A meager distance to the southeast of London sits Bromley. A regional market since the 12th Century and known as “Bromleag” centuries prior, Bromley was the home of author H.G. Wells, the renowned fictional writer who penned “The Time Machine,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Island of Doctor Moreau” and many other 19th and 20th century literary treasures.
The list of prominent and distinguished Bromley residents is lengthy. Among them are Charles Darwin, Oxford-educated actor, Michael York, musicians Billy Idol, David Bowie, Topper Headon of the Clash and, rock guitarist Peter Frampton.
Frampton’s attraction to music arose early. By the ripe old age of seven, prior to the ripple effects of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, it began when Frampton and his father uncovered an instrument box up in their attic. In it rested Frampton’s grandmother’s banjolele.
The banjolele, an odd, four-stringed banjo/ukulele consolidation, immediately beguiled the seven-year-old as his father played a simple two-chord melody.
Frampton went on to attend Bromley Technical High School, now Ravens Wood School, in Keston, a village in the London Borough of Bromley. His father, Owen Frampton, was the head of the school’s Art Department. One of the elder Frampton’s students, David Bowie, spent a considerable amount of time with the younger Peter.
At age 16, Frampton joined ‘The Herd,” a South London psychedelic band. Following the hit “I Don’t Want Our Loving to Die” and opening for The Jimi Hendrix Experience at The Saville Theater in ’67, the band gained traction.
Three years later and dissatisfied, Peter Frampton joined forces with the mega-talented Steve Marriott, guitarist and vocalist for the 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, “Small Faces.” The union formed the supergroup “Humble Pie.” “Spooky Tooth” bass guitar player, Greg Ridley and then teen-aged drummer, Jerry Shirley, completed the band’s remarkable roster.
Two years later, just prior to the band’s “Performance Rockin’ the Fillmore” super album release, Frampton determined that a solo career was in his best interests.
The years that followed brought success, disappointments and near tragedy. Nevertheless, Frampton boasts a star on the esteemed Hollywood Walk of Fame and remains regarded as one of rock’s finest axe men.
Peter was incredibly accommodating and spent some time chatting with us…talking talk-box, “Humble Pie,” Steve Marriott, David Bowie and more.
And, it’s always special discussing the British invasion with…well…a Brit. The accent augments the content.
Gary Levine: Peter…I spoke with Dennis DeYoung on Monday and he credits everything he has become to the Beatles, for all intents and purposes…for taking him from playing the accordion on Chicago’s south side to what ultimately became Styx. You began your craft at about the same time…prior to rock’s transition from Buddy Holly and Little Richard to the Stones and Beatles. As I grew up in the ‘60’s and 70’s, I had opportunities to listen to a significant amount of Humble Pie from “As Safe As Yesterday Is” forward. Like the Beatles, the music of Humble Pie was all over the spectrum as far as genre…rock, blues. Was this a matter of finding a sound or collaborative differences or something else?
Peter Frampton: “It was just because we were a democratic band. We wanted to…we didn’t want to follow…you know…okay, we gotta make hit, hit, hit. We just wanted to play music…music that we all liked…and music of each other. So, whatever anybody brought in, whether it was Greg, Jerry, Steve or myself, everybody got a shake. We tried. If it worked, it would be part of the record. If it didn’t, then it wouldn’t be. Everybody got a good shake. I think that was because Steve and I were both front men of other bands that had been more in the pop idiom. So, I think we wanted to get out of that…play some music…and music that we liked. So, Steve and I and the rest of the band had a very wide appreciation of music from Steve singing blues over rock riffs…which was kind of different at the time…to a country type of song…or a Ray Charles song. We had Doctor John. The influences…we just wanted to flush them all out. Our M.O. wasn’t let’s make as much money as we can….and write all these hits and have big albums. That wasn’t it. It was to have fun.”
Gary Levine: Peter…when I listen to “Bang!” or “As Safe As Yesterday”, I hear The Who, Led Zepplin…in fact, if you listen to “What You Will” and “Communication Breakdown,” they’re incredibly similar.
Peter Frampton: “Robert Plant was a huge fan of Steve Marriott…put it that way…and of the ‘Small Faces.’ So, there are more than a few similarities. There is one that is very, very similar to something that Steve had written. And Robert did give the nod to Steve about that. He was a huge Steve fan.”
Gary Levine: You decided to leave Humble Pie…actually right before the live album was released and that album went kind of wild. Going out on your own must be a difficult and stressful decision. I’m imagining that you and Dee Anthony thought long and hard about it. What prompted you to leave?
Peter Frampton: “I just wanted to be free to experiment on my own. Humble Pie had started off with a very wide appreciation of music and recording that…like we’ve talked about already…and, then, as we toured more and as we made more records, the direction kind of narrowed. It had gotten less and less acoustic and much more forceful. We loved all types of music but, to me, I was feeling that I needed the freedom to go and do…I was writing songs that weren’t any good for Humble Pie anymore. So, it was time for me to leave. I figured the best time to leave was before that live album came out because we sort of knew it was going to be successful, but didn’t realize that it would be our first gold album as Humble Pie.
Gary Levine: You’re coming to Naples, Florida to do an acoustic performance. It’s kind of ironic how, speaking of Dee Anthony, Humble Pie kind of tossed the acoustic sound and now you’ve come full circle.
Peter Frampton: “The only person that I would say had any say at all, that we listened to, was Glyn Johns, the producer/engineer.”
Glyn Johns possesses a production résumé potenially unequaled in the music industry. Upon that résumé one would find rock royalty including, but not limited to The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Led Zepplin, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, The Beatles, The Clash, The Steve Miller Band, Blue Öyster Cult, Rod Stewart, Humble Pie, of course, and just too many to name. Johns was rightfully inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 under the category of Award for Musical Excellence.
“He sort of sat us down one day after our first two records, with his brother (Andy Johns) as the engineer, and then we went to Glyn for the white cover, the “Beardsley cover” album (the artwork was done by erotic artist, Aubrey Beardsley), “Humble Pie,” and he said ‘look, I think you’re not using all of your strengths. Steve is the singer…Pete is the guitar player…Greg’s the bass player and Jerry is the drummer. OK?” We sort of realigned around that. I mean no one…none of us, in the band, had any problem with Steve singing more.”
Peter laughed. “I was such a huge fan of his!” If anybody was the one that was more reticent to be out front, at this point, it was Steve because he knew what had happened with the ‘Small Faces’ and it all came on his shoulders. Whereas, with ‘Humble Pie,’ it was more a shared responsibility with all of us.”
Gary Levine: Thinking of the talk box, “Do You Feel Like We do,” “Show Me the Way,” do you prefer electric or acoustic performances…do you enjoy one more than the other? Does performing acoustically alter your engagement with the audience?
Peter Frampton: “Yeah, I had no idea…I mean, I had done two or three acoustics in the show, quite a lot, at the middle of the show. I enjoyed that. But, I didn’t think I would ever want to do a complete evening of acoustic…until I decided that I was going to do acoustic renditions of my old stuff, that people know, and one new song. When I decided to try that, that’s when it was suggested ‘well, would you want to go on the road with this?’ I said ‘I don’t think so.’ Then, I thought about it some more and thought let’s try a dozen shows. Let’s go out…this was last October…we were still making the record…I was still working on the “Acoustic Classics” at that point.”
“Acoustic Classics,” released February 26, 2016, contains 11 ethereal, acoustic songs including “Baby, I Love Your Way,” “I’m In You” and “Do You Feel Like I Do.”
“And I went out. And within the first 30 seconds of the first number, I realized this is 180 degrees different from playing with the band, but I love it just as much. So, yeah, I’m very lucky in as much as I do enjoy playing acoustically as much as electrically. Completely different! The other part, that’s different on this show from the electric show, is it’s more of the stories of how the songs came about…the derivation…the women (Peter laughs)…the guitars…the tunings…the reason. So, it’s not a short show…it’s about two-and-a-half hours. People just seem to love it! To me, my whole M.O. for doing the album, first of all, was that I wanted it to be as if you came over…we were having coffee in the morning and I said ‘hey…I wrote this song last night and I’d love to play it for you.’ I’d sit down there, across the kitchen table from you, and I would play on an acoustic. That embryonic idea would come out…it’s the first time performed…and it would be just to you. It would be a very emotional, laid-back performance. That’s what I’m trying to do with doing the album. I didn’t want any special effects or anything. I wanted it to be just acoustic and voice. I wanted it to be just as if I’m writing the song, but you’re listening in. And the theaters we’ve been doing it in have been the old, refurbished theaters, in general, and the performing arts theaters, and it’s like a large living room. The crowd really, really enjoys it…and we do, too.”
Gary Levine: Your childhood friend, David Bowie, and your Humble Pie band member, Steve Marriott, as a member of Small Faces, have both been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While I have an endless list of complaints about the selection process and the Hall, as a whole, what would it mean to you to be inducted? Also, as we lost David earlier this year, I was wondering if perhaps you had a special memory or anecdote, about him, that you might share.
Peter Frampton: “Well, first of all, what is to be will be sure to come true about, you know, I have no expectation about being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If I am, fine. If I’m not, fine. It’s not an issue with me. It took me many years to finally get a Grammy (Frampton was awarded the 2007 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental album for the “Fingerprints” album released in 2006) for not singing (he laughed)…and that was so welcome at that point, from my peers, to choose me. That was wonderful. I’m so happy about the Musician’s Hall of Fame in Nashville (Peter was a 2014 Inductee). I feel like I’m in good company there.”
“As far as David…yeah, I mean it’s still really raw for me. My father was his art teacher, in the secondary school, for three years. Dad knew David and I and George Underwood, who did the cover for Ziggie. He was also in my father’s class.”
The George Underwood story is a classic. Underwood attended Bromley, as Frampton indicated, and was a member of Bowie’s band, “George and the Dragons.” According to legend, Underwood and Bowie engaged in a fistfight over a girl. Underwood struck Bowie in the left eye while wearing a ring and caused permanent damage. Bowie suffered Anisocoria as a result. Paralysis in Bowie’s left pupil created the easily-seen diversity between his pupil sizes. Underwood focused on art and became the illustrator for Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Underwood went on to create the album artwork for Mott the Hoople, The Fixx and many others.
“Dad let us store our guitars in his office. We would get them out at lunch time and sit in this very ‘echo-ey’ stairway…use it as a nice vocal echo. And we’d jam! So, that was something that I did…David, myself and George did…when I was 12 (Peter began to laugh). We’ve known each other since then. And, my father and my mother were really good friends with David. It was kind of like losing a family member, We’ve all lost David Bowie…the genius…which he was. We’ve kind of lost a family friend, as well. It’s a little tough.”
Gary Levine: What can your fans, in Naples, expect to see next month? And should we expect your shirt to be opened or closed?
Frampton chuckled. “You don’t want to see that now,” he quipped.
Peter Frampton: “Basically, I’m just going to go through my career, song-wise, and pick out the ones that I really want to do. Obviously, there are going to be songs that everybody wants to hear acoustic versions of. My son comes out, Julian Frampton, and opens for us. Then, I come out and do five or six numbers on my own. Then, Gordon Kennedy, my writing partner for many years…he’s a wonderful, wonderful guy and a great songwriter. He wrote ‘Change the World’ for Eric Clapton amongst many others but, of course, everyone knows that one. Then we tell stories and sing songs and have a great evening. It’s wonderful! The difference between this show and the electric show is that people come into an electric show and they find their seat and they sit back. They wait to see how loud the band’s going to be before they position themselves. This one…they come in and sit down and, when we come out, everyone sits forward. It pulls you in. It definitely is a closer, more emotional connection.”
Frampton comes alive at Artis-Naples on October 8 at 8:00 p.m.
Rock enthusiasts and those who revel in the unadulterated sound of the acoustic guitar should treat themselves to an evening with Peter Frampton. Tickets for this one-night-only event can be purchase through Artis-Naples by clicking here.
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