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Peter Frampton forgets the words (not really) on new album: Q&A

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Thursday, April 22, 2021

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Peter Frampton is not letting a pandemic, or a debilitating neurological disease, slow him down. In fact, just the opposite.

The veteran artist's new album, "Frampton Forgets the Words" (out Friday, April 23) is the latest part of a blast of work that began shortly after he announced his battle with Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM), a slow-moving degenerative condition that's atrophying his muscles. Since then Frampton has released an "All Blues" album, staged a farewell tour and published an autobiography (last year's "Do You Feel Like I Do?: A Memoir"). And he's been stockpiling recordings with his band for future releases.

"Frampton Forgets the Words" is a sequel of sorts to 2006's "Fingerprints," another all-instrumental collection that scored Frampton, 71, a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album. The 10 tracks on the new set touch on early career friends and collaborators such as David Bowie and George Harrison, a love of Motown with covers of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder tunes, and more contemporary fare from Radiohead, Lenny Kravitz and Alison Krauss. Uniting them all is Frampton's emotive, lyrical guitar tone, a rich and resonant voice of his own that speaks to the taste, grace and resilience that has marked his career since the mid-60s....

So...you've been busy.

Frampton: (laughs) I have, yes. I've been doing lots of promo for the book, and now it's sort of like one long promo session, going from the book to the record, now. And we've been doing videos of the tunes from the new instrumental record. A real enjoyable thing I did was (a video for) "Let It Rain" with the Doobies; That was so much fun to do, and such an honor to play in the same video with those guys. So I've been busy, and then writing, of course, lockdown writing. That's every day. It's either lyrics or music every day. I just keep doing it -- otherwise I'll dry up.

With the IBM, too, there's a certain amount of urgency.

Frampton: Yeah, exactly. "Forgets the Words" was recorded about two years ago. We did "All Blues," and there's another blues album at some point that'll come out, and half a solo album. I haven't done any recording with the band in awhile because of COVID, but we'll get back to it as soon as we can.

Making instrumental versions of songs, especially famous ones like Roxy Music's "Avalon" or Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way," can be tricky. What's the key to approaching them effectively?

Frampton: It always goes back to the Shadows. Everything goes back to Hank Marvin. They were doing originals to start with, but then they did covers of everything and I would listen to how they do it. My guitar is a voice...and I sometimes think my guitar voice is stronger in communicating than my vocal voice. It's something I've worked on my entire life. The key is to, like a vocal, make the second verse as interesting as the first verse and the third, ad infinitum. It changes with different inflections, but basically it's the same melody. It's just changing it up a bit so it stays fresh all the way through.

How did you select this particular batch of songs?

Frampton: I didn't back down from a challenge -- as always. The band and I made long lists of great songs that we thought would make good instruments. There were some we tried and I'd go, 'No, this isn't working' and we'd move on to the next one. But I chose some really popular songs, but they are tributes, they're not versions. Well, yes, they are versions, but they wouldn't be on the album if I wasn't proud of them as pieces of music on their own. All of them in their own way was a challenge. I was nervous as hell to do these songs, but I picked 'em.

"Avalon" is a particularly gutsy choice. What attracted you to that?

Frampton: I think "Avalon" is one of those albums that I put in the perfection category. Over the years I would EQ my speaker placement to "Avalon" because itís just great players, (engineer) Bob Clearmountain...It's Roxy Music's finest piece of work, I think. It's their "Sgt. Pepper," if you like. I wanted to capture Bryan Ferry's throw-way vocal style on that, 'cause it's so laid-back. I'm proud of "Avalon" because I think that the sound I used, obviously it's not his voice but it conveys what he did with his voice on that song.

You're no stranger to Stevie Wonder songs. "I Don't Know Why" is a cool deep track to pick.

Frampton: I've always had a soft spot for a Stevie Wonder song every now and again, 'cause he's a huge influence on me as well as so many other people. I remember when I'd done "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" (on 1977's "I'm In You"); He played on the track "Rocky's Hot Club" and I played him "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" and he was dancing around the studio. He was like, "Hey, you know who I wrote the lyrics with to that?" "No." "Me and my mom!," and if you look there's two Hardaways on the written credits. And he was very nice to me when I was in the hospital after I had that bad (auto) accident in the late 70s. He called me up in the middle of the night in my hospital room and sang me three songs. Talk about giving you strength to get well! I'll never forget that.

Marvin Gaye's "One More Heartache" -- again, not obvious and, like the Stevie track, not really a "guitar song." What appealed to you about it?

Frampton: That's one I started at home a few years ago. That was a huge hit in England, but nobody knows it here (in the U.S.). I remember when Berry Gordy sent everybody to England; They were all on one show that toured England -- Stevie, Smokey, the Supremes, the Four Tops. I was not old enough to go to those, unfortunately, but they needed more singles to support the tour, so I believe ("One More Heartache") came out then and it always hit me, that song. There's just certain songs that grab you, and that's always been a favorite. I wrote an extra bit in there, just more of a movement out of the original song, a bunch of eBows stacked to give it that kind of stringy, brassy effect that's not on the (Gaye) record.

You've done a lot of video work with these tracks as well. Since you can't really tour anymore, is that becoming more of an integral part of your creative life?

Frampton: Absolutely, yes. We have our own film company now, so (Frampton band keyboardist) Rob Arthur and I are Phenix Films. He's turned into this Rob Kubrick, phenomenal director, cinematographer and editor, and I'm pretty techy on that side, so the team is good. He's very sought-after now; He's done all the Doobies (videos) and one for Dave Mason as well. We started out doing, like, promotional liners for the finale tour; Usually it's a different crew for each one, from whoever you're doing it for, and I said to Rob, "I just feel so much more comfortable when it's just you and me. Why don't we just do our own? They'll be better," and it was just eye-opening how easy it was and how much more enjoyable it was to do it with my bandleader.

You've been working on a documentary about yourself. What's the status of that?

Frampton: We had to shut that down because of COVID. We were trying to possibly do interviews with other film crews, sort of where you get two hotel rooms and the camera crew sets up and leaves the room and the interviewer and the person are the only two people, 10 feet apart, in the room. But nobody wanted to do that, either, and I don't blame them. It just got a bit scary. As soon as everyone's got their second jab we'll hopefully be getting back into it again. In the meantime we're concentrating on the new record here.

It's been 50 years since you left Humble Pie and went solo. Seems like a good decision, on the whole.

Frampton: I think so, yes. I would've loved to have still be in in Humble Pie and do everything else, but I just couldn't. There's been moments (laughs) or years where I've thought, "What did I do wrong?" But due to my strength of character that was given to me by my parents I think I weathered the storms and through doing what I love most, which is touring and playing live, I turned it all around. So I'm pretty proud. I'm very happy with where I am now -- I couldn't be happier.

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