For a man who is extremely uncomfortable with the idea of being mummified by his past, Peter Frampton isn’t afraid to expend massive amounts of creative and personal time to honor it. To celebrate the 35th anniversary of perhaps the most influential rock concert album of all time—Frampton Comes Alive!— Frampton committed to a 2011-2012 tour, and then got right to work on a DVD and three-CD package. The result is FCA! 35, which not only “recreates” the 62-year-old guitarist’s most popular album, but also includes a career retrospective of the stunning music he has made since Frampton Comes Alive! inspired guitarists—and transformed him into a superstar—way back in 1976.
So you really listened to 116 live-show recordings to pick the best tracks for the CD? I can’t even conceptualize how insane that is.
It was very difficult [laughs]. Actually, due to some technical problems and the like, I think we only got 111 performances recorded. I’m so glad we kept a logbook. After each show, every band member would rate the gig. At the end of the tour, I went through the book and found there were 38 shows where we all said, “This show rocks.” So I started there. But still, 38 listens to “Do You Feel” is a lot of work.
Stage adrenalin is tricky, though. how accurate were the band members’ feelings? if they said a show rocked, did it actually rock?
Very good question. I would say that half of them were true [laughs]. Probably less than ten were really special shows.
then, you have the DVD, which presents performances from two nights—one at the beacon theater in New York, and the other at the Pabst theater in Milwaukee. Ah, even more decisions …
Yes. The DVD is my personal favorites from those two nights. I’m very detail oriented and a perfectionist, so it was a bit restricting to be limited to just two shows out of 116 for the video content—especially as I wanted those versions to be the best ones of each song. But, in the end, I was thrilled that we got to do this, and I probably won’t ever do it again [laughs].
Was it at all daunting to revisit—35 years later— what has become a classic and seminal live show?
The thing is, we were recreating the 1975 set list— that’s all—not the original performances. “Do You Feel” from Winterland is frozen in time on Frampton Comes Alive!, but the performance that summer at Marin County Civic Center—two nights before the Winterland show— is a completely different version. My music has always lent itself to change. I’ve never tried to accurately recreate the recorded version of any of my songs when playing live. For FCA! 35, we paid homage to the original as best we could. Of course, there have been improvements in sound since 1975, as well, and it’s a different band—Stanley [Sheldon, bassist] and I are the only two original players—so when people might say the FCA! 35 versions sound different, yeah, well … [laughs]. I’m very pleased with the way it all sounds, though, and the band was tremendous.
Speaking of sound, did gear advancements make it easier or harder to recreate what you did in 1975?
I’m still using Marshalls and Les Pauls—so we’re still in the same family [laughs]. Back then, I also had an MXR Phase 90, a Binson echo unit, and a Leslie speaker. For the FCA! 35 tour, I kept the effects as much the same as possible. It just sounded wrong with anything else. I found a couple of original Phase 90s. But, you know, some vintage models are less intense and some are more intense, so I chose the one I liked the best. For my delay sounds, I used TC Electronic M3000s set to the same timings as the Binson: a quick slap for something like “Shine On,” and about a 400ms delay— which was the longest delay time you could get out of a Binson in those days— for “Lines on My Face” and many of the others. Then, I’m using my Framptone talking-guitar effect, which has the same drivers as my original Heil Talk Box. Actually, I think the sound aspect was easy. If I did too much with effects and all, it simply didn’t work.
Of course, you’re not a player who stays frozen in time …
I hate repeating myself. My motto is, “I’d like to be able to play something this morning that I couldn’t play last night.” So I’ll go somewhere and not know where I’m going. Do I make mistakes onstage? Yes, I do. But great ideas often come from mistakes.
It’s certainly a testament to your love of what you do to have spent so much time working on FCA! 35. A lot of artists would have left the production details to a producer or video director.
Oh no. I’m a control freak—you have to remember that first and foremost [ laughs].