Peter Frampton at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury
Music has an amazing way about it. It can bring forth many memories, some happy, some sad and some suppressed. It can produce the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It is a fluid medium. It's never static. No. It's rather fluid. It is always open to interpretation. And best of all it has a way of reinventing itself.
When an artist decides to release and acoustic album or go on an acoustic tour, the results, for the most part, are the most genuine expression of his/her music. The acoustic performance (whether live or recorded) allows for the singer to connect with the listener's very soul. It is also an amazing opportunity for the singer's audience to learn about the process and the true meaning of the songs. When the artist is of Peter Frampton's caliber an opportunity to hear and see him perform in-person and acoustic is a gift...a gift that must not be missed.
For those who may not be in-the-know, Frampton is a Grammy Award-winning (for Best Instrumental Album--2006's A&M release Fingerprints) member of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. He has achieved success as a solo artist, as a member of Humble Pie and as a member of the Herd. He has recorded and toured with his old school chum, the late David Bowie. He has also worked and recorded with members of Pearl Jam, B.B. King, members of the Rolling Stones, Warren Haynes, Harry Nilsson, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Bee Gees, George Harrison, Robert Cray, Don Felder, Rick Derringer, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Steve Lukather, Sonny Landreth, David Hidalgo, Roger McGuinn, John Entwistle and many others. Frampton's most loved songs include "Show Me the Way," "Lines On My Face," "I'll Give You Money," "Baby, I Love Your Way," "Do You Feel Like We Do" and "Breaking The Rules." and "I'm in You."
The English guitarist does not let grass grow under his feet. He is constantly breaking new ground and exploring new creative endeavors. His 2014 CD, Hummingbird In A Box: Songs For a Ballet (Phenix Phonograph/Red Music Distribution) was written for the Cincinnati Ballet. The mostly-instrumental album is jazzy, bluesy and sweet. His most recent CD Acoustic Classics (Phenix Phonograph/Red Music Distribution, 2016) is a stripped-down affair featuring (what else) acoustic versions of his classic hits including but not limited to "Lines On My Face," "Show Me The Way" and "Do You Feel Like I Do." The album also includes a new song, "All Down To Me" which was co-written by Gordon Kennedy, his writing partner of 17 years. Kennedy was also the producer of Frampton's Grammy winning instrumental Fingerprints and was the writer of Eric Clapton's Grammy-winning song "Change The World."
In 1976, Frampton set the world on fire with Frampton Comes Alive! (A&M Records). The two-record live album was his fifth solo recording and it is a monster, to this day, remaining as one of the top-selling albums of all time. The album made him a household name. It made him a huge star. It helped land him a starring role in the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie. His photo, with the smiling face and long golden brown locks, was everywhere.
Peter Frampton today is a bit different from the Frampton of 1976. He is now in his sixties. Though he is still quite fit, the long locks are a thing of the past. His voice, however, is strong and clear. He can command the stage by just picking up a guitar. He doesn't even have to play. And yes, he's still a helluva guitarist.
On a cool late October evening, Frampton was joined by his son Julian and Kennedy at Westbury, NY's cozy NYCB Theater for an acoustic evening that brought forth Frampton's best stories, his best recollections of the genesis of his songs and the best in his audience. And as a bonus, it was sort of a homecoming for Frampton. The venue is only a short drive from the former site of the Long Island Arena (in Commack, NY) where a large portion of Frampton Comes Alive! was recorded.
Julian Frampton opened the festivities. Playing guitar with Ben Sheridan on keyboards, he played a strong set of melodic and erudite songs including covers of the Beatles "Hey Bulldog" and Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide." Julian told a story about how he got together with Sheridan. He said, "I like coffee. Every morning I would go and get a cup and I became friendly with the barista. So friendly that we started writing music together. He's right over there on keyboards. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ben Sheridan." Julian and Sheridan also shined on "Ghosts" a song from their independently released 2015 CD Half And Half.
After a short intermission Peter Frampton appeared on the stage. Opening with "All I Wanna Be (Is by Your Side)," The audience was immediately struck by the subtle nuances brought to light in the song's acoustic format--nuances that easily get overlooked when performed with a full band and electric guitars.
Frampton was in a very jovial and talkative mood. He spent the evening offering up the stories behind the songs and insights into his music and the creative process. One particular highlight was a great story about how when he was a Cub Scout he got his music badge by playing Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue." He further elaborated that he had at one time gotten a call from the Buddy Holly Foundation. He was asked if he was interested in performing one of Buddy's songs for a benefit album and he of course said, "Sure. I'll do 'Peggy Sue.'" The problem was that Paul McCartney was already promised that song. So he offered to record another song. A few months later he got a call asking if he still wanted to record "Peggy Sue." When he asked what had happened with McCartney, he was told that the foundation could not find the Beatle. A roadie then brought out a special replica of the Buddy Holly acoustic guitar commissioned by Holly's widow and the Holly Foundation. The guitar was specially made for Frampton and featured one of the frets from Holly's original guitar embedded in the new guitar. He then played a spine tingling version of "Peggy Sue."
Frampton also told a story about George Harrison and how during the recording of Harrison's All Things Must Pass (Apple, 1970), he was admiring some of George's guitars. "I knew that George had them all tuned differently so that he could get a distinctive sound and a special feel with each. I found one that I liked and started playing it. George saw that and he jokingly told me, 'Don't go and nick my tuning'...Never in the history of the world has anyone wanted to leave a Beatle's home so much. The minute I got home I wrote this one." He then played "Wind of Change."
Before playing "Not Forgotten," Frampton told a wonderful story about David Bowie and how they met when he was 12 and Bowie was 15. Frampton talked about how his father, who was an art teacher at their school, let them keep their guitars in his office. He told the story about Bowie asking him to play on the Glass Spiders Tour. He said, "What he was really trying to do was reintroduce me as a guitar player around the world. I can never thank him enough for believing in me." He then dedicated the song to Bowie and to his late parents Owen and Peggy.
When Gordon Kennedy was brought to the stage, Frampton announced that "once you hear his songs you'll realize you know him and love what he has achieved." Kennedy then told a story about how the two were introduced. He explained that people described him to Frampton as being a great writer, as having worked with all these people and having won a Grammy. He said, All they said about him," pointing to his writing partner was, "It's Peter Frampton." He paused for a second and said, "I was sold!" He then performed "Change The World" and after, joked about how cool it was that on that song "my guitarist was the great Peter Frampton."
Other highlights included: "Show Me The Way" with the audience providing the "Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah, Wah" the talk box sounds, another Buddy Holly tune, "Heartbeat," done in three-part harmony with Gordon and Julian (ala Humble Pie's Steve Marriott arrangement from 1969's Immediate Records Town & Country album), the instrumental "Penny For Your Thoughts," "For Another Day" played on a guitar given to him by the late Jerry Reed, a fantastic cover of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," "You Can Be Sure," "Lodger," "Hummingbird In A Box" (which featured a story about his grandfather's wooden box with the secret levers and surprise in the drawer), "Baby I Love Your Way and "Road To The Sun" from the Thank You Mr. Churchill album (New Door Records, 2010) featuring Julian on vocals.
The encore was an amazing version of "Do You Feel Like We Do" featuring the audience members clapping along in perfect time and trying to sing along in perfect pitch.
The show as an audience participation exercise and a completely and totally joyful experience. Not just for the audience but for the performers as well. The intimacy of the performance was the key. Many members shouted questions and requests to Frampton, who responded to most with good-natured smiles and answers. The sound was good, Frampton's voice was strong and the songs translated well when played acoustically. It was kind of like an <em>MTV Unplugged</em>--in the best possible way. The acoustic arrangements and learning the genesis of the songs could only have been replicated in this or a special one-on-one meeting. Since those occasions are few and far between...and for the most part non-existent for the average person, this was a special evening that if offered again is not to be missed.
All Photos by Christine Connallon.
Additional article contributions by Christine Connallon.