Track By Track: Peter Frampton’s _Acoustic Classics_
“Each time I’ve done a project recently, I’ve tried to challenge myself more and do different things within my music,” Peter Frampton reflects on the origins of his new acoustic record. “It had been brought to my attention, ‘What about the idea of doing something acoustic live?’ I said, ‘Oh, no, that’s too scary—just me and an acoustic? No.’ Then I started thinking about that and I thought, ‘Well, why not? Let’s give it a go—it’s a challenge. That’s what I want, so let’s go out there and face my fears.’
“I started recording the album before I went on the acoustic tour. I have my own little studio in Nashville, and I came in the first day and started recording, but it wasn’t pleasing to me. I said, ‘Where’s the band?’ There was something missing, and that’s because my approach was the same as if I had been playing these songs with the band, except they weren’t there. So then I decided to try and capture the initial spirit when I first wrote and recorded these songs in an embryonic way. During this process, I got inspired and wrote one new one [‘All Down to Me’], and we thought: ‘It’s a new classic,’ so we stuck it on there.”
FIG TREE BAY
In 1970, when I was still with Humble Pie, I went for vacation to Cyprus. “Fig Tree Bay” was the one that I wrote there. It was just the observation of the island and the serene peacefulness of being there for 10 days and being there with someone I was in love with, who ended up being my first wife.
That was one of the first tracks we did for Wind of Change at Olympic Studios—just a trio of myself on guitar and Rick Wills, who ended up being in Foreigner, on bass and Mike Kellie from Spooky Tooth on drums, who was the first drummer for Frampton’s Camel. I remember I sang it live while we were recording it and there was too much live pickup in the room for us to keep the original vocal. I had to literally go back and listen to the scratch vocal and copy it. I was sort of writing it as we were recording it.
WIND OF CHANGE
“Wind of Change” was inspired by a guitar tuning that I first heard from Joni Mitchell. She would use a tuning, and it took me a while to work out that you can’t play those chords on a regular tuning, on a regular strung guitar. I never really knew what tuning she was using but sort of guesstimated. I was always experimenting with tunings, so when I became friends with George Harrison and was working with him, I got to go down to his home and was able to check out the guitars and all the acoustics he had. This one tuning just sort of stuck out to me as being the strangest tuning I’ve ever heard, but it was very full sounding and yet high as well—it was low and high. I asked George what that was and he said it was just something he came up with. So I stole it from him and took it home and, lo and behold: “Wind of Change” in that George Harrison-specialized tuning.
ALL I WANT TO BE (IS BY YOUR SIDE)
This was the very last track from Wind of Change. I needed one more song, and we had a session booked for midday the following day, and I still didn’t have anything. It was midnight and I called Chris Kimsey, the engineer/producer. I said, “I don’t have anything; it’s not happening.” He said, “Look, relax, have a cup of tea and see what you can do.” So I went back and, within the next couple of hours, I came up with “All I Want to Be”—the music and lyrics. I got to bed at about 4 or 5 o’clock, and I had no tape recorder, so I was just praying I would remember it in the morning.
I remember going into the studio that day and Mick Jones from Foreigner, a dear friend of mine from years before, was there, so I asked him to play guitar with me on it. So it’s him and Rick Wills and Mike Kellie. It’s very interesting because, at that time, we were having planned power cuts because of the fuel shortage in the early ‘70s. So one take was on regular power and one take was on a generator. When the power came back on, we played one after the other, and one was slightly faster because of the generator. It was all bizarre— there’s even a line in the original that said, “This record’s going slower.” It was a challenge to get that one on tape because we didn’t know if the power was going to go off while we were recording it.
SHOW ME THE WAY & BABY, I LOVE YOUR WAY
I want to group these two together because it’s the only time I’ve ever written two songs that have been so important to me in the same day. I had gone down to Nassau, Bahamas and rented Steve Marriott’s cottage on the beach because Humble Pie had all bought little cottages down there. I went down for three weeks—that’s all the time I had to write the whole Frampton album.
When I first arrived, I partied a little too hard with Alvin Lee of Ten Years After, who was also there on the island. Rest in peace, Alvin—he was a great, great friend and lovely guy. I didn’t get a lot done the first two weeks but, when he finally left the island, I got down to some work. The first day of the last week I was down there, I got up and wrote “Show Me the Way” before lunch. I thought, “This is the first thing that I have written that I would play for Mom.” All the other stuff I [had] been writing was not up to par. So I took a little break, went for a ride around the island, had a little swim, had lunch and came back. Then I thought, “Maybe this is a good day,” so I started on what ended up being “Baby, I Love Your Way.” I remember going outside just as the sun was setting, sitting by the beach and writing the lyrics to the first verse and chorus. It was a special day.
The way I decided to do “Show Me the Way” on the new album was with a subdued talk box. It’s the only gadget on Acoustic Classics because people are so used to hearing that sound. When I’m on a radio show or doing something like that and there’s no audience, I will do it just by playing that melody on the guitar. I do it a third way live, by having the audience sing the talk box part. I tell them: “It’s slightly humiliating, but you’ll enjoy it once you’ve done it.” I discussed heavily and forcefully with myself whether I should put the talk box on the album. It’s a much cleaner sound. I think it’s a very attractive sound; it’s different.
LINES ON MY FACE
“Lines on My Face” is obviously a breakup song—the relationship is finishing or has finished. When that period happened, my first marriage was on the rocks. I came out and stayed with friends in New York. I stayed with my manager for a while. I stayed with my dear friend Frank Carillo, and the two of us played acoustic on the version of “Lines on My Face” that’s on Frampton’s Camel.
I had come up with the chords and the melody that I wanted for “Lines on My Face” in Manhattan. Then I went out for the weekend to see Frank on Long Island. I remember sitting in his brother Andrew’s bedroom (who also is a friend of mine). Andrew’s mother had thrown him out of his bedroom because I was coming over, so Andrew had to sleep on the couch—the little things. Anyway, I wrote the lyrics over the weekend and played them the song—hopefully, they like the performance on this new project.
“Sail Away” was a song that we did for Somethin’s Happening. We recorded at the place Led Zeppelin did Houses of the Holy [Headley Grange]. It’s a huge mansion. It’s where they cut “When the Levee Breaks [from Led Zeppelin IV]”—that huge drum sound. We were all in different rooms. The drums were in the kitchen, I was in the bathroom upstairs and the bass was in the living room. Each room sounded best for that particular instrument for that track. The acoustic sounded so full in that echoey sound of a bathroom.
It’s always been a song that I like because it’s a sing-along. It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention over the last decade and I thought, “I’ve always enjoyed it,” so I thought I’d bring that one out. It’s the only one on the new album that has more than one vocal from me. I decided that I needed to do the background vocals because they were such a big part of the song.
ALL DOWN TO ME
This is one of those songs I came up with relatively quickly, as I do with the ones I end up liking the most. It’s the realization that we all have our weak periods, where things seem to get on top of us. When it comes down to it, people can give you advice, but you have to make the decision of what is best for you. What’s best for somebody else isn’t necessarily the same. It’s all down to you working it out.
PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
It’s very short and it probably goes down as well as “Do You Feel” when I do it live. It’s one of those little cheeky numbers that was an afterthought for the Frampton album. The juxtaposition of that fading out and leading into “Money” was a 180-degree switch, so I love the placement there. When I just do “Penny for Your Thoughts” and no other acoustics in the electric act, we usually stick it right before “Money.”
It was something that I was messing around with and developed over a few months. I played it for Chris Kimsey, and he said, “We’ve got room—that’s good, man—let’s record that quickly.” We’d already mixed everything for Frampton. He said, “We could stick it in there, what do you think?” So I said, “Let’s do it.” It was just by chance that it ended up being on the Frampton album, then ended up on Frampton Comes Alive.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE I DO
This was the one that I originally thought was definitely off the table for an acoustic album— “How the hell can we do it? It’s such an improvised number and every instrument is so important.”
The chorus was originally written on an acoustic, but then I took the chorus to a rehearsal for the first Peter Frampton tour of America with my band Frampton’s Camel. We were jamming and I brought my reelto-reel, and we were recording all the jams if we came up with something. The verses and the instrumental portion were written on electric with the band, and I brought the chorus that I had written on acoustic. That was the only part that I thought could be done acoustically.
As we were recording this album, I began to think, “There’s the challenge. Let me try it.” I went to the Frampton’s Camel version—the real slow version— and I dissected what was going on there between the Wurlitzer and my electric guitar in the instrumental intro, and decided that I would do it on two guitars. I started to smile when I came in and listened to it. I just tried the intro to see if it would work, and then put on the second harmony guitar, and it did.
I decided that was the only one that would benefit from an acoustic bass. We already had two guitars. Leave me in the studio long enough, and there would be an orchestra on there, but I did stop myself. I think it’s the only one with the bass on there, but it really works and makes it feasible to do that number acoustically. I think it came off really well.
I’M IN YOU
This was the very first song I had written in between touring in ‘76, while supporting Comes Alive. I wrote it in one night. I started it early in the evening and, by the time the sun came up, not only had I written the music and the words, but I also recorded the piano and the vocal at home. That is the original piano and vocal that is on the “I’m in You” studio record. I did it on a Revox reel-to-reel that Jerry Shirley, the drummer of Humble Pie, lent me. I took it into the studio and we overdubbed onto the original.
I did my version of it today in the same manner. Obviously, performances are always going to be different— take one to take two could be a 180-degree difference. That’s what performing is all about; it’s always different. I did “I’m in You” maybe five different times over a couple of months, and this is the one I chose because I felt this performance was most communicative and personal.