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Interview: Peter Frampton - Part Two: Coming Alive Again

Frampton shares what it’s like to perform the his seminal album nearly four decades later.

Last week, we took a look at the invigorating, coming-of-age years that led up to the shows that would make British guitarist Peter Frampton’s seminal record, Frampton Comes Alive. This week Frampton continues where he left off and brings us to now, sharing how he got his favorite guitar back after 32 years and what it’s like to still be performing the three-hour show nearly four decades later.

What sort of preparations did you make for the 35th anniversary tour?
Basically we just decided to get a band together and do it! We listened intently to the original album and decided to recreate the original set list, which isn’t what you hear on the vinyl, due to the time constraints of the format. We rehearsed diligently and got increasingly excited about the prospect of hitting the road to do Frampton Comes Alive! again for old and new fans.

The set for the album clocked in at around an hour and 40 minutes, and since the concert is three hours, that gave us the chance to do another hour and 20 minutes of music. So it was like, OK you got one you came for—Frampton Comes Alive!—but here’s what I’m really all about these days, like songs from Fingerprints [2006] and Thank You Mr. Churchill [2010].

Talk about the new band you assembled for the project.
On keys and vocals we’ve got Rob Arthur; on guitars and vocals, Adam Lester; on drums, Dan Wojciechowski; on bass Stanley Sheldon; and my son Julian joins us on vocals on certain numbers.

We’re lucky to have Rob Arthur, who’s got a lot of the same vibe as Bob Mayo [the original band member who died in 2004]. He’s such a musicologist and has a deep understanding of music. He plays a little guitar as well, so we can have three guitars going at the same time if we’d like. Adam Lester is a fine session player from here in Nashville via Australia. He also has an incredible voice that blends so well with the others.

Dan W.—you’ll have to look up how to properly spell it; sometimes even he spells his own name wrong [laughs]—is the engine of this band. He can capture so many different feels while channeling that of [original band member] John Siomos [who also died in 2004] so well but also has a style all his own. Of course, back with the band on the bass is the incredible Stanley Sheldon, who played on the original album. We are happy to dedicate the tour to Bob and John, who are surely looking down smiling upon us for recreating the album.

Did you set out to recreate the original album as faithfully as possible or did you leave room for certain liberties?
When we originally released Frampton Comes Alive!, it was a document of many long nights on tour. What you hear on the record was played differently the night before and the night afterwards. So while the original album has gotten seared into peoples’ DNA, we have avoided trying to capture all of the same idiosyncrasies. I can’t play the same solo every night—or even twice—so there is a lot of ad lib in our concert.

Speaking of improvisation, what do you think makes an ideal guitar solo?
Ask 10 guitarists that question and you’ll get 10 different answers. One of my favorite soloists is Audley Freed of the Black Crowes, who also does a lot of sessions here in Nashville, and I’ve professed my admiration to him. Audley’s approach is often to build a solo from nothing to a great crescendo, and never in the same way twice. That to me is an ideal way of going about it.

What was it like to play Frampton Comes Alive! in concert so many years later?
Right at beginning of the tour it was pretty phenomenal because many members of the audience had been familiar with the program since the 1970s and there was a tremendous feeling of anticipation. When we did our first show, in New Jersey in May of 2011, the crowd went ape-shit when we walked out onstage. It was kind of like Frampton goes Rocky Horror—the people knew what they were getting into, and were extremely excited about it.

What have the audiences been like now compared to the original ones? Much older [Laughs.] To be honest, we have felt honored to play for multiple generations of fans during the tour. In between and during songs, there hasn’t been quite as much of the screaming as there was 40 years ago—that first moment notwithstanding—perhaps because we haven’t had this “rock god” look this time around. Thank god for that! [Laughs.]

How did you go about deciding on the selections for the DVD and CD sets [which only share five of the same recordings]?
We recorded over 100 shows during the tour and made a log of every show on the tour. Then we agreed on which selections we liked the best as a band, often not just a song but an entire set. We “narrowed” things down to 40 sets, so this meant in the end I needed to hear “Show Me the Way” 40 times to pick the two very best versions! I combed through everything in a very diligent way, and this took months of intense listening—and madness.

Talk about the equipment you’re currently using.
You’ve probably heard the incredible story of the Phoenix, the guitar I got back that was lost in a plane crash 32 years ago in Venezuela. It’s the 1954 three-pickup Les Paul that I originally used on Frampton Comes Alive!, which was long mistakenly assumed to have gone up in flames. I reunited with it around Christmas of 2011 and started using it on tour in February of this year. I also play [Gibson Les Paul Historic] reissues, including a ’59 and a ’60, as well as a Strat, similar to the Hank Marvin signature model. For acoustic stuff I have a great Martin, my own D-42.

In terms of amps, I love my 1970s 100-watt Marshall heads and I’ve also got a 1965 [Fender] Bassman. I use a lot of pedals. A Klon Centaur Overdrive is my main overdrive and I also use a [Ibanez] Tube Screamer, a DigiTech Whammy, and some by Electro-Harmonix like the [POG 2] Polyphonic Octave Generator, among so many others. For the talk box, I use the one made by my own company, Framptone, which naturally is the best! [Laughs.]