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Learn to Play "Frampton Comes Alive" Then and Now

February 21, 2014
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Already a rising star from his days with the Herd, Humble Pie, and Frampton’s Camel, Peter Frampton hit it out of the park with 1976’s Frampton Comes Alive!, a pivotal record that forever transformed the music business–for better or worse. Better because it’s a historic two-record set filled with fantastic guitar playing and infectious songs that rightfully catapulted Peter Frampton to superstardom, but worse because FCA!’s phenomenal success marked the point when most record companies began marketing their music out of the accounting office instead of the A&R department. But don’t blame Frampton. All he did was make a great record that still holds up to this day. And the masses obviously agree: Frampton drew huge audiences for his 2011 and 2012 35th anniversary FCA! 35 tour, during which he recreated the 1976 album in its entirety.

For his recent FCA! 35 tours, Frampton was joyfully reunited with his beloved three-pickup Gibson Les Paul Custom, which had been missing since a 1980 South American plane crash. To recreate the sounds of the era, he relied on Marshalls and a mix of vintage and modern effects, including an MXR Phase 90, a TC Electronic M3000 delay (Frampton used a Binson echo unit and a Leslie speaker on the original recording), and, of course, a Framptone Talk Box. Originally pioneered by steel guitarist Alvino Rey, the talk box, or voice bag (Kustom put out “The Bag” in the early ’70s) is an effect that reroutes a guitar’s output signal through a driver or small speaker and funnels it through a tube into the user’s mouth, where it is subsequently miked up. (Fact: Joe Walsh turned P.F. on to his original Heil Sound talk box.)

As of 2011, the album has gone platinum eight times over, and currently stands as one of the highest-selling live records of all time. Countless guitarists and cover bands will continue to reference it for years to come, which brings us to this month’s Under Investigation. FCA! produced three huge hits, so let’s pick them apart and see (and hear) what makes them tick.

“SHOW ME THE WAY” (1976)

One of Frampton’s biggest hits, “Show Me the Way” was originally released in 1975 on the Frampton album, but it was the live version that would reach the masses (and No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100). Ex. 1a illustrates the song’s instantly recognizable opening four-bar rhythm figure (D-Dmaj7- Bm-Bb-C), which also serves as backing for Frampton’s equally memorable introductory talk box theme (Ex. 1b), as well as the instrumental interlude that precedes the second verse (Ex. 1c). A word about the talk box: The two basic ways to use it are with an open throat (as if you are about to speak), or with a closed throat (as if you are about to gargle). The former allows you to shape guttural vowel sounds into words, while the latter only lets you sweep frequencies, kind of like an oral wah pedal. As you can hear on this and other songs, Frampton has mastered both techniques. The verse progression doubles the duration of the first three chords from Ex.1a to two bars apiece, followed by a full measure of Bb in bar 7, and the Bb-to-C accents from bar 4 of the intro for bar 8. Repeat bars 1 through 6, add two full measures of Bb for bars 7 and 8, and you’ve got the entire 16-bar verse covered. The rest of the song contains only four more chords (albeit with different voicings), a testimonial to Frampton’s keen ear for melody, harmony, and composition. For the four-bar pre-chorus, play the A7sus4 and G chords shown in Ex. 1d as whole-notes for two bars each. For the chorus, sync the first set of G, A, and Bm voicings to the first half of the lyric (Either “Oh, won’t you” or “I want you”), and the remaining four (Bm-A/BBm- G) to the second half (“show me the way”). Drop a bar of A7sus4 (with hits on beats one and two) into bar 8 for a single chorus, or bar 16 for double choruses, and you’ve got the whole song down!

“SHOW ME THE WAY” (2011)

While the 1976 album etched many of Frampton’s signature guitar parts in stone, he’s rarely played them the same way twice. But 35 years later, even Frampton can’t completely get away from the catchy opening theme to “S.M.T.W.,” though he does change it up a bit. Culled from a random 2011 live performance, Ex. 2a depicts how he playfully injects rhythmic syncopation and a bluesy b3-to-3 (F to F#) move into the first bar and a half, but then quotes the original theme verbatim in bars 2 and 3, before wrapping it up with a simple D pentatonic major/B pentatonic minor lick in bar 4. Similarly, Ex. 2b is a more recent variation on Ex. 1c. Here, Frampton starts the original line a beat later, emphasizes the 7 (C#) in bar 2, extends the phrase into bar 3, and wraps up with the same bend and inaudible release found in Examples 1b and 2a. Ex. 2c presents an excerpt from Frampton’s solo, beginning with an identical pickup into bar 5 of the verse/ solo progression. (Tip: Precede it with four bars of D major licks.) He introduces some cool chromaticism over Bm7 (bars 1 and 2), adjusts the accidentals in the key signature to fit the Bb change (bar 3), and concludes with a descending quadruple chromatic approach to F#, the 3 of the tonic D chord. Sweet!

“BABY I LOVE YOUR WAY” (1976)

This lovely acoustic ballad, which also originally appeared on Frampton, was the third-highest charting single from Frampton Comes Alive! For the song’s intro figure (transcribed in Ex. 3), Frampton employs diatonic chords derived from the key of G, the first six of which are built from major-and minor-tenth intervals played on the fifth and second strings surrounding a droning open G (not unlike Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” voicings, but picked rather than fingerpicked). Run through the chord fingerings a few times, establish the repetitive strumming pattern, and then get ready to woo your sweetheart.

FILL IN THE BLANKS (1976 & 2011/12)

The two versions of “Baby I Love Your Way” are essentially identical, so all we have to do to complete the song is construct the verse, pre-chorus, and chorus figures using the chords diagrammed in Ex. 4. For each eight-bar verse, play bars 1 and 2 as shown in Ex. 3, add a full bar of the C voicing from bar 3, tack on one measure of F9 (using the same strumming pattern), and then repeat all four bars. For the four-bar prechorus, continue the strumming pattern, playing the Bm7, E7, Am7, and D7(9) voicings for one bar each, and then segue to the chorus, which consists of a simple, two-bar open-position G-D/F#-Am7-C progression played four times. Put it all together and that spells H.I.T.

“DO YOU FEEL LIKE WE DO” (1976)

An edited mix of this tune—the original studio recording appeared on 1973’s Frampton’s Camel—became FCA!’s second-highest charting single, but the full-length version on side four remains the album’s centerpiece. The song begins with a smoky, fourbar riff (Ex. 5a, Pt. 1) that gets treated to three different harmonizations. The first repeat features second guitarist/keyboardist Bob Mayo holding down the original figure (Pt. 1) while Frampton adds the thirds-based harmony (Pt. 2.). On the third pass, Mayo takes over Pt. 2, while Frampton plays the original figure an octave higher (Pt. 3), and on the fourth round, Frampton stays put on Pt. 3 and Mayo adds the mix of sixth and fourth harmonies (Pt. 4), until both guitarists end up playing in octaves in bars 3 and 4. Try inserting Ex. 5b’s characteristic Frampton fill (note the inclusion of E, the 9, in this D blues lick) into the fourth bar of any of the repeats in Ex. 5a. After the fourth round, the figure modulates up a minor third, and Frampton twice plays Pt.1 three frets higher, cutting three beats out of bar 4 on the first pass. Ex. 5c lists all of the chords you’ll need to play the A(6)-E-A-A7/5 and D-Fadd9-C-GC- D5/A (play this one like you say it) progressions that comprise the song’s verse and chorus rhythm figures, so have at it.

“DO YO FEEL LIKE WE DO” (2011)

On record or played live in concert, “D.Y.F.L.W.D.” stands out as a high point of the FCA! experience. Clocking in at over 14 minutes and featuring one of the most famous audience call-and-response exchanges ever committed to wax (with heavy emphasis on the talk box), the song concludes with Frampton following his extended talk box rapport with another furious solo played over Ex. 6a’s four-bar D-F-C-D vamp (sans talk box), but not before he redefines the progression by arpeggiating each chord— including its suspension—during the outro vamp, as shown in Ex. 6a. To construct the entire four-bar vamp, play Ex. 6a as written, move it up one-and-a-half steps to F(sus4), and then back down a whole step to C(sus4) using the fingerings diagrammed in Ex. 6b, and, finally, back to D(sus4). Characteristic Frampton-style phrases like the one in Ex. 6c (again with emphasis on the 9), will fit well anywhere within this progression in any version of the song, so try starting it on bars 1, 2, 3, or 4. Finally, the three-against-four hemiola shown in Ex. 6d (grouped sixteenth, two thirty-seconds, sixteenth) can be used as an extended ostinato anywhere within the outro progression, or as a free time cadenza played over a held C chord (dig its Lydian flavor) following the reprise and ritard of the main riff from Ex. 5a (Pt. 1). The 3/8 hemiola takes three bars to recycle, so play it as long as you like before closing out with some impromptu D-based blues riffing. Kudos to P.F.—’ere’s to another 35 years!

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