“This is the album I’ve been waiting my entire life to make,” says Peter Frampton of his remarkable new CD, Fingerprints (A&M/New Door/UME). It’s an impressive 14-tune collection of guitar mastery that crosses several musical borders, from funked-up r&b to razor-edged rockers to rootsy blues to country-flamed beauties to jazzy Django swing to reflective impressionism. And, on the disc, in what may come as a surprise to longtime fans, Frampton begs off singing to focus exclusively on the six-string.
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“I’ve never done a complete collection of instrumentals,” the Britain-born, Cincinnati-based Frampton says. “This is something I’ve been needing to do for myself for a long time. I wanted to play with people from all over the world, and I wanted to make the selections as diverse as possible. I didn’t want to make a smooth jazz album where the rhythm section plays the same on every tune.”
Fingerprints features Frampton having exhilarating musical conversations with a who’s who of the pop world, including Rolling Stones Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and Matt Cameron, original Shadows Hank Marvin and Brian Bennett, Allman Brothers/Gov’t Mule slide slinger Warren Haynes, Nashville pedal steel virtuoso Paul Franklin and gypsy guitar maestro John Jorgenson. In addition, Frampton band mate, Gordon Kennedy, who co-wrote many of the originals as well as co-produces the album, is prominently featured as a guitar companion.
Frampton achieved a rarefied tier of success with his multi-platinum 1976 album, Frampton Comes Alive!, arguably the most successful live recording of all time. It has sold more than 16 million copies to date, and it remains an essential. In 2001, Universal released the 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of Frampton Comes Alive! to much acclaim.
Frampton has long been since been a mainstay on the rock scene. He played in such late ‘60s-early ‘70s bands as Herd and Humble Pie, as well as appeared on George Harrison’s classic All Things Must Pass album. Frampton’s debut solo album, Wind of Change (A&M), was released in 1972. Prior to releasing Frampton Comes Alive!, the prolific songwriter had recorded a handful of well-received solo albums, with the gold-selling Frampton reaching #32 on the U.S. charts in 1975. This is the studio recording that yielded the classics, such as “Show Me The Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do,” that would help drive the enormous success of Frampton’s live opus.
In 2000, Frampton earned a “Best Rock Instrumental Performance” Grammy nomination for Live in Detroit. His last album, 2003’s Now (Framptone/33rd Street Records), prompted the Associated Press to declare: “When it comes to fiery, guitar-drenched rock, Frampton delivers.”
Frampton traces the genesis of Fingerprints to two seminal experiences: catching the fever of British instrumental rock music at its birth in 1960, when the Shadows scored a monumental pop hit with the tune “Apache,” and then 35 years later when Shadows’ lead guitarist Marvin came backstage at a Frampton concert and affirmed that indeed one day he’d love to cut a track with him.
In the beginning of his career, Frampton had one thing on his mind: playing the guitar like his pop music heroes, including Marvin and Elvis Presley’s guitar stalwart Scotty Moore. “I didn’t want to sing,” he says. “I wanted to be the guy behind the singer playing solos. I’d listen to Elvis songs but my focus was on Scotty. People like Hank and Scotty set the template for me.”
Frampton recalls how in the early ‘60s England “went berserk for the Shadows, who were like the instrumental Beatles. This was the start of everything for me. I became addicted to the guitar,” he says, noting that he started to play the instrument when he was eight and took classical lessons at the age of twelve. The Shadows changed that quickly, he notes. “I wanted to play like them, so I got together with a couple of friends and formed a band that played every Shadows number. I can still play most of them.”
A few years later, when Beatlemania took hold, Frampton and co. started to integrate singing into their act. “But it was still the guitar playing for me,” he says. “All the bands I was asked to join wanted me for my guitar.”
Fast-forward to 1995, when Marvin showed up at Frampton’s show at Shepherds Bush Empire in London. He requested a backstage pass, which was both a shock and a thrill for Frampton, who had casually met his hero a couple of times before. “We spent an hour asking each other questions and talking about guitars,” says Frampton. “My idol even asked me what kind of strings I used. So, it was then that I asked him if he’d be interested in doing a song together someday. And Hank said, ‘Absolutely.’ Of course, it took me ten years to finally set this project into motion. So I e-mailed him about booking a session, and he replied, ‘I thought you’d never ask.’”
The two join together, along with original Shadows drummer Bennett and Kennedy, for the bluesy ”My Cup of Tea,” a tune that came together via intercontinental swapping of ideas by mp3. Once the group convened in a London studio, his dream was fulfilled. “I was beaming ear to ear,” he says. “Hank is the reason why I play the guitar. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
After the first call to Marvin, Frampton enlisted Pearl Jam guitarist McCready and drummer Cameron at Neil Young’s 2004 Rocking the Vote concert in Toledo, Ohio. For Fingerprints, they decided to cover the Chris Cornell Soundgarden hit “Black Hole Sun” as a full-on rocker (Cameron was the drummer in Soundgarden at the time of the band’s original recording) as well as improvisationally concoct the melodic original “Blowin’ Smoke.” Of the former, Frampton says, “It was unnerving but exciting. There’s a lot of stuff going on in this tune. Mike said, ‘Let’s battle it out,’ so we went to places I had never gone before.”
Frampton says that the close guitar interaction proved to be a touchstone for the rest of the album. “I knew we had to have all the guitar playing be live, not dubbed in,” he says. “Mike and I played this song 10 times at least. It wasn’t so much about trying to get it better as it was having so much fun that we didn’t want the session to end.”
Fingerprints opens with the funky, arena-rock-like “Boot It Up,” an original Frampton and his longtime bassist John Regan cooked up by developing a guitar-bass loop. “I was talking with David Bowie on the phone one day and he asked me if I had gotten around to putting a sax on the record yet,” explains Frampton. “I told him, no, it’s all guitars. He said, ‘I’ve got a sax player for you—Courtney Pine.’ So I sent an mp3 of the track, he loved it and then added in a sax part. That put the icing on the cake.”
The Reinhardt vibe on Fingerprints arrives on two tracks. The rhythmically upbeat “Ida Y Vuelta” is what Frampton calls “if Django had done South America.” It’s a collaboration between Frampton, Shawn Fichter (Peter’s drummer) and Stanley Sheldon, the original bassist from Frampton Comes Alive!, who had spent considerable time in Latin America. Then there’s the album finale, “Souvenirs de Nos Péres,” a grand swinger with acoustic bass and five-string viola accompaniment. “That was the scariest track of them all,” says Frampton who teams up with Django channel Jorgenson and swaps amazing licks with “the genius” back and forth. “It was such a challenge.”
About his connection to Reinhardt, Frampton says, “[He’s] the guitar player I’ve lived with since I was 7. My dad bought our first record player and brought home two albums: a Hot Club of France with a sepia cover that I still have and the Shadows’ first. I liked the Shadows better, but Django seeped in as I started to play the guitar and realized how much I had to learn. I have Django’s melodic sense totally inside me. Because he played the guitar with only two fingers on his left hand, he played vertically up and down the neck, opening up new possibilities and creating new places to hit different notes. Every time I listen to his music today, there’s always a new lesson and there always will be – he’s the best!”
Frampton makes on Fingerprints is with the original rhythm section of the Rolling Stones on the rocker “Cornerstones.” The leader says, “I’ve known Bill Wyman for many years, since I was 14, and have played with him on sessions and with his band, ‘The Rhythm Kings.’ He was one of the first people I asked to play on the album. He said yes, and then I asked if Charlie would come play too. We all jumped in and came up with this song that started off with me just playing the opening riff.”
Frampton collaborates with Kennedy on four tunes, including the melancholic “Float,” the fast and hip “Shewango Way” and the easy-going, country-grooved “Double Nickels,” with Frampton trading licks with pedal steel king Franklin. Then there’s the humorous, funk-rock “Grab a Chicken (Put It Back),” with sampled instructions from Internet cooking programs about how to cook a chicken.
Fingerprints also includes three Frampton compositions. The slow-turning “Smoky” is a nod to jazz guitarists Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell. “This is in the vein of [Hammond organist] Jimmy Smith, [drummer] Grady Tate and Kenny,” says Frampton. “Kenny’s sound has really influenced me: his rich jazz tone like butter.” He also contributes the blues-infused “Blooze,” noting, “I wanted to have something for Warren [Haynes] to really sink his teeth into. We had a great time going back and forth.”
The shortest song on the CD (clocking in at 1:19) is also its most moving. “Oh, When…” is a solo guitar piece that is gently reflective and lyrical. “It’s a code,” Frampton explains. “My father’s name was Owen. We lost him recently. It’s like, ‘Oh, when my dad and I did this or that…’” Frampton played the song at the funeral, recorded it on a small recorder when he was in England, then returned home and tracked it.
Thinking of his father’s impact on his guitar life, Frampton says that Fingerprints is a testament to his encouragement. “The whole album is dedicated to him,” he says.
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