Frampton comes back
Thursday, September 21, 2000

Frampton comes back

'70s guitar god teaches actors about music for rock 'n' roll movie

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Peter Frampton appears on screen in Almost Famous just long enough to crack a joke sopping with early '70s rock 'n' roll attitude.

        “Y'know how I know this is good pot?,” he says across a poker table. “Because it's David Crosby's.”

[photo] Peter Frampton has lived the life of a rock star but he's preparing to move to suburban Cincinnati.
(Associated Press photo)
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        The idea came from Cameron Crowe, writer-director of the cinema memoir in which Mr. Frampton puts in a cameo as the road manager of Humble Pie, the band he led in real life before scoring a monstrous solo success with Frampton Comes Alive.

        Mr. Frampton, now 50 and about to move into a new home in a Cincinnati suburb, laughed remembering the scene — and its unexpected punchline months later.

        “The funny thing is,” Mr. Frampton said, “I was in the Cincinnati airport the other day and who should be walking to the same gate as me but — David Crosby! He was changing planes. . . . I had to tell him” about the joke in the film, which opens Friday. “He smiled and said, "Yes, I did have that reputation, didn't I?' ”

        Expectations are sky-high for Mr. Crowe's follow-up to his smash hit Jerry Maguire. No matter how it performs at the box office, it is already being hailed as a stunningly accurate snapshot of the rowdy days when rock 'n' roll began its long traverse from counterculture to big business.

        Mr. Frampton takes some credit for that; he served as technical adviser. A classically trained musician who first made his reputation as a guitar wizard, he was well-suited to ensuring the accuracy of the actors who play the fictional band Stillwater.

        A few of the actors had some musical background. But Billy Crudup, who plays the lead guitarist, had never picked up a guitar before the movie.

    Peter Frampton played in several British bands before hitting the big time in Humble Pie. He left the group in 1971 to work as a solo artist and leader of Frampton's Camel.
    Though he has some two dozen albums to his credit, he earned his spot in rock history with Frampton Comes Alive, the best-selling live album of all time. It sold 8 million copies in 1976; today its sales total 16 million.
    He scored a lesser but nonetheless platinum hit in 1977 with I'm In You. In 1978, he played Billy Shears in the film version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; the movie was a box office disappointment but yielded another platinum album.
    Mr. Frampton spent much of that year recovering from a devastating car crash in the Bahamas, though by 1979 he was able to release another solo album that went gold. Still, by 1982 he was without a recording contract.
    He continued to write and record, and he returned to worldwide attention when he played lead guitar on David Bowie's Glass Spider tour in 1987.
    He has also recorded with former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman and toured with Ringo Starr, Jack Bruce (formerly of Cream), Lynyrd Skynyrd, Roger Daltrey of the Who and the British Rock Symphony, as well as issuing his own albums, including Frampton Comes Alive II in 1995.
    He has been operating a busy Web site (, designing guitar accessories, and writing music for a high-tech amusement park ride.
    Early next year, a special-edition release is due to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Frampton Comes Alive.
        With only six weeks to prepare, the work was intense. “Basically, Billy wanted to be finger perfect on the fingerboard,” Mr. Frampton said. “I would video my fingers and I would sit there with him and go through it (to) get it absolutely perfect. He wanted to be able to look up and close his eyes . . . which was very authentic.

        “That was my main job, give Billy as much information as I could in a short space of time. Obviously, I had to sort of cram 35 years of guitar playing into six weeks.

        “Billy just worked and worked and worked until he got it. He was jamming with the band after three weeks. It was pretty incredible the way he took to it.

        The instruction ultimately extended beyond music.

        “We would talk about what went on backstage, what you would be thinking before you went onstage, would you be nervous, why are you out there, and things like that.”

        Jason Lee portrays lead singer Jeff Bebe. “He really wanted to look like he was in charge. He wanted to be commanding that audience. So he would ask, "What's my objective out there?' ”

        The answer: “You're opening for a huge band — Black Sabbath — and you want to be out in front of those however many thousand it is and hope that by the time you get off you've made make a couple of extra thousand fans. That's your job. You want to make them feel as if you've sung at least one line to everyone in that audience.

        “When the camera would roll finally, after all the rehearsal, it all came together and they blossomed. ... There's certain things that you can't tell someone or teach someone. It's just got to take on a life of its own, the character.”

        Mr. Frampton finally saw the finished movie only a few weeks ago.

        “It was a big surprise for me,” he said. “As funny as it is, it's as poignant. There's moments when you wipe an eye, there's moments when you can't stop laughing. It's tremendous.”

        Mr. Frampton, who also co-wrote two of the 50 songs on the movie's soundtrack, said he didn't balk at revisiting the past, despite the sometimes harsh memories stored there. “Reluctant? No,” he said. “It was fun. Who gets a chance to do that, go back in time?”

        His own dizzying career arc taught him, as he recently said in another interview, “Nothing brings a career to a quicker end than being looked at as a teeny-bopper idol.”

        Although he has survived fallow periods, Mr. Frampton has never been idle. He has recorded and performed regularly since the late 1980s, including several visits to Cincinnati, the hometown of his wife, Tina Elfers. It was after a 1994 visit that Robin Wood, then a disc jockey at WEBN-FM, described him as “an incredibly polite, friendly guy; kind of a nice, self-deprecating English boy.”

        He dodged references to the location of his new home, “in the Cincinnati area,” but said it will be the couple's main residence.

        “We have a house, yes. Not quite yet, but we will be moving in soon,” he said.

        Last year, he drew a huge crowd to the Pepsi Jammin' on Main festival, an event he remembers fondly.

        “It was unbelieveable. There were so many people there, it was great. I enjoy the Cincinnati crowd.

        “And I enjoy the pigs.”

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