Classic GP Interview??
By Don Menn
the age of 12, Peter Frampton (born April 22,1950 in Beckenham, Kent), has been
performing professionally. At fifteen the British guitarist worked clubs such
as The Flamingo on London's Wardour Street, the site of the birth of nearly
every major British rock group from The Rolling Stones to John Mayall's Blues
Breakers. Within a year Frampton became lead guitarist with the Herd which
produced two top-ten singles during the time Peter toured Europe with them,
before he formed the even more successful Humble Pie with Steve Marriott.
Breaking off on his own in the fall of 1971, Frampton on his Wind Of Change [A & M 4348] proved his musical
independence by playing all instruments, and was additionally backed by an
impressive line-up of studio and solo stars including Billy Preston, Ringo
Starr, and Klaus Voorman. As a session man himself, Peter has demonstrated his
versatility in work with musicians as diverse as Rory Gallagher and Tim Hardin,
Albert Lee and Alvin Lee, not to mention country-western rocker Jerry Lee
Lewis. Progressing from his early jazz and pop influences (ranging from Django
Reinhardt and Wes Montgomery to Eddie Cochran and Cream) Peter Frampton has
created a style of his own that combines both. His most recent album is Frampton's Camel [A & M SP 4389] which is also the name of
his most recent group.
Do you come
from a musical family?
?Yes. My grandmother was very musical. She used
to appear playing a ukelele. My grandfather was a choir boy and into keyboards
in one of the big abbeys in London. And at the time of Django Reinhardt my
father played guitar in the college dance band. He showed me the C and G chords
on this ukelele I got from my grandmother when I was about seven. That was it
for about a year. I didn't want to learn. But suddenly I wanted him to show me
some more chords. So he got it down again.
When did you
finally get your own guitar?
?For Christmas when I was eight. Four pounds ten
it was - about twelve dollars. It was from an army and navy surplus store, just
an ordinary steel-string guitar; very, very cheap, but really good for the
time. I really doctored it and got the action down low. For the following
birthday I got a pickup and, with the help of my father, put in a volume and
your first performance??
That would have been when I was in the Cub
Scouts, and they had a "gang" show. I appeared solo in that. I did
Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" and a Cliff Richards number. Later my
father produced this end-of-term concert at Bromley Technical High School where
he's an art teacher. He's got half the school, everything from photography to
typography to pottery to technical drawing to history of architecture. Anyway,
he produced this concert, and that was the first time I appeared in a group.
The raven was the school mascot, and so it was the natural thing to call
ourselves: The Little Ravens [laughs]. Stupid, really. I used the doctored
guitar for that one. I wish I still had it. I sold it so that I could afford my
next guitar, a Hofner Club 60 Deluxe shaped like a Les Paul.
How did you
?Through our radio, one of those big old ones
which had like a ten-inch speaker. I've still got that one, the Hofner. I think
I'm going to be using it for steel [bottlenecking]. You've got to have a guitar
that's got a high action, so that it doesn't buzz, and the Hofner has got the
high action [laughs]. I'm just getting into steel. I've used it on record with
Tim Hardin [Painted Head]. It was alien to me, but I really enjoyed it. Ever
since then I've been trying to improve.
What sort of
slide have you been using?
Metal, but I want to get a real glass
bottleneck. I put it on my third finger, so that I can still chord. Are you
entirely self-taught? ?I was until my father asked me if I'd like to
go to classical guitar when I was nine or ten. I took lessons for four years
from Susan Graham in Bromley. The main thing I learned was how to use the
little finger on the left hand. It amazes me that more people don't.
Did you have
a love of classical music?
?No, I loathed it. I really loathed it at the
time. It was also that I hated discipline of any sort. We'd touch upon a new
piece every week. I wouldn't play it until the night or twenty minutes before I
went to the next lesson. Of course, I couldn't play it very well. I just wasn't
interested. There were too many electric guitars floating about. And that was
So why did
you stay with the lessons so long?
?It was just that I agreed with my father that I
should have them. I knew that I was going to end up playing guitar for good.
That it was going to be my life. My father used to say, "Well, yes, and I
thought I was going to be a train driver but you change." But I haven't
changed: It was the first thing I wanted to be and here I am doing it. At the
time hardly anybody played guitar. None of my friends did. I was the only
person in school who played guitar. I used to take it to school and just sit
around the playground and play it. The other fellows knew that when lunchtime
came that I would get it out. We used to sing all the Beatles' songs, Buddy
Holly songs—things like that.
pickups and plugging into radios at age nine was pretty sophisticated.
a gadget maniac. In the early days I used to have two tape recorders. Tape
recorders are like second-nature to me. I love fiddling about with anything
electronic. My love of gadgets and love of playing guitar went together
beautifully. I used to play from after school until bedtime, sometimes five or
six hours a day. I used to put down a rhythm guitar track first, and then lay
down a lead, and then record that as well on another recorder. There was never
a, ''I'll do this to make myself better." It was just enjoyment of
playing, really. I've kept quite a few of those tapes. They sound awful.
?Only the practice I get while writing.
bands after The Little Ravens?
?When I was about 12, I formed a group called
The Truebeats. And unfortunately I did think of that awful name. We were like a
cardboard copy of The Shadows and The Ventures. Later I got into another group
called The Preachers when I was going through my first major influence that was
starting me looking for a style—a period when I listened to nothing but jazz. I
couldn't listen to any pop records at all. Kenny Burrell and Django Reinhardt
are my favorites. Then there's Wes Montgomery, the funkiest guitarist in the
world, he was. George Benson and a little of Joe Pass, but not too much. He was
a bit too fast for me. I've gone from being narrow-minded and liking only jazz
to liking everything. But I wasn't long with The Preachers, just while I was
still at school.
What were you
?Music. Harmony was the main thing. I think it
was sort of to teach you how to be the conductor of an orchestra, really. I've
not yet had the opportunity or the need for using the theory I learned, 'cause
everything is just like a jam, really, these days. You just shout out the
chords. Harmony does help when you're doing backing vocals and learning which
chords and what bass lines you can play and when it doesn't work. But I can
tell by ear, anyway. The most frustrating thing in being taught the theory of
music was the fact that they used to give you a bass line and say, "Now
what we want is a tenor line, an alto line, and a soprano line on top of
that." I'd sit with the guitar or the piano at home, work it out, and
think, "Wow, I've got really, really avant-garde harmonies." I would
record it, and it would sound great. But when I'd hand it in the following day,
the teacher would put a red line through all of it and say, "The Seventh
doesn't descend, it ascends." Then in the same breath he'd say, "Bach
does this, but Bach is the exception." I got really annoyed that Bach was
allowed to do it, but I wasn't. It was frustrating.
are you using on stage now?
About four years ago I arrived in San Francisco
to do the Fillmore with Humble Pie. I had a terrible guitar. I was almost in
tears trying to play it. Lo and behold, this young man called Mark Mariana came
up to me and said I could borrow his black Les Paul for the next night. Believe
it or not, I still have it. It's my pride and joy, and he gave it to me for nothing.
Mark's a fantastic guy. I really thought things like that only happened to
people you read about. The guitar has a '54 body that Mark reworked. He shaved
the neck himself. It's so thin it's like custom-made. It fits my hand
perfectly. He fitted a third pickup on and put white around all three. It looks
amazing on stage. I think the latest pickup is 1968. But the others must be
very old, because one of them has "patent pending" written on it, and
Gibson has had their patent for years. I don't think the knobs are original,
but they're around fifteen years old. Mark completely rewired it. I think
that's the secret of the sound for me. It's out of phase. The two outside
pickups are wired around the wrong way. It's wired stereo so that if I had a
stereo jack I would have the middle pickup corning through one amp and the
outside two coming through another. But I don't do that because it's too much
Are you using
any other guitars now?
A long-scale Melody Maker and an Ovation
12-string, which I use for recording, but not on stage. I have a Martin
acoustic that I got when I left Humble Pie. All I was doing then was sessions,
and thanks to Mark I had the ultimate guitar for sessions. But I was writing a
lot. And it's so much nicer to write on acoustic than electric when you're not
in a band. So I got a D-45. The workmanship on it is just superb. I thought -
if Johnny Cash can sling one behind his back on his TV spectacular, I'll buy
one and play it. It's so beautiful. It has such a full sound and beautiful
sustain. It's perfectly in tune all the way up. It's the best acoustic I've
ever played, and it just gets better with age. It had pure white wood when I
got it. In about eighteen months it'll be bright yellow. The sunlight just
improves it. The wood just gets more and more seasoned. When we have time
enough to do our whole show, I'll be doing acoustic numbers on stage again, and
then I shall use my Martin. The action is very close for an acoustic, but it
doesn't buzz. On the Les Paul it's incredibly close, too, but the pickups won't
pick up the buzz.
What sort of
strings do you put on?
?In the jazz days I used flatwound, but now I
always use roundwound. Picato ultra-light gauge, roundwound. They come from
Wales. On the Martin I use D'Angelico. If I'm recording I always change the
strings for every track. Performing, I use them for two shows.
are you using on stage?
?I use Marshall amps, two 100-watt amps through
three 4x12 cabinets. So one amp uses one speaker. And one amp uses two
speakers. I have one speaker on Mick's [Gallagher, keyboards] side, and a
monitor so the others can hear me. I have two speakers on my side and two amps,
and they have one cabinet their side. They're both half up. The only time that
I turn flat-out on the guitar is when I playa solo. With Gibson, especially,
the sound of the guitar is at its peak in tone when you've got it flat-out.
When you turn it anywhere down from full volume the tone goes bassier. I
think-it's cheating to use fuzz, but I use wah-wah for tone control. For
recording I use a Univibe, but they break up on stage. Then I use the Binson
Ecorec. I don't use it that much for recording, because we have so many echo
facilities in the studio of such high quality that there's no point. But on
stage I do like echo for a solo to lift it just that bit more. Recording, I
very rarely use big amps. There's no point in playing at volume in studios. I
usually use very small amps, one of them being the Fender Champ, the smallest
amp they make. You can turn it flat-out and talk above it, and it sounds like a
Marshall 100-watt. That's why I like it.
What sort of
pick do you use?
?I use a Hofner. It's very small and very thick,
and it doesn't bang at all. I hold it with my thumb and first finger just so
the point sticks out. I use a new one each night. Mostly I pick with down
strokes except when I go fast, then it's up-and-down. Actually, I don't give it
your left hand technique?
?It's mainly a mixture of hammers and snaps
[pull-offs] and full barres. I'm a great believer in jazz chords. I use as many
as possible - 13ths, 9ths, suspended. The solos are improvised. Mostly I get
the leads off the chords.
Do you use
On the Wind Of Change album I used the standard
D tuning. I also use a C tuning which goes E,C,G,E,C,C,
and a G tuning that is G,B,D,G,B,D.
for people just starting out?
Don't give up. Sometimes I still feel like it
when I see someone who is really good, like Leo Kottke. I'm a great fan of his.
But Kottke once said to me, "Give me your plectrum; if only I could use a
plectrum." You see, there are so many styles. I know there will always be
people better than me. But then again, no one will ever play like me or like
Clapton or like Django. We are all different.
What do you
think you'll be doing ten years from now?
?I don't think about
it. But now I'm getting into keyboards more than I have ever done before. All
I'm working for at the moment is enough money to be able to waste on my own
studio. That's really what I want. One of my ambitions is to write a complete
score and hand it to an orchestra. I'd love to write a film score one day.
Write everything and conduct the orchestra as well. But performing is the best
thing for a musician. It keeps you from becoming stagnant. I'll never be able
to stop working on the road, I'm sure. Let's face it—I'm a showoff. ?