It has been 40 years since Peter Frampton’s life was turned upside down.
The former Humble Pie singer-guitarist was enjoying modest success as a solo artist when he released a double live album after four studio albums.
Released in January 1976, Frampton Comes Alive! spent a record 17 weeks at the top of the charts, thanks to the singles Show Me the Way, Baby, I Love Your Way and the 14-minute Do You Feel Like We Do, with its distorted vocal effect.
One day, his manager called and asked if he was sitting down.
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“I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Well, you’ve just made history. It’s the biggest-selling album of all time. You’ve just beaten Carole King’s Tapestry record,’” Frampton said.
“That’s when I got nervous and a little bit anxious, because to have the No. 1 album was unbelievable. I mean, I never, ever thought that I could approach that. But then to hear that, that’s sort of surreal.”
The English-born Frampton, now 65, is celebrating that crazy summer with a new release, Acoustic Classics, a CD of stripped-down versions of his best-known songs plus one new tune, All Down to Me. He wanted the songs to sound fresh and intimate, as if they had been written the night before.
After the monster success of the 1976 live album, the singer with the big hair and good looks was repackaged as a pop star. His next album was rushed, against his objections, and didn’t do as well. Nothing could.
“I’ve learned that a pop star’s career is about 18 months, but a musician’s career lasts a lifetime. I kind of morphed — as quickly as I could — into a musician. It was a crazy period.”
Gordon Kennedy, a Nashville-based songwriter-musician who has written songs for Eric Clapton, Garth Brooks and Ricky Skaggs, has worked with Frampton for 16 years. He calls him “above everything else, this ferocious musician.”
“He is a guy who, in some ways, had to overcome his own image. And it wasn’t an image that he necessarily created,” Kennedy said.
Over the years, Frampton worked with George Harrison and toured with David Bowie, whom he had known since he was 12.
Bowie, a mentor, died in January. “We’ve lost a genius. ... He taught so many people how to redirect your career.”
In 2007, Frampton’s instrumental album Fingerprints won a Grammy Award, his first. “It meant so much to me to get that vote of confidence as a player,” he said.
“Over the last few years — since Fingerprints — things kind of sped up. There’s more demand for me out there live. ... It’s fantastic because I love to play live.”
These days, he lives in Nashville — he did live in the Cincinnati suburb of Indian Hill for many years — and has four kids. He has come to terms with the album that defined his career.
“When I kick the bucket, the first sentence will be, ‘known for the live album Frampton Comes Alive! I know that,” he said. He also knows how beloved his songs are, especially Baby, I Love Your Way.
“I have actually met children conceived to that song,” he said, laughing. “It was a very personal song to me and made me realize the more personal you make it, the more everybody else can see that in themselves.”
Mark Kennedy: @KennedyTwits