Peter Frampton is a genius. I didn’t know this back in the 70’s when I first developed a crush on him based on his pink backlit image on the cover of the hit album, “Frampton Comes AIive!”. I don’t think I realized it even after I’d memorized a version of every song and riff on that album, either. I just loved him. Teenagers. I say “a version” because I’ve never been good at deciphering lyrics, and I often find I’ve been singing way-wrong lyrics to popular songs for decades. Not just singing, actually. Belting out. In fact, I’m often only forming sounds that don’t even add up to words, in an effort to keep up with the groove of great music. Never catching the meaning. Sometimes not even knowing whether I’m singing about love or politics or partying. Since the internet, I can now look up lyrics. I’m occasionally shocked and always amused at how far off I’ve been all along. It just doesn’t matter to me as much as the sound of the music. One summer, John and I drove our four kids six hours away to a vacation spot. We played “Frampton Come Alive” all the way there and all the way back. That’s 12 hours of pure Frampton. It was a blast. At first our kids were a touch mortified that we would rock out like fools. They became mildly intrigued at our ability to sing along to pure instrumentals with impressive accuracy. (I’m guessing a bit here, but I’m sure that’s what they were thinking.) and of course, Frampton sold himself. It’s great stuff. Our kids were hooked. Ever since, my heart is warmed when Peter’s music plays and our kids are the ones rocking out. Last night, we had the distinct privilege of seeing Peter Frampton perform live. Close up. Fourth row. Beautiful small town venue. Wow. I could read his lips, we were so close. So I now know how many of those lyrics I’ve botched since the 70s: plenty. But who cares? He’s a poet, yes. He was pop star, yes. And a rock star for sure. But more than that, he is an innovative genius. That guitar is part of him. They are perfect, amazing companions. Like a couple who laughs together easily. It makes you happy just to watch them together. One of the things I love most about true musicians is how they respect and revere those who have gone before them. I find this to be too rare in business. A business person will tell you what they’ve accomplished and where they’ve worked and what positions they’ve held. A musician will tell you who they were listening to in their early years. Who their influences were. Their inspirations. Many of these heroes were not mainstream, popular artists. Some were quiet, brilliant musicians’ musicians. And their successors refer to them lovingly. When one of those names is mentioned, the other band members smile broadly, close their eyes and nod big nods of recollection of the sounds that artist created. It’s fascinating and lovely. Deep peer respect. To a non-music person like myself, those names almost never ring a bell with me. But I know instantly they are the mentors and the pioneers of music. They must be if Peter Frampton says so. I’ve seen him perform and he’s got to be one of the greats. The guy is now 65. Before the show last night, I Googled images of him to prepare myself for the shock I anticipated after 40 years of recollecting the pink album cover. I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I was thrilled for Peter. He looked handsome. And so joyful. Not just a couple of joyful pictures: every recent photo. Truth is, the photos from his first zenith – which would have put him in his twenties – were almost sullen. Cute as hell, but sullen. I have to think he was happy in those days…although I don’t know. But one thing is clear: he is loving life today. I love that. I loved watching him play. It was play. His demeanor of stage seemed to say, “Hey! How cool you all showed up to see us! You realize I’m an old guy now, right? You’re staying anyway? Well, cool! Let’s have some fun!” So humble. So skilled. His interaction with his band is telling, too. His bass player is an original. Stanley Sheldon. From the way Frampton introduced him, you can tell there’s a relaxed, deep affection there, as one would expect with as many adventures as they must have had together. And Rob Arthur, the keyboard player (also a guitarist) is connected to Peter in an invisible but powerful way. Another talented musician – surely successful in his own right – clearly loving this chance to tour with Peter. I am particularly fond of percussion, and Frampton’s wonderful drummer, Dan Wojciechowski, is the one who gets to administer the trademark “ting ting ting” of the ride cymbal, that makes everyone squint their eyes closed and shake their head slow. It’s like hearing the first rain and anticipating a downpour. Nothing better. And you could feel the bass beat in your chest. Unmistakable. To most, anyway. There was a woman in front of us who clearly couldn’t feel a beat without a defibrillator zapping it directly into her. It was an odd thing to watch. Mildly entertaining and a little sad. Can you imagine a complete and total lack of rhythm? It reminded me of that Seinfeld episode where Elaine tries to dance. Hysterical. But one of my favorite dynamics was with the younger guitar player, Adam Lester. He’s not a kid, but he’s got to be the youngest of the band. Totally unassuming guy who was burning it up on his instruments. He was mellow, though. Not a spotlight stealer. But so excellent, that you could tell how he got this gig. And when the two of them had a duel up there, I imagined Adam thinking, “These are the ‘good ole days’ for me. I mean, I am sharing the stage with the great Peter Frampton.” And Peter was probably thinking, “This kid is amazing.” It was hard to know who was having the better time. I think we were. Peter mentioned he spends some time with Ringo…pretty much because they live by each other. I thought, “Ringo loves you, man. Ringo loves you. And we love you too.”
He mentioned that he was playing the same guitar he played at the live performance in San Francisco that made up most of the “Live” album. He said he’d lost that guitar for 30 years, but it made its way back to him eventually. I know that to be a true story. And I’m not surprised that guitar found him again. I’m glad we did, too.