Favorite Musicians: Peter Frampton

Cover of Frampton Comes AliveCan someone with only one hit album be defined as a one-hit wonder? If so, then Peter Frampton is a one-hit wonder. But what a hit.

Say Peter Frampton today, and what do you think of? “Do You Feel Like I Do?” The talking guitar? “Show Me the Way”? Frampton Comes Alive?

It’s this last that made Frampton a household name. His music received attention before this 1976 live album. He was best known as the lead guitarist for Humble Pie, fronted by The Small Faces’ founder Steve Marriott. Frampton left in the early seventies and performed under the name Frampton’s Camel, who recorded the self-titled album that yielded the studio version of “Do You Feel Like I Do?”

But it was the live version that grabbed everybody’s attention. The album Frampton Comes Alive came out at just the right time. Frampton had those Robert Plant-like locks, could hold his own on guitar with the likes of Eric Clapton and David Gilmour, and had a set that was ready-made for this new thing called arena rock. Frampton Comes Alive was a monster.

Unfortunately for Frampton, his label and his management only saw the young golden rock god and thought little of the songwriting and musicianship, both of which Frampton excelled at. They rushed out two more albums without giving Frampton time to perfect any new material, focusing on his image. As a result, his career faded on the weakness of such offerings as I’m in You, a title most hair metal bands would have discarded after giggling about it for ten minutes.

Peter Frampton in 2006

Photo: Carl Lender, used under GNU FDL

But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity. Frampton might have faded from memory, but Frampton Comes Alive did not. It’s one of those albums that hits, then just stays there. As album-oriented rock faded from American radio, classic rock took over. By 1986, the world seemed ready for a new album. The looks were there, but now Frampton’s fret work was front and center in most people’s minds. He released Premonition, which yielded a hit, “Lying.” I snapped this one up when it came out. It had a lot of the typical 1980’s studio trickery on it – lots of synthesizers, lots of reverb, but damn if it wasn’t a good album. I actually prefer the closing song, “Call of the Wild,” to “Lying,” which is still a staple of his live show.

But he wasn’t done yet. In the late 1980’s, he toured as David Bowie’s guitarist, a gig that buoyed sales of his backlist and padded his bank account nicely. Frampton now only had to work when he wanted. Which is what he did. Around the same time yours truly moved to Cincinnati, so did Frampton, who now has a home in suburban Indian Hill. (No, I’ve never met him.)

Probably the best thing that ever happened to Frampton was his hair. As you can see from the second picture, the golden locks are gone. What’s left is a guitar player. This is pretty much how he looked when I saw him in 1999 at the late, lamented Jammin’ on Main festival in Cincinnati. The band was essentially the same band that appears on Frampton Comes Alive, which dominated the set. Gone now is keyboardist Bob Mayo, who died a few years later, but Frampton has managed to keep the same band from his heyday in the 1970’s.