Peter Frampton Breaks Down His New Instrumental Covers Album Track By Track

The guitar hero tackles a diverse set of influences and pays tribute to his musical peers.

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Peter Frampton Instrumental Covers
Photo: Rob Arthur

Not everyone can pull off a covers album, much less an instrumental one, but Peter Frampton always had two expertly tuned instruments at his disposal: his clarion voice and his six-string mastery.

With the arrival of his new studio album, Frampton Forgets The Words, the guitar hero tackles a diverse set of influences and pays tribute to many musical peers that he’s collaborated with for over five decades.

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With his 1954 Les Paul Phenix guitar in hand, Frampton brings his virtuosic guitar playing to songs including David Bowie’s “Loving The Alien,” George Harrison’s “Isn’t It A Pity,” Roxy Music’s “Avalon,” Radiohead’s “Reckoner,” and more.

“The reason I chose the instrumental record of covers was that I had just been diagnosed with my muscle disease, IBM (inclusion body myositis),” Frampton says.

“I had no idea how long it would be feasible for me to play. So, I wanted to get as much recorded as possible. If I would have written all these songs, it would have taken a lot longer, and we wouldn’t have got them done before we went on our finale tour, which started in May of 2019.

“All of these songs are tributes to these artists that have written these incredible songs.”

Listen to Frampton Forgets The Words – out today – and read on for more insight from Frampton into each track.

If You Want Me To Stay (Sly Stone)

This song features one of the all-time best bass lines in musical history. Unbeknownst to me until I met Sly, I did not realize that he played the bass part on this track. I was asked in the late 70s by Sly to come to his studio, meet the family, and play on a track of what was to be his next album at that time, which I did. When I was finished doing my stuff, I said “There’s a bass over there, can you just play “If You Want Me to Stay?” “Oh man, it’s my bass,” he said. “That wasn’t Larry Graham?” I replied. “No, that was me!” he said. So, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Sly, it was a crazy day.

Reckoner (Radiohead)

My son Julian introduced me to Radiohead’s music years ago now. The In Rainbows album was the first one that I heard and “Reckoner” became one of my favorite songs – well the whole album is great – but this one became a real favorite of mine. Going through songs that I loved over the years, I’m just thinking, “Well, I wonder if we could do a really good version of ‘Reckoner?’” Slightly different obviously, but a tribute to Radiohead. It’s something that just built and built and built and turned into something really special.

Dreamland (Michel Colombier ft. Jaco Pastorius)

I wanted to play a Jaco Pastorius song, so I called up my keyboard player and bandleader Rob Arthur and said, “You know what, let’s learn it just for an exercise because I want to play those melodies.” We just had the keyboards and guitar in my studio with a click track going and that was about it.

I was going through this incredible Jaco Pastorius phase, appreciating his melodic style, his dexterity, and everything; but my goodness, the way he placed his notes. His choice of notes is just out of this world. He was an animal on the bass, just a monster. I’m really sorry that we’ve lost him. I used it to wake myself up with his “Dreamland” track, which was written by Michel Colombie and Jaco.

I never thought any more about it for ages until I went back and listened to it when we were thinking of what to do for the instrumental album. It was just obvious, so we brought it back into the studio and the rest of the band joined us. It’s one of my favorites, probably because of the melodic content.

One More Heartache (Marvin Gaye)

Years ago, when Motown first started, Berry Gordy sent all his acts to England, and Motown sort of broke out of Europe and America at the same time basically. They spent a lot of promotional monies on bringing all their acts to England. I didn’t get a chance to see the shows, but you would see them on TV, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, and The Four Tops, all of them. Motown took over just like The Beatles and The Beatles did a lot of Motown covers early on.

There was this one single that Marvin Gaye did called, “One More Heartache” and I loved the guitar riff on it. Then of course his voice…gold dust. So, I’d always wanted to try and do my version of this song. I added a little bridge part to it and everything just to spice it up as an instrumental, as opposed to being vocal. With an instrumental, you have to be very clever in making each subsequent verse more interesting than the one before. We try to do that on all the tracks here. “One More Heartache” is almost unrecognizable, but the riff is still there.

Avalon (Roxy Music)

As soon the Roxy Music’s Avalon album came out, it instantly became my favorite album of all time. The way it was engineered, mixed, and played – the sounds were phenomenal. I think it was the zenith of all their creativity and they just kind of relaxed and did this album because it’s so relaxed and beautiful. Every time I would move to a different house or apartment over the years, I would always EQ my speakers to Avalon, the whole album. So Avalon was something I really wanted to get as close to the vocal sound as I could. I think I almost did it, but it’s a sexy kind of guitar sound on that one.

Isn’t It A Pity (George Harrison)

I got to meet George through a mutual friend who happened to be his assistant at the time, Terry Doran. George was doing his first production for the Beatles’ Apple label. He was recording and producing Doris Troy’s first solo album and Doris had sung on Humble Pie’s “Shine On,” as well as other songs.

I walk into the control room and there is George is behind the console. He just looks up and he goes, “Hello, Pete, you want to play?” I go down and play and he gives me Lucy – this very famous red Les Paul of his – and he teaches me the chords to “Ain’t That Cute,” which was the No.1 track off Doris Troy’s album. I didn’t realize at the time who was sitting next to me. It was Stephen Stills, meeting a Beatle for the first time.

When he called me back a month later and said, “I’m doing my solo record, would you come and help me play some acoustic? We’ve got Phil Spector and he wants 10 of everything: 10 pianos, 10 drum kits, the wall of sound.” I brought my acoustic down and played on about five or six tracks on the sessions, the live sessions. “Isn’t It A Pity” was the first track I heard when I walked in and it always gives me goosebumps. It’s a very emotional track.

I Don’t Know Why (Stevie Wonder)

I have at least 25 Stevie Wonder albums. I would go to Colony Records [in Times Square] and buy everything I could find of his. On one of those early albums is this very emotional track, a love song that he wrote called, “Don’t Know Why I Love You.” Again, it hit my emotion button. Because it starts very quietly and begins with a clarinet part. Then it gradually builds and builds and he’s screaming at the end with all this emotion. It’s obviously a love song about someone very important to him. I’ve always wanted to do that one.

Are You Gonna Go My Way (Lenny Kravitz)

For a real out-and-out rocker, we covered Lenny Kravitz. I love his stuff, always have. Of course, the one that sticks out the most is “Are You Gonna Go My Way.” Balls to the walls on that one, nice and loud rock and roll. That one turned out well too, so we’re very pleased. I hope Lenny likes that one too.

Loving The Alien (David Bowie)

I grew up with David Bowie as Dave Jones, we went to school together. He said, “I just heard your album, can you come and do some of that guitar playing on my next record?” I said, “I think so. It’s been about time!” So, he flies me to Switzerland, and we do the Never Let Me Down record in 1987. Then he asked me one night if I would join him on his Glass Spider tour and showed me the model of the spider.

It reintroduced me as a guitar player, and as a musician. It’s the biggest gift career-wise anyone’s ever given me, and I’ve never stopped thanking him. David was always a very generous man. So, the number that we did on stage where I got my solo feature was at the end of “Loving the Alien.” I had to cover it on this record as my tribute and my thanks for the gift that David gave me. A special, special track it is, and I hope we’ve done it justice. I feel we have.

Maybe (Alison Krauss)

My dear friend and writing partner for 1,040 years now, Gordon Kennedy, wrote this song that Alison Krauss did on one of her albums with Phil Madeira. Gordon just sent it to me one day and it became my favorite song for the next nine months. It’s still up there with me. I said, “I’m going to do it instrumentally,” and he says, “How are you going to do that instrumentally?” So, when he heard what I did on it, he said, “I should never ask.”

Buy or stream Frampton Forgets The Words.

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