Success came early to Peter Frampton. Embarking on a teen idol career in his native England, he soon crossed the pond to conquer the Americas as well. He had a prolific run with the band Humble Pie but he’s best remembered for his solo output in the 70s, including one of the best-selling live albums ever to hit the street. Let’s take a look back at this innovative musician, whose songs certainly didn’t suffer from lack of airplay in the 70s.
Frampton became interested in music when he was just a child and learned to play the guitar and the piano. He took part in several bands formed with other schoolmates, all before the age of twelve. In 1966, he was front man and lead guitarist for the band The Herd, releasing many singles popular with teenyboppers. At 18, Frampton was voted “The Face of ‘68” by English pop music magazines. The young musician also played with Humble Pie at that time and did session work on former Beatle George Harrison’s solo album, All Things Must Pass. Humble Pie released five albums but in 1971 Frampton left to try his hand at a solo career.
His debut album, Wind of Change, featured many guest artists like other former Beatle, Ringo Starr and soul man Billy Preston. Frampton was a big believer in live performances and toured extensively, even forming a band called Frampton’s Camel to back him up during the shows. Frampton’s Camel was also the name of an album released in 1973, though the live shows were Frampton’s bread and butter. Clocking in at almost 200 performances a year, audiences couldn’t get enough of Peter, his camel and his talking guitar. But wait! A talking guitar? Surely, inanimate objects can’t talk! Well, Frampton’s guitar could and did – often. He used a “talkbox”, a sound effects device that allows a musician to alter the sound of an instrument – usually a guitar – by changing the shape of his mouth. The talkbox is activated by a foot pedal and when Frampton sang into the microphone, his voice would sound merged with a distinctively electronic guitar voice. Trippy, man.
(Note: Frampton gives an excellent demonstration of the talkbox at 05:50 of this video performance on Midnight Special.)
It wasn’t until 1976 that Peter Frampton became a chart-buster, his previous albums falling by the wayside. That year, the live concert album Frampton Comes Alive! was released and made the artist a superstar. The album climbed to #1 in the charts and stubbornly stayed there for weeks, fending off other contenders who foolishly enough had no talking guitar. It went platinum six times and to date, it’s the fourth best selling album of all time. The most recognizable songs on that double-album include “Baby, I Love Your Way”, “Show Me The Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do”. Frampton followed this huge success with I’m In You, again featuring guest artists like Mick Jagger and Stevie Wonder.
Bad fortune hit in 1978 when Frampton survived a car accident in the Bahamas, which left him with extensive injuries. He bounced back in 1979, releasing “I Can’t Stand It No More”, a Top 20 hit. Resuming his live concerts, he won a Gold Ticket award when 100,000 fans filed into Madison Square Garden to watch his show.
Frampton continued to record albums through the 80s and 90s but they met with minimal commercial success. In 1995 he released Frampton Comes Alive! II, containing live versions of album songs from the previous 15 years. More recently, he has toured with classic rock bands like Foreigner and Lynyrd Skynyrd, made a memorable appearance in a Geiko insurance commercial, and poked fun at himself in animated form – on both The Simpsons and Family Guy. His innovative music remains a staple of classic rock stations nationwide.
If you were a fan of Peter Frampton, maybe still have a copy of Frampton Comes Alive hanging around your music collection, we welcome all of your thoughts in our comments section.