Kenny Lee Lewis on Jamming with Peter Frampton

| August 2, 2010

In my sidebar interview that Guitar Player was kind enough to include in this month’s Steve Miller cover story, I mention how some pop artists’ stardom has eclipsed their guitar playing talents. This summer the Steve Miller band has had the honor of having Peter Frampton as a support act on several dates as he supports his new CD Thank You Mr. Churchill, and he certainly has been an example of this paradox. Arising from his early years as a member of The Herd and Humble Pie, Peter went on to have one of the biggest selling live albums of all times, Frampton Comes Alive, which plays daily on classic rock format radio. He became an idol of teens and a megastar which led up to the cult classic movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band starring himself and the Bee Gees. Though considered a flop at the box office, the soundtrack album boasted three hit singles, “Come Together” by Aerosmith, “Got to Get You into My Life” by Earth Wind and Fire, and “Get Back” by Billy Preston.*

Obviously one can hear Peter’s great lead guitar playing on “Feel Like I Do” and “Show Me the Way” and, in addition to Joe Walsh, his pioneering of using the Talk Box on those recordings. However, I believe that many fans of Peter Frampton’s music during his career relate more to the songs and that cute face on the Comes Alive album than they do his talent as a guitarist. Over the years we have had many incredibly talented guitarists sit in with the band. Joe Satriani, Robben Ford, Eric Johnson, Neal Schon, Bonnie Raitt, just to name a few, and Peter hangs right in there with all of them. This guy’s got tone, he’s got chops, and he’s got cool gear! (Both he and Steve use vintage Klon overdrives) Speaking of gear, his is all brand new. Unfortunately, along with many other musicians, Peter’s gear was wiped out during the floods in Nashville back in May when his rehearsal studio was completely submerged. He had to go out and replace it all, but you’d never know it. He sounds as great as ever,  and as he and The Joker trade leads on our blues set you can hear his years of experience, his touch, vibrato and his nuances are superb. I strongly suggest going out and hearing him this year as he tours. He rocks.

So this brings me to my observation. With the exception of Clapton, who started out as a sideman first in the Yardbirds and John Mayall, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, who was more known as a player than a pop singer, what pop star guitarists have ever been mentioned in any player polls or received any awards? Why should their celebrity as pop star, singer songwriters overshadow their being recognized as players as well? Does it always have to be the shredders that get the notoriety? Just for fun, let’s name a few:

Steve Miller, Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh, John Mayer, Todd Rundgren, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Billy Gibbons, Boz Skaggs. Okay, that’s enough. You get the idea. When was the last time you saw any of these players being mentioned or winning a poll as a player?
I’m sure these folks are not complaining about the accolades they’ve received over the years, but I think it’s an interesting conversation and I’d love your feedback. —Kenny Lee Lewis

*[My wife Dianne Steinberg sang and played the sultry role of “Lucy” in the movie who seduces Peter’s character Billy Shears into signing his life away on a record contract!]

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