view, in hindsight, of your experience with superstardom?

Frampton: I'm glad I got to experience that, but I would never really want to be out on my own like that again -- not that I think there's too much possibility of that happening, but never say never. Cameron (Crowe) put it best. In Behind the Music, he said that all of a sudden I was strapped to the nose cone of a rocket, and I went through the ceiling and I was the only thing up there. There was nobody else. It was just me, and I had nobody to talk to. I was out there where nobody had been before, and I think that was the problem for me, there I was with very little experience as a solo artist. I'd always had hit records with a band, where you go to the other guys, "What do you think about this?" It's a support group. And I didn't have that. Everyone around me had their own agendas, and I wasn't strong enough to put my foot down and say "No, this is what I think I should do.''

Q: Do you think your experience with that kind of success proved instructive to others?

Frampton: Yes, absolutely. I can't imagine that Michael Jackson didn't closely look at my career when he had Thriller, like I looked to Carole King. I looked back and saw that it was very difficult for her after Tapestry and realized it's a blessing and a curse. The bottom line, though, is it's kept me going and put me in a position to have this wonderful, built-in following that's out there worldwide so I can go and play whether I have a hit or not. I'm very grateful for that.

Q: No signs of wanting to retire, then?

Frampton: No, I won't. Ever -- until I seize up. (laughs) I love to play music and I love to play music in front of people that appreciate good music. Even if I had Bill Gates' money, I would never be able to retire. It's not in the cards. My wife says, "Are you sure?" I am sure. I'm absolutely sure I'll never retire.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.