Peter Frampton was well in the rock-star conversation long before Frampton Comes Alive launched him into a traumatically sudden megastardom, a level of cultural exposure (and sales performance) from which there is no easy return and no gentle landing. Already a known commodity in British rock for his work with the Herd, Frampton really staked his claim as premier second-generation British Invasion guitarist with Steve Marriott’s post-Small Faces project Humble Pie, from which he departed after two albums. “Artistic differences” were cited in the split, but it didn’t take a genius to see that Frampton was an A-list rock star waiting to happen – or at least a contender worth banking on – and he had completed the required apprenticeships. As Frampton was getting his solo career off the ground in the patient way that was still allowed back then, he made studio contributions to a few epochal records, including George Harrison’s masterpiece All Things Must Pass and Harry Nilsson’s essential Son of Schmilsson.
The archetypal quadruple threat – singer, songwriter, ace guitarist and all-around good-looker – Frampton’s formidable talents receive their fullest expression not on the best-selling live double album, but three years earlier on the career-defining Frampton’s Camel, a mature, proof-of-concept statement record that displays Frampton working comfortably in numerous styles. In his rich singing and steady, lyrical guitar playing, there’s an unpretentious, agreeable neutrality to Frampton that reminds me of the humble appeal of Steve Winwood or Dave Mason at their obsequious best. Likability and an impeccably sturdy basic skill set went a long way at the dawn of the singer/songwriter age. Those antecedents, and that essential likability, set the stage for one of most extreme pop-culture explosions in rock history to date. I lived through it. Frampton Comes Alive, with its full-face cover, was ubiquitous. In terms of sales, it keeps company with Rumours, Thriller and a tiny handful of others.
I was once told that Hootie and the Blowfish got dropped from their label because their sophomore album sold only three million copies. (No record will ever sell three million copies again.) Frampton came down with 1977’s I’m in You, the market performance of which would have been exceptional, had he not blown the curve the year before. A featured part in the execrable film version of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band abetted Frampton’s fall from the needle point of rock’s commercial pinnacle.
But you’d never know it from Frampton himself. His steadiness, good humor and unforced modesty have made him the kind of fellow who could withstand that kind of trip with his ego and integrity intact. He has continued to tour and to make solid records such as 2010’s fine Thank You, Mr. Churchill, and to enjoy telling his remarkable story in a way that the kids today would call “relatable.”
The Bardavon presents “Peter Frampton RAW: An Acoustic Tour” at the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) in Kingston on Saturday, April 8 at 8 p.m. Touring in support of his 2016 release Acoustic Classics, Frampton will perform with longtime collaborator Gordon Kennedy as well as with his son, Julian Frampton. All seats are reserved; tickets cost $45 to $85 (members get $5 off). They are available at the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; the UPAC box office at 601 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; or through Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com.