I’ve always dug Peter Frampton. Well, I should say I always dug his early music. And I’m not just talking about Frampton Comes Alive! I’m such a music nerd I went back over the years and purchased all those early studio albums. Frankly there’s some great stuff there. I’m not sure why it took the iconic 1976 live album to make him a superstar. It’s a similar story to Kiss (Alive), Seger (Live Bullet), or Cheap Trick (At Budokan), some acts needed the stage to catch their electric chemistry. I would highly recommend any of his first four studio albums: Winds of Change, Frampton’s Camel, Frampton or Something’s Happening. Many of the tracks on those sadly ignored albums finally got the attention they deserved on the live album but the studio versions are absolutely worth hearing too. All of his early solo stuff was kind of laid back and there’s a lot of acoustic stuff there, but man when he solo’s, there’s just something about his beautiful, melodic guitar tone. It’s instantly recognizable.
With all that said, I’m like the rest of you. I was introduced to Frampton’s music via Frampton Comes Alive! Mike Meyer’s in the movie ‘Wayne’s World’ said that Frampton’s live album was shipped to every suburban household like samples of Tide detergent. It truly was everywhere. Everyone I knew had that album. I remember being with a bunch of beer drinking friends and we went over to this guy, Billy Edwards’ house (name changed to protect the douche bag). Billy’s parents were older and he lived upstairs in what can only be described as a “suite.” There was a ladder leaned up against the back of the house and instead of going through the front door and meeting the pesky parental units, we just climbed the ladder up to this guys’ high school bachelor pad and climbed in the window.
We were beer drinkers but Billy wanted to sell us some oregano that he was passing off as pot. I remember standing in a circle laughing with these guys and thinking, I’m not buying this shit, it’s not pot. I was never an herbal enthusiast anyway. Billy had a great stereo that his brother had left behind and a ton of records. He was a spoiled kid, the baby of the family…but I digress. Anyway, he had put on Frampton Comes Alive! and it was the first time I’d heard that record. During the climactic sequence in “Do You Feel Like We Do?” when Frampton was using his “talk box,” a device that distorts the voice, my buddy kept going, “Man, he’s making the guitar talk there…” I couldn’t help but think, “you might wanna lay off the oregano there, pal, that’s a fucking talk box.”
Despite that less than ideal introduction, I immediately knew I had to pick up Frampton Comes Alive! It was a live, double-album which meant a bigger investment of the ol’ lawn mowing money so I hesitated for a little while. I’d put it on my birthday list, but alas nothing flat was wrapped in the gift pile. All I wanted for any holiday back then was records and all I got were things like socks and underwear. My brother went and visited my grandparents a few months later and returned with… a gift for me. I shit you not, my Sainted Grandmother, Grandma ‘Sini bought me Frampton Comes Alive! If that’s not a weird way to receive an album, I don’t know what is. Luckily she didn’t roll up an oregano joint and send it with the record…
As a long time fan, I was sad when I read last month that Frampton had announced his “farewell tour.” I thought, sure, farewell indeed. But looking deeper I realized that he’s got some serious health issues. He’s suffering from something called inclusion-body myositis. It’s an auto-immune disease (no, not AIDS related for the scandal-mongers amongst you) that attacks and weakens the muscles, especially in the fingers and knees. It’s not fatal but it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun either. It’s a dark ride folks. Enjoy life before it sneaks up on you with something shitty like this.
As I processed all of this information I suddenly realized that Frampton had a new album out, entitled All Blues. Actually, the album is credited to the Peter Frampton Band: Frampton on vocals/guitar, Rob Arthur on keyboards/guitar/vocals, Steve Mackey on bass, Dan Wojciechowski (I’d like to buy a vowel) on drums and Adam Lester on guitar. Considering the middle of the road rock and roll that has been the hallmark of Frampton’s career, it may have been a bit of a surprise to many people that he’s chosen to do a blues record. Many people may have forgotten that Frampton was a founding member, along with Steve Marriott from the Small Faces, of the blooze rock band Humble Pie. He only left Humble Pie after their seminal live album, Rockin’ The Fillmore. A blues record is really a return to Frampton’s roots.
I have to admit, everything I love about rock and roll springs from the blues so I was excited about Frampton, a superb guitar player, doing a blues album. But with the backdrop of his illness I was afraid this might be a bit of a downer affair. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This album is a blast to listen to if you dig Frampton, the blues, and or guitar playing. I haven’t been interested in a Frampton album since I’m In You and that was in like, 1979, so this was a very pleasant surprise.
He has some friends drop by to join the party. First and foremost, to kick off the record Kim Wilson of Fabulous Thunderbirds fame swings by to sing the opening track, “I Just Wanna Make Love To You.” It’s a nice start. Blues dude Sonny Landreth and Frampton trade guitar licks on a surprisingly good version of “The Thrill Is Gone.” You better be good if you’re gonna take on a B.B. King song. Deep Purple’s Steve Morse shows up to lend his guitar chops to a very bluesy “Going Down Slow.” Frampton almost growls over Morse’s fabulous guitar fills.
While this is a blues album, Frampton doesn’t play it completely by the numbers. He has the jazz guitar legend Larry Carlton, who played on a lot of early Steely Dan records, drop in for a wonderful, jazzy “All Blues.” It’s a track written by Miles Davis and these guys just nail it. It ranks amongst my favorite tracks. Frampton also does an instrumental version of the Ray Charles’ classic “Georgia On My Mind” that is another highlight.
I love the selection of tunes here. “She Caught the Katy” which I originally heard the Blues Brothers do is just great here. “Same Old Blues,” a track Eric Clapton did a long time ago is also really great. “Me And My Guitar” made me feel like I was in a south side of Chicago blues bar. Frampton’s guitar playing is as tough as it ever was and that beautiful tone he gets is fully in tact. I can’t believe he didn’t do a blues album years ago!
My favorite track on this album, hands down is “King Bee.” I’m much too old and dignified to admit how geeked out I was when I heard Frampton use his talk box on this track. I was as excited as I’d be if I just climbed a ladder into a high school bachelor pad and people around me are smoking oregano. It’s a great tune with great guitar… but when he accentuates the “I’m a king bee” line with that talk box, it’s like you’ve been stung, baby! Ah, the 70s came back in full force for me.
This could have been a terribly sad affair but there is so much great guitar and so much joy in this album, I recommend it to anybody and everybody. Here’s wishing Peter a smooth road on this awful illness path! If this is the last we hear from him, he’s going out the right way.