Still Alive!

Peter Frampton, the golden god of the 1970s, is, once more, Almost Famous

"It took a while to put it into perspective," he says. "When I started working again with Steve Marriott in 1991, and then I lost him very soon after that, it was like, 'Well, nothing works here. What am I going to do now?' It was pretty obvious that no record company was interested in a Peter Frampton record at that point, and I just wanted to be back in a band. That was sort of the last straw, when we lost dear Steve, because it was so good. It would have been just as good the second time around.

"But after I spent the rest of '91 just sort of wondering, sort of in a blank, by the time it got to Christmas, I said, 'What makes me happy? What do I do that makes me feel a complete person?' And basically, it's playing my music. That's what I do. So in 1992, that's when we started up again, I got the band together, and did the six weeks of club dates that turned into six months and ended up in Pine Knob in Detroit. From that moment on, it's been a steady build ever since. The thing it's made me realize is that whether I've got a chart-topping album or not, I've got a built-in following that's very loyal, and it's growing again."

Which brings us to the year 2000 and Peter Frampton's first day job: He has spent the last few months working with his old friend Cameron Crowe, helping the writer-director make his film about his early days as a journalist for Rolling Stone. Though he's credited as one of the movie's technical advisors, Frampton likes to refer to himself as the "authenticity person"--the guy who made sure 1973 looked and sounded like 1973. He even appears briefly (very briefly) in the film as Reg, the tour manager for Humble Pie.

Baby, I love your way. Well, I used to: Peter Frampton, back when he was a golden god.
Baby, I love your way. Well, I used to: Peter Frampton, back when he was a golden god.
Golden locks, lopped off: Peter Frampton's hair is short and gray, and he's happier that way.
Golden locks, lopped off: Peter Frampton's hair is short and gray, and he's happier that way.

"I've only been involved in one other movie, and it wasn't a great movie," he says. "I don't even really want to mention it in the same sentence as Cameron's movie, to be honest. This is definitely...Look, I've been in the worst rock movie, I've been in the best. What can I tell ya?" Frampton laughs, loudly.

Crowe--who wrote the liner notes to Frampton Comes Alive! and remained friends with the musician, violating the cardinal rule of rock journalism--hired Frampton to teach the film's fictional band how to look, sound, and act like 1973 rock stars on the way up. After all, the story of Stillwater--featuring two actors (Billy Crudup and Jason Lee) and two musicians (John Fedevich and the Red House Painters' Mark Kozelek)--was Frampton's: In 1973, he was still a young comer, opening for Black Sabbath and convincing himself that even if he failed on his own, he could always fall back on his career as a session man. So, he taught the actors how to dress, how to hold their instruments, how to hold themselves on stage, even what to be thinking while playing (usually, not a damned thing). They obsessed over the details--they wanted to know how to wear their guitar straps--and Frampton obliged their every question and every request. Days were spent learning parts; nights were spent watching old videos.

The foursome enrolled in Frampton's so-called "Rock and Roll School" until even Crudup learned how to play the band's songs, which were written by Frampton and Crowe's wife, Heart's Nancy Wilson. By the end of school, Crudup, who plays the band's lead singer Russell Hammond, was jamming with Kozelek, Fedevich, and Lee, who already knew how to strum his acoustic guitar. (Lee plays Stillwater's guitarist-songwriter, Jeff Bebe.)

"For instance, Jason asked, 'Why am I doing this?' And I said, 'Well, basically, it's two things. You're supporting a big headliner, Black Sabbath, so if there are 10,000 people there in an arena, you want to make sure that when you come off the stage, 2,500 of those are gonna be new fans. That's your job. You wanna play in front of as many people as you can in a short space of time, because you're on the up. Your album is starting to move, and you wanna get over.' Then he wanted to know about relating to an audience, and I said, 'Well, for me, when people leave I want them to feel as though I directed something toward them individually, so that I've involved the whole audience.' A lot of bands don't play like that. A lot of people in '73 came on with their back to the crowd and dissed the crowd, but I think this band was more go-get-'em, I-want-you. Jeff Bebe wanted that audience. He wanted the fame more than anything, so I told him, 'You're going out there to get as many new fans as you can.'

"They would ask, 'What am I thinking during a solo?' I told Billy, 'My mind goes blank. I just get involved in the moment.' I told him that I'm thinking, 'I don't want to play the same way I played last night. I want it to come from somewhere else, so I am always trying to reinvent myself musically, ya know? If I am not nervous before I go on, what's wrong? Something's wrong.' It was that sort of stuff. I mean, I do remember all that. I remember 1973. Now, 1976 was a little blurry." Frampton laughs again. He comes alive.

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