When I caught up with the legendary Peter Frampton in September 2019, it was at a sold-out show at New York City’s Madison Square Garden—a venue he hadn’t headlined since 1977. He was in amazing form, boosted no doubt by a raucous response from the crowd, who demanded several lengthy encores. After a long and heartfelt goodbye from the stage, Frampton was gone and countless tears filled the legendary cavernous space, no doubt due to the news that he may not play that space, or any other in the U.S., ever again. “There’ll come a time, probably pretty soon, when I won’t be able to play, at least not at the level that I demand of myself,” Frampton told me at the time, almost matter-of-factly and certainly without a hint of self-pity.
During the 1970s, Peter Frampton graced the pages of CREEM countless times. The band that introduced him to America, Humble Pie, not to mention his solo albums Wind of Change, Frampton’s Camel, Somethin’s Happening, and Frampton, made him the darling of the rock cognoscenti. In 1976, his live album, Frampton Comes Alive!, brought him global superstardom. Ups and downs followed—covered in detail in his 2020 memoir, Do You Feel Like I Do?—but by the ’00s a true career renaissance had occurred. Frampton won a Grammy for his instrumental album Fingerprints and toured relentlessly, celebrating anniversaries of Frampton Comes Alive! and winning over fans both old and new with the warmth exhibited at his live shows and, of course, with his remarkable guitar chops.
Along the way, Frampton occasionally felt numbness in his fingers and dizziness on stage. After seeing countless specialists, he was diagnosed with Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM), a degenerative muscular disease. Though not a life threatening ailment, it meant that eventually Frampton’s mobility would become limited and, crucially, that in the not-too-distant future, he’d no longer be able to play the guitar. He stockpiled recordings and set out on a massive victory lap of a tour of America, including said MSG gig, and European dates culminating in a homecoming gig at the Royal Albert Hall.
Then the pandemic hit. For Frampton, fighting the clock in a very real sense, the lockdown-imposed hiatus was a body blow. He faced the unthinkable—never playing live again—and canceled the remaining dates of his farewell tour.
In the spring of 2020 I caught up with him. He wasn’t playing. Wasn’t recording. The unfailingly happy Frampton seemed understandably down.
So it was with some surprise that, in late 2021, it was announced that Frampton was set to appear on a new recording on legacy rocker Dion’s album Stomping Ground, followed by news in June 2022 that his European tour—and his show at the Royal Albert Hall—was back on.
“I had resigned myself to the fact that, two years into the pandemic, maybe we shouldn’t even try and get a tour together,” Peter Frampton tells me as he gets ready for the tour he thought would never happen. “I said, ‘I don’t think I can do it.’ Then they came to me with this date. Because I’d also said, ‘Keep looking for a date at the Royal Albert Hall, so I can think about it.’ Well, guess what? They came up with a date: November 8th, ’22.”
It’s been a long road for Frampton, and he initially balked at the idea of getting back on stage after what was essentially a pandemic-imposed retirement.
“I thought about it for a while,” he continues. “Then I noticed I had a little something in my neck. It turned out that it was just a pulled neck muscle, but it got me to the ENT. I’d never met the doctor before, and he asked, ‘What are you doing? Are you playing?’ And I told him, ‘No. I’ve got this date at the Albert Hall, but I don’t think that, because of my IBM, I’ll be able to play as well as I want to.’ And he said, ‘Do it. The people want to see you.’ Then he said, and it was important the way he put it, ‘They’ll understand.’”
Frampton confesses that he’s getting chills recollecting the meeting. Then he starts to smile. “It took a stranger to make my mind up. Isn’t that wild?”
It’s a Sunday afternoon in early November 2022, and Frampton is racing around his new Nashville home as best he can, given his IBM, getting ready to leave for those eight concerts in Europe including London’s Royal Albert Hall. Typically ebullient, Frampton seems a little more pensive than usual. It’s certainly understandable; after 10 days of rehearsals with his longtime band, Frampton knows all too well that these shows will be unlike any he’s done in his career. He will be seated, Unplugged-style, as will his band. While the shows will still rock—Frampton and his keyboardist/musical director Rob Arthur made sure that, seated or not, barn burners like “Do You Feel Like We Do,” his instrumental take on Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” from Frampton’s Humble Pie days, were all still in places of prominence on the set list—he’s still unsure of the reception of the ever-fickle European crowds.
The idea of the band being seated was born out of necessity but was embraced by band and crew alike, especially after Frampton and Arthur appeared as a duo at a celebration marking Buddy Holly’s 85th birthday in Lubbock, Texas, last August.
“The two of us, just guitar and keyboards, played ‘Peggy Sue,’” Frampton recalls, “which was the very first song I ever learned in its entirety, and then we played ‘Lines on My Face’ and ‘Do You Feel.’ And the audience was amazing. It’s hard for me to play my own trumpet, but they didn’t sit down at the end of the songs, put it that way. It blew my mind, and it gave me back that feeling of, ‘I can do this. And I think I’m going to do it until I can’t do it at all.’”
Still, Frampton admits, it was really that ENT, as well as the unlikeliest of collaborators, Dion, who put him on the path back to live performing.
“I was really in the doldrums,” Frampton explains. “I was having a down moment. I hadn’t played in a week or two. Because I had that feeling of, ‘Why do I want to pick up a guitar when I’ll only find out what I can’t play?’ Of course, if you don’t pick it up, you won’t get better.
“So anyway, Dion called me up and said, ‘Look, I’ve got all these great players, but I don’t have you on this album. Would you do me a slow blues?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to make you a deal. I’m going to try it, but if I don’t feel it’s good enough, I’m not going to send it to you.’”
Dion recalls it in more detail. “I didn’t know Peter Frampton,” he says flatly. “I was aware of him, and I always liked his playing, so he was always somebody that was on my radar. And I had written a song called ‘There Was a Time,’ and I thought, you know, I used Jeff Beck, the only guitar player that can make me cry, on Blues With Friends, and I was going to call him, but I thought, ‘Peter Frampton has something.’
“So I called Peter—because when he plays the blues, every once in a while he’ll just go outside a little and hit these notes that nobody else can, and incorporate stuff that nobody else does, and it’s totally Peter Frampton—and I said, ‘I have this song.’ But he cut me off. He said, ‘Dion, I’ve got this disease that’s really affecting my hands.’”
Frampton explained how IBM was beginning to rob him of his legendary guitar-playing gift. Dion was undaunted. Frampton relented.
“Two weeks later he sends me these fucking amazing, heartfelt, crushing, heartbreaking solos,” Dion recalls in his thick Bronx accent. “I’m thinking, ‘How the hell did he do this? It’s so beautiful.’ So I called him and said, ‘Peter, I’ll tell you something: I don’t know what kind of disease you’ve got in your hands, but every guitar player should have a little of that. You’ve got me bawling here. You really touched me with your playing. It’s just sublime. It couldn’t be any better.’”
The experience was a turning point for Frampton. “I played the track once, but I didn’t really focus on it,” Frampton confesses. “I had to get my chops together. But I started playing every day again. And guess what? I started to smile. I remembered, ‘Oh my God, I love this guitarplaying stuff.’ Then I spent a good week doing as many solos as I possibly could, whenever I felt like it, because I was doing it at home. I would do six solos a day, still kind of practicing but working on the track now. And by the end of the week of playing, I realized that I had some pretty damn good stuff there.
“Dion kept calling me, telling me, ‘Man, this is so soulful,’” Frampton recalls with a chuckle. “I was so pleased that he liked it. Could I do everything I wanted to? No, but the way jazz players do as they get older, I adapted my playing. Besides, my biggest hero, apart from Hank Marvin, is the great Django Reinhardt, and he only had two working fingers. I figured if he can do it with two, I can do it with four. So, Dion got me back. And I now believe it’s one of my better solos on record.”
As both Frampton and Arthur recall, the experience was a real jolt.
“I think when he did that solo for Dion, he worked through some of the hurdles that he was experiencing—his thoughts, his worries,” says Arthur. “It was a real turning point.”
Frampton was playing his guitar daily again. He’d started writing again. When the Buddy Holly birthday concert offer came up, and then the Royal Albert Hall date, Frampton barely hesitated, all because of Dion DiMucci.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Frampton asks, almost incredulously. “I sent Dion an email: ‘Thank you for revitalizing me by making me do this.’ I can never thank him enough. And he doesn’t realize how important it was, I don’t think. We haven’t even ever met, but we’re really good friends now.”
There might be a few less notes, but each one’s going to have a lot more meaning—to me and, I hope, to the audience as well
Rehearsals, of course, were the next hurdle. At any moment, surely, Frampton could pull the plug.
“He would ask us guys in the band, ‘You guys hear the difference, right?’” Arthur recalls of those practice sessions in October 2022. “He was feeling different, I’m sure. But we were totally honest, saying, ‘You sound great. You sound really strong.’ At first he’d say, ‘I can’t bend this note as far, so I’ve gotta think about that.’ Or, ‘I can’t go for some of the faster licks that I usually do, so I guess I’m gonna have to learn how to dig into the soulfulness of playing a little bit slower.’”
By all accounts, Frampton’s efforts paid huge dividends.
“Yes, I have changed my playing a little bit, but I think it’s more soulful now,” Frampton says.
“He was just loving playing,” Arthur adds. “The first few days, he was super pumped up: ‘Hey! This is working! I love this!’ And it was, 100 percent, right away. The biggest challenge was being a guitar player with a bunch of pedals and having to sit down. He’s not used to sitting down and playing. So it’s the physicalness of having to be in a chair and working pedals and handing the guitars back and forth.”
After the experience with Dion, in late 2021, Frampton had called the band into his studio for a daylong rehearsal. “I was energized,” he recalls. By all accounts, things went amazingly well.
But here it was, a year later. “There were certain things I couldn’t do,” Frampton admits. “But I adapted. You know, I’m my worst critic, and I’m used to being the perfectionist. Therefore, my feeling is, there might be a few less notes, but each one’s going to have a lot more meaning—to me and, I hope, to the audience as well.”
“We talked through it before we even got to rehearsals,” Arthur says. “Peter knew what kind of show he wanted to do. He didn’t want it to be too sleepy. So we made sure there were plenty of rock songs in there. And he’s playing great. So we weren’t limited choice-wise in songs.”
Unfortunately, Frampton says just before departing for the U.K., the lingering pandemic and his compromised immunity have placed other limitations on the upcoming tour. “I had to write an email to all my friends saying, ‘No backstage. No meet and greet. We’ve got to get through these eight shows.’ If we lose one person on the crew or one person on the band, we’re sunk. So we cannot take any chances whatsoever.”
“The travel was a huge hurdle for all of us to kind of figure out,” Arthur admits, not long after touching down. “It’s really hard for Peter to get on and off of the bus, up and down stairs. And Europe is not exactly disability-friendly. There are steps everywhere, a lot of it’s uneven. It’s a little bit more of a production getting from the dressing room to the stage. Luckily, our crew is fantastic. Every single one of them loves Peter. So that really helps, when you’ve got this huge bunch of people that he knows really well, all pulling for him.”
Despite these new challenges, the tech rehearsal in Stoke-on-Trent, not far from Manchester, goes according to plan, and the beginning of the tour is a rousing success.
“After that first show, we stayed up all night,” Frampton says. “Not on drugs, mind you. Just on adrenaline. Talking on the bus, driving up to Glasgow, even though we had a show the next day, it was just...we’re back. It was a great feeling.”
As for his first full set before a live audience?
“I didn’t feel limited, because the adrenaline kind of takes over.”
Two days later, Frampton & Co. are at the venerable Royal Albert Hall.
“The whole tour was based around the date at the Royal Albert Hall, because my main idea for this tour was to go home to dear old England and say goodbye, in a way, in a place that was worthy of a last show,” Frampton says, reflecting. “Never say never, as I say at the end of the show, but it was very, very important that it be in the lineup of shows.”
As for the day-to-day grind of life on the road—or even the stage fright Frampton admits to feeling before every performance—all of that seemed to take a back seat to the experience.
“My nerves were slightly heightened because it was the Albert Hall, but also what it brought was extra,” Frampton says. “I think there was extra adrenaline, and because of that, it was a magical show. And that’s from the audience point of view, too. They were so amazing in the love that they gave me, and us, the band, knowing full well I was sitting down, not standing up. They know the story. They were super supportive in every possible way. It was a wonderful feeling.”
A week after returning from the tour he thought would never happen, Peter Frampton meets with CREEM for his first photo shoot for the magazine in more than 40 years. He’s in fine form, using a cane to help him get around, as he has for some time now, but he’s cheerful and, for the first time since the pandemic hit, looking forward to the next chapter with anticipation.
I can do this. And I think I’m going to do it until I can’t do it at all.
“Obviously, playing live, for me, is like the fountain of youth. Except I’m still getting older,” Frampton cracks, before turning serious. “I pretty much have always lived for tomorrow. I want to do something new or better, musically, than I did yesterday, tomorrow.”
As for the future, Frampton says he’s back on track and motivated by his recent experience on the road. “Going out and playing live is always inspiring,” he says excitedly. “As soon as you come home, you pick up a guitar or sit at the piano, and there’s new stuff that’s happening. So I’ve been writing new music, an all-Frampton-written album like I used to write. Like Wind of Change. So that’s going to come out when it’s ready. Might not be next year. Might not be the year after. What’s the rush? I want every track to be gold dust.”
And don’t be surprised if Peter Frampton and his band are back on stage soon, either. As we part, Frampton makes one thing clear: He’s buoyed, and he’s moving forward again.
“It’s not like I’m looking for sympathy,” he insists. “In fact, that’s the last thing I’m looking for. I’m looking to continue this journey of mine. The audiences really helped me see a way forward. They were wonderful everywhere. I really can’t thank them—and Dion and my ENT, don’t forget—enough.”