NEW YORK (Reuters) - The cascading golden locks are cropped close now and he just turned 60, but Peter Frampton feels he has rediscovered the creative drive that made him one of rock’s biggest acts.
He readily admits the energy that made his 1976 album, “Frampton Comes Alive” rock’s biggest-selling live recording, got lost in an alcohol and drug-induced haze for many years.
“I got sober seven years ago. Not that I was a habitual user, but I would drink, and I would drug, whatever...” he told Reuters in a recent interview.
“I’d been doing it for a while and you never get to the point where you can think clearly enough to mature or to grow. It stunts your growth as a person.
“I had to do what I had to do to get where I am now, but what I’m saying is the clarity I have, the enjoyment of the creativity is so much greater,” he said.
The British-born guitarist, who became a U.S. citizen after the 2001 attacks and now lives in Cincinnati with his third wife, Tina, says the proof is in his new album, “Thank You Mr Churchill.” It finds him in introspective mood, and fittingly nostalgic for a man who turned 60 last month.
“I had this piece of music and an idea which was: What would it have been like if my Dad had not come back from the war? If the Allies had not won?”
He recalled growing up on the southern outskirts of London with still bombed-out buildings and his baby orange juice rationed well into the 1950s.
“It was bad enough after we won, let alone if we had lost and I just used Churchill as the thank you,” he said. “It’s about me, but it’s more about what happened at the time.”
Frampton’s father did return from the war, and it was his family who started him on his life’s musical journey.
His father had played guitar in a college band and his mother had won a scholarship to drama school, although she did not go. But it was a banjolele (a banjo-ukulele hybrid) from his Music Hall-loving grandmother that got him interested in music when he was about seven.
Later, “Vaudeville Nanna,” who is immortalized on a track on the new album, would buy Peter his first guitar and by the time he heard American rock ‘n rollers like Eddie Cochrane and Buddy Holly on the radio, he was hooked.
But, like many English guitarists, his big influences were Hank Marvin of The Shadows and Bert Weedon. “Learn to play like Bert Weedon!” Frampton’s blue eyes lit up at the name.
Frampton played in a band at school called the TrueBeats. “It started basically because of the Shadows and Hank Marvin. He was really the reason I wanted to be a guitar player.”
More than four decades later he got Marvin to play on his last album, ‘Fingerprints.’ “It was like a dream come true.”
Frampton left school at 16 and joined a London band, the Herd, who had a few psychedelic pop hits. But for Frampton, the band was a stepping-stone to bigger things.
He was dubbed “The Face of ‘68” by British teen magazine Rave because of his boyish, photogenic looks. But it was his guitar-playing that got him noticed too and that year he formed Humble Pie with Steve Marriott of the Small Faces.
In 1976 he went solo and “Frampton Comes Alive,” recorded mostly at a couple of gigs in California, sold over six million copies in the United States alone and earned Frampton Rolling Stone magazine’s Artist of the Year accolade.
He had recorded two songs, “Show Me the Way” and “Baby, I Love Your Way” in the studio and they weren’t hits, he said. “But when we did them live, I could see that they were very powerful songs.”
Frampton recalled he was so nervous at headlining with his solo show at the Winterland in San Francisco that night, that he actually forgot it was being recorded.
“It was one of those nights when we would have said: ‘I wish we’d recorded tonight!’ he recalled. But then they remembered it had indeed been recorded. “We all looked at each other and every now and again you have a really special gig when the audience is on and we are too.
“When we heard the tapes, I remember looking at (keyboardist) Bob Mayo and he went: ‘Whoa! we’ve got something here.’”
But asked if the two-disc record was still the biggest-selling live album ever, Frampton rolled his eyes.
“Let me put it this way - (country singer) Garth Brooks has the biggest-selling live collection. His set is a three album set, so he counts it three times.
“So if I count ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ twice, it would be peak figures. But it’s not.”
Editing by Jill Serjeant