“The name of the man you need to see is Stanley Coles.”
I can still remember the stern British accent and directness of the words. I was a fifteen-year-old aspiring music writer standing in a hotel lobby near the Springfield Civic Center in Massachusetts. A publicist from A&M Records had confirmed I’d be on the guest list but my name was not at will call and two hours from home in Ridgefield, ConnecticutI, I was wandering aimlessly. when out of the corner of my eye I recognized Peter Frampton.
Frampton and his girlfriend Penny McCall turned around simultaneously like deer in headlights. They were smaller than I imagined them and had the look of perfectly coiffed twins.
Being a voracious reader of liner notes on record albums, I immediately knew he was Peter’s road manager. The chances of getting to Stanley Coles seemed unlikely—at the moment Frampton Comes Alive just happened to be the biggest album in the world. Just a year earlier On the Frampton tour where it was recorded, my friends Brad Bechard and Greg Logsted were watching Frampton at Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut. Suddenly the former guitarist of Humble Pie who had made four solo albums was an “overnight sensation.”
Frampton turned and left to head into a waiting limousine. Left behind I scrambled and placed a call to the Springfield Civic Center. I was connected to a sympathetic woman who said she could help. I headed over and after a few minutes, a mustachioed man came over to greet my friend Frank Nagy and me. I recognized him as the concert promoter Jim Koplik. We had a short conversation and after sizing me up, he let us in and Frank and I caught the end of Frampton’s set with the thunderous climactic finale of “Do You Feel Like We Do.” Then we stayed to hear the headliner J Geils Band somewhat mystified that Frampton was the opening act. I’d never heard such thunderous cheers as I did that night and it was like witnessing mania.
As Peter Frampton stepped onstage at the Anthem in Washington DC, it all came back to me. I felt like I had been in a real-life scene out of Roadies, the series by director Cameron Crowe of Almost Famous fame.
Billed as Peter Frampton Finale: The Farewell Tour, the series of fall shows are not your typical goodbye This time there is a reason that goes beyond age. Frampton had publicly shared with CBS televisions Anthony Mason that he had a degenerative muscular disease that would soon make it not possible to play guitar.
Frampton was quiet about it until he got to the last of his encores. Now with his band offstage, he stood alone, finally addressing the elephant in the room. Once a road warrior whose manager Dee Anthony booked him for two and fifty shows a year, the still youthful vocalist and great guitarist was the reluctant retiree staring down the end of a storied career.
“I know you know,” he said slightly pausing, “about my medical condition.” Acknowledging the outpouring of love he’d felt on this and other nights, he said with tears starting to welling in his soulful eyes. “But you are going to heal me.”
Frampton curated the show like a full life chronology. In an opening montage of photographs, we saw him rise from youth to be at the epicenter of rock royalty surrounded by Stevie Nicks, Ringo, and his childhood classmate David Bowie.
The drum kit still had his logo that first appeared on his debut album Wind of Change. Before playing “Lines on My Face,” Frampton recalled how he came to Electric Lady Studios without a drummer when John Siomos took his call. Siomos, like keyboardist Bob Mayo, mentioned and forever immortalized on “Do You Feel Like We Do,” have since passed. Frampton recalled how the custom green drum kit he ordered for Siomos was thought lost. But Frampton was amazed to find the drum kit on EBay and bought it back for the second time. Frampton also stood playing his black Les Paul that he held on the cover of Frampton Comes Alive which was thought to be destroyed in a plane crash but found its way back to him after a thirty-year absence.
The set resurrected many of Frampton’s signature songs from that era, kicking off with “Baby (Something’s Happening),” “Lines on My Face” and “Show Me The Way,” “(I’ll Give You Money)” and “Baby I Love Your Way.” Frampton’s meteoric rise was counterbalanced by subsequent ups and downs over the years. But in 2019 he is back at the top of his game and could proudly say that he had a number one charting album All Blues. Inspired by touring with Steve Miller, Frampton made the collection of traditional blues greats. He broke into two Freddie King covers, “Me and My Guitar” and “Same Old Blues,” worthy of someone who cut his teeth first as a teenager in the Herd before joining Steve Marriott of Small Faces to form Humble Pie.
Back in 2006, Frampton made an all-instrumental album Fingerprints and did a stunning version of Hoagey Carmichael’s “Georgia.” When recalling the journey to make it, he took us to Seattle, his “first port of call” where he connected with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell to record “Black Hole Sun.” At the Anthem, Frampton was content to play from far stage left but mosied over to center stage to add his signature talk box to “Black Hole Sun” and perhaps his most famous song which closed the set.
“You know this song,” he teased and we all knew what was coming.
As the cover of Frampton Comes Alive showed with its worn cardboard, Frampton signature guitar chords led through the extended jam of ”Do You Feel Like We Do.” We were all back in time again.
I never did find Stanley Coles that night in Springfield. For my friends and I there would be other shows. After Natural Gas and Gary Wright opened at Colt Park in Hartford, my oldest friend Don Principe saw Frampton run onstage breaking a rib. There was the show in New Haven we saw opened up by the Climax Blues Band. We were at Madison Square Garden the night he sang “I’m In You.” I remember it was the summer that the tabloid killer Son of Sam was on the loose and I remember being terrified being dropped off and walking a short distance to my grandparents’ house in Yonkers, New York, which turned out to be the killer’s hometown.
After Frampton went through “(I’ll Give You) Money,” it was encore time at the Anthem.
“Do you want some Humble Pie?” he asked rhetorically.
Frampton launched into Ida Cox’s “Four Day Creep” and Ray Charles’ “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” alternating verses with his band mates like had originally with the late Steve Marriott. There was an emotional montage of pictures of he and Steve Marriott, the great soul singer and original member of Small Faces and front man of the band, the two kids who made the gems Town and Country and As Safe as Yesterday before taking the world by storm with Rockin’ The Fillmore just as Frampton left to make his first solo album and attempt at anti-stardom, Wind of Change.
This was the man whose power chords still sounded as dense and loud as when I’d get home from East Ridge Junior High School and had the house to myself. Frampton left the band at the height of their popularity to take a chance on a solo career. I’ve often thought about it as a life lesson and frame of reference in my own business career.
At the Anthem it was the anniversary of 9/11. It’s always a difficult day for my wife Kelly and I. We lived in New York and this day was the birthday of her mother who passed away a few years ago. The British-born Frampton described his reaction to 9/11 and becoming an American citizen. He is now a Nashville resident and betrayed a little southernness when at one point I heard him say “thank y’all.”
Over the years the memory of that night in Springfield endures. Shortly after, my friend Frank who was with me was tragically hit by a car and died.
As my friend Steve Houk put it in his Facebook post paraphrasing Frampton, “There are so many people, my family of friends, who have come and gone since then and some remain. But life has been good and he’s been along for the whole ride. Cheers Peter, we love you. Do you feel like we do? I think you do.”
Houk, who grew up a town away from me, is the writer of the music website Living on Music. He still marvels at the time he spoke to Frampton for an article and was greeted by the voice on the other end: “Hello, Peter Frampton here.”
My high school friend Ange Canessa, now a program director for a classic rock station in Louisville, most recently saw an acoustic show and was taken by how grateful, humble and kind he was to the audience. “He was so authentic,” he told me.
At the Anthem, Melissa Maphis stood in the front row, a spot she’d held since waiting online with Kelly earlier in the afternoon. At one point she held up her Farewell Tour t-shirt and peeked around the side when Frampton made eye contact with a genuine smile.
“There’s so many people, my family of friends,” Frampton had sung earlier in “Lines In My Face,” the guitarist preferring to stand on the side of the stage but a master showman who played to every corner of the theater.
On this night it was a soundtrack of his life and ours and the years in between.
I’d be lying if I said the tears in Frampton’s were the only ones.