Photo by Austin Lord
Peter Frampton On His Farewell Tour, Living With I.B.M. & Reclaiming 'Peter F**king Frampton'
The first thing you notice when speaking to guitar-rock pillar and GRAMMY winner Peter Frampton is what a sweet, upbeat guy he is. Calling me directly from a break on his Peter Frampton Finale—The Farewell Tour, Frampton is in cheery spirits as he recounts how Eric Clapton asked him to perform at Crossroads Guitar Festival, which takes place this weekend in Dallas.
Frampton's own tour, his ostensible last-ever one, wraps up in mid-October, but he could always add on more dates—it just depends on his overall health.
In February of this year, the "Baby, I Love Your Way" singer revealed to CBS This Morning that he had been living with a disease called inclusion body myositis (IBM), a progressive muscle disorder characterized by muscle inflammation, weakness and atrophy. For a performer like Frampton, who has been playing guitar since he was eight years old and is best known for his early work with '60s supergroup Humble Pie and for popularlizing the "talk box" as a solo artist (among other things), a diagnosis like this could be brutal. But it's only making him work harder: In June he and the Peter Frampton Band released All Blues, a collection of grooving classics featuring guest spots from the Fabulous Thunderbirds' Kim Wilson and guitarists Larry Carlton, Sonny Landreth and Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple).
And there's more music coming. When asked how this diagnosis has changed his professional life, he says frankly, "It's forced me into to not being lazy. I've never made three albums, four albums in a three-month period in all my life. It's very enjoyable to know that we can do that. I just want to do more of it. Whether it comes out or it doesn't come out, it's for me. I'm doing it for me. That's the only way an artist should work is to do it for yourself."
Below, Frampton dives deeper into his ongoing creative renaissance, his state of mind in dealing with the day to day of I.B.M. and why he's now totally fine with you calling him "Peter F**king Frampton."
Where are you on the touring timeline right now?
Well, right now we're in our second break. We've got four days off. Then we would've had a week off, only then Eric Clapton asked me to be on Crossroads. We're doing that on Friday. That's wonderful.
I looked at the remaining tour dates. According to Ticketmaster, your final tour date is on Oct. 12. Is that actually the case? Might you add some more?
Well, this is the thing. Yes, that is the last date of the official Farewell Tour. At that point, I'm going to reassess within November how I am, how my playing is and how much my playing is being affected by IBM. First of all, I don't ever want to stop playing.
That's obvious because of my passion for so many years. They say music is my life, but guitar playing is what I do for all my life. I do not want to go out and not play as well as I can play today, if you know what I mean. Because right now I'm doing really well. I'm really enjoying playing. But things are starting to change. I have to be realistic.
Have you found that by continuing to play every day that you’ve in some ways slowed what might be a typical progression of this disease?
I was on a plateau, we call them. But now it has started to speed up. It's such a slow moving thing. It's like watching paint dry, thank goodness. But I am noticing changes. Yes, in legs and arms. That's just the way it is. As far as there is no specific drug yet for IBM. It's the only myositis that doesn't have a drug, a known drug. I will be starting in October my first, when this tour finishes, I'm going straight to Baltimore to Johns Hopkins to start a drug trial.
Right. I'm sure that they have talked to you about what that entails, but what specifically does that look like when they say there's a drug trial for this?
I'm not a doctor, but basically they test your muscles the first visit. Then you go away and they take, it's a needle biopsy, and they send you away for three months. Nothing, you don't get the drug yet. Then you come back three months later and do the same thing to see how you have progressed in three months or what or not, or plateaued or whatever in that time. Then the second visit is when they do that. Then they give you the drug. Then it's eight months I believe on the drug. You come back and you do it again. That's when they get all the results from everybody as to progression, plateau, whatever at that point.
I also read that you do work out every day to strengthen your muscles. Is it tricky to work that into the touring schedule?
Well, it was an imperative thing for me. Whether I want to or not, every day I have someone that travels with me that it was necessary added expense. I've never had, that's like a luxury. Have a trainer on the road with you, but it sounds like very over the top. But for me it's a necessity. Health-wise it helps some, I can't tell you how much it helps exercising. It's just strengthening what you have left and confusing the IBM. Because now you're a little bit stronger than that last week maybe. You've just got to go at it full force.
Even if you don’t tour regularly—or at all—after The Farewell Tour, will you still record? Based on your output this year, I get the sense that you will.
Yes. We've done 3.6 projects right now. We have 0.4 to finish on the fourth project, which is a solo album. Then once we've done that, I think I just want to record and play as much as I can while I can with my incredible band. They are incredible as you can tell by the blues record. That's no session, well they are session players. Because if they're not playing with me, they could play with anybody. Because their that caliber of player. I'm so lucky to have them.
I know we joke but, but we would say, "Well, we've done four albums in three months, why don't we do, next is the Christmas album." I've never done a Christmas album. Maybe there'll be a Christmas album. Maybe there'll be an Easter album. I don't know at this point. All I know is I want to write and record whether they be my songs or cover other people's songs. I just want to have fun with my band in the studio for as long as possible. Yeah, that's it. I mean I have the studio in Nashville. I'm so lucky. It doesn't cost me anything to go in there, which is wonderful.
As somebody who has such a long, storied history with the guitar, do you ever feel a sense of frustration in the moment if and when your playing level isn’t what it used to be, due to the progression of IBM?
Yes, I do. Luckily, my frustration level is not high because I'm able to do pretty much everything I could do last year today. It's just getting a little bit more difficult. I'm 69. I think even Segovia, the legendary classical player, I remember he would and he would come to England and play. I remember seeing him once and he made a flub. He was in his 70s. He stopped. He put the guitar down. No, I mean he verbally put the guitar down and said, "She is not treating me well today." He made a joke about it, which I thought was so great and so positive. I know how to act if that sort of, but luckily I haven't had any really frustrating moments yet. I'm lucky.
Yes, absolutely. Backing up for a second to your recent release, All Blues, I would love to know what the genesis was of your deciding to go in this direction, sonically speaking?
Well, two-fold really. I wanted knowing what I had and knowing how it progresses, I just wanted to get into the studio as soon as possible. The easiest way to do that was to do covers. Then we had just done 71 shows last year. Maybe 50 of them were with Steve Miller Band. Steve I've known since I was 20. He came to England. I was obviously big friends with his producer/engineer, Glyn Johns, who'd worked with Humble Pie and The Stones and everything. It was all a very small circle.
I've got to meet Steve in 1970. We've been friends ever since. When we decided to go out and do a tour together, we actually ended up doing two summers together. He would ask me up to play some blues every show during his act. I really got back into it. It reminded me of Humble Pie days. That's part of my playing too. On the way home, I just said to the guys in the bus, I said, "When we get home, what do you think we take like a week, 10 days off. We just go into my studio and we do a blues album. Send me all your favorite blues numbers. Let's make a huge list and see how many we can do.”
That's what we did. We did not record that much, but in time we got a lot of tracks. We had enough for over 35 blues songs. We attempted 23, we kept, or 24 like that. There's another bunch, there's another album's worth of a blues album, but I wouldn't put that out next. Then we moved on to again, because I didn't have time to write, we did an instrumental record of covers of all different styles or whatever. Now we've done two blues albums, an instrumental album. Then I said, "I'm starting to write here guys. Why don't we go back in a couple of weeks. I've written a half a dozen songs." We went back in. We did some new stuff as well. That's the one we have to finish. It's like I say it's three quarters done, whatever. Then we'll move on to something else. But it's just, the more I play ... what's the thing, if you something you lose it?
If you don't use it, you lose it.
Right. If you don't use it, you lose it, right? The more I played, the better and longer I'll be able to play. That's why I want to go straight into the studio again when we come off the road. Maybe do another couple of 10-day sessions with my band or something. I don't even know what that will be yet. It's just so much fun to take them in the studio and create.
It sounds like this has been something of a creative Renaissance for you. Does that sound true?
Yes, absolutely. It's forced me into to not being lazy. In my later career life, now become prolific in a way that I ... I've never made three albums, four albums in a three-month period in all my life. It's very enjoyable to know that we can do that. I just want to do more of it. Whether it comes out or it doesn't come out, it's for me. I'm doing it for me. That's the only way an artist should work is to do it for yourself.
Because yes, you hope that other people will like it. But that's not the way I work. I did for a very short period in my career. It was the worst time trying to worry about what people might want from me. Instead of as always how I started was, you don't follow a trend, you make a trend by being a unique, hopefully. That's what I still maintain. I don't do things for anybody else but myself and the band. We're all on the same page. Who knows what we'll come up with.
One of the things that also struck me about just your career as a whole is the friendships you’ve formed. You’re such an affable guy. That quality seems to have birthed some really rewarding relationships and friendships in your career. Who were some of the most rewarding relationships that you can think of right off the top of your head when you look back.
Well, the first person that I met because Humble Pie first came over in '69 and we opened for Mountain. Those guys became really close friends. Felix Pappalardi, who produced Cream, I really looked up to. He was a mentor. He had a tragic end to his life, but he was someone that I really respected. He was an early mentor of mine and Leslie West, they were just good friends. They looked up the Humble Pie for that first tour. I mean the people that have meant the most to me, obviously George Harrison taking me under his wing and inviting me in to be part of the session group of these incredible players as I was leaving in 1970, '71 was a giant thing for me in my life to be accepted by all these top session musicians.
Beatles, it's tough when you're trying to work out a part for a track and you look up and half The Beatles are in the room.
It's intimidating, but they were such, and are ... Ringo is still one of my closest friends. I think he's someone that's, him and Bill Wyman of The Stones discovered me in this band The Preachers when I was 14. He became my older brother basically. David [Bowie], obviously, we went to school together. He was three years older than me. But we maintain friendship right until the end. Yeah, he was always, even then for the instrumental record, I told him I was going to do an instrumental record. He said, "Perfect." I said, "But I need," there was this one track, I needed a great sax player. I knew that Dave is cutting edge with musicians or was, always was. Even a sax player too, Dave. He loves sax playing. He recommended Courtney Pine from England. I called up Courtney Pine. David was even helping when I did my instrumental album.
Wow. That's amazing. Well, I’m afraid I can’t let you go without asking an obvious question. And I apologize if you’ve heard it a million times before. But the name “Peter Frampton” is a bit of a favorite to reference in pop culture, like, say, in Reality Bites, and then the obvious example of High Fidelity. I really do wonder to what extent people approach you and just say, "Is that Peter F**king Frampton?" If that does happen, how do you respond and what's your feeling around that? Do you laugh?
Well, I think one of my daughters walked out of the cinema, she was upset. So I didn't see it.
Oh, my gosh. I'm sorry.
But I said, "It's okay. It's okay." Then yes, for a while there it was, but it's still there. But after a while we started having one of our crew members dress up like the master of ceremonies at the circus and come out. He's a great character, Cody. He would go say, "Are you ready da, da, da?" Go, "Are you ready for Peter F**king Frampton?" He would announce me like that and they would go nuts. It was kind of a shock to start with, but I see it as a term of endearment.
I guess it's like the Affordable Care Act was then called by the right, Obamacare and Obama used it. It's the same thing, really.