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- June 27, 1977
- Vol. 7
- No. 25
At the Top of Rock
Peter Frampton Follows the Rule that True Talent Overcomes and with a New Tour and LP, He's Living Proof
That modesty helps explain why the follow-up to his cataclysmic live LP wasn't titled Frampton Comes Apart! I'm in You is vintage Frampton: deeply personal love ballads, exuberant rockers and his ever fresh-sounding, chime-like guitar licks. Wisely, Frampton treated the shell shock of celebrity with soul-saving leisure living—he bought himself a splendid stone-and-stucco manor on 52 acres of lushness some 40 miles north of Manhattan and an oceanside home in the Bahamas.
With the LP's success, he has made a great leap forward on manager Dee Anthony's elaborate "master plan" that includes a worldwide tour, the lead role as Billy Shears in a movie version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a double soundtrack LP from the film, a second live album, plus a TV spectacular—all by the end of the decade. From the movie alone Peter will collect $750,000, plus a percent of the gross.
For all that, Frampton is refreshingly free of the smugness that has smitten so many other fast-shooting rock stars, and is still beset with some insecurities. "I was petrified about I'm in You," he allows. "I couldn't wait to get it done to know whether it was good or not. After all, I have never proven myself with a studio LP." (His four pre-Alive LPs barely averaged six figures.) During the studio session on his birthday he was flatteringly joined by both Mick Jagger (a background vocalist on Tried to Love) and Stevie Wonder (the harmonica on Rooky's Hot Club). Despite his tension Peter wrote with a more informal, conversational tone "and a closer approximation of my feelings."
If so, they reflct the ambiguities in Peter's love-life in the wake of last year's triumph. In one song he sings, "Don't feel no pain, I'm gonna leave you." In I'm in You, he is thankful: "You gave me the love, love I never had." In another he glows, "I don't have to worry, you will always be there." Peter's lady of more than two years, Penny McCall, is hymned in the single I'm in You, but they've split up twice recently, possibly for keeps. "Maybe we'd have broken up had I not made it," he says, vaguely attributing demanding schedules and the relentless tide of "adulation on the outside" as contributing strains. "Should I blame my job for the relationship or did it just not work out?" In any case there's no doubt about his priorities: "I can't stop doing what I'm doing," he says.
"I've always had an involved sort of thing since I left home when I was 16," he reflects. "I'm now 'single'—on my own at the moment." For seven of those 11 years, Frampton was with ex-model Mary Lovett, whom he met back home in England. After three years of marriage they separated and last fall signed their divorce. But they since have mellowed into a mutually supportive nonromantic bond: "She moved to Woodstock a year ago. It's nice to be friends and talk, but we'll never live together, that's for sure."
Mary sometimes looks after the house and Peter's two dogs if he is away, and cheered him on backstage at his tour-opening Philadelphia gig. "She's writing a rock'n'roll cookbook," Peter says—"rock stars' own home-cooked recipes." Her ex-husband's contribution: apple crumble and an egg dish with scallions and mushrooms.
"When you don't have someone," Peter reflected, as he nibbled at filet of sole in his hotel suite at the beginning of the three-month tour, "you feel you want someone. Then when you do, it's nice to be single for one night. It can get a bit lonely, and it's good I've got a lot of work coming up—I won't be at home alone." Moments later Frampton and his friends were limoed to a club, where he squeezed into a long narrow table, sipped beer, ate pizza and playfully checked the action. "Nice-looking ladies," he appraised. "All with guys."
Earlier he had said, "Everybody thinks, or reads, 'Christ, he's in a good position. He could have anyone he likes. Just point a finger: this one tonight, that tomorrow...' " Still, Frampton worries, access to him is as tricky a problem as trust from him: "I have a lot of people to create interference around me. I've never been the center of attraction or known for my jokes, and I'm often suspicious of peoples' motives in meeting me. They barge right in." He continues, "Only the people I'd like to meet—those who respect my privacy—are too intimidated by it all and I never get to meet them." He muses as to how he would know if someone liked him for "the way I am or for the poster on her bedroom wall?" Worse, he says, "I can't stand in line for films anymore or go out on the streets alone. There's only one club in Manhattan where I can sit and listen to music and not be hassled." (Naturally he won't give its name.) So increasingly, he finds, "I like to stay at home. I can sit and play guitar for hours, read or watch TV, and I've discovered this new thing—walking. I do live a simple existence."
Despite the global worship, Frampton's closest loyalties remain to his family (his parents may move here from England within a year, he says), to his musicians and to his manager, Dee Anthony, and Dee's family. Peter is particularly tight with Anthony's daughter, Michelle, 21: "Peter and she call each other now when they feel down—not me anymore," reports Anthony. Peter interrupted his cherished post-LP vacation in Nassau last month to charter a Learjet and fly to her George Washington University graduation.
With his money, Frampton is both generous and absent-minded. He gave Anthony a 22-karat boxing glove pendant with a diamond in the center. For his first gold LP Dee gave him a diamond matching his own, which Peter wears in his right ear, and then last Christmas a classic Silver Cloud Rolls. Frampton has also gratefully paid his three musicians—Bob Mayo (keyboards, guitar), Stanley Sheldon (bass) and John Siomos (drums)—handsome salaries and periodic bonuses ranging up to $75,000.
The B-side to generosity is a knack for losing a checkbook—leaving a recent showing of Rocky, it fell out of his pocket and by the time he notified the bank $8,500 had been passed. Now he simply asks his manager or accountant for "a float" of pocket money—which averages out to a relatively modest $500 a week. "Money never meant that much to me," Peter professes. "If I still didn't have any it wouldn't bother me. I never believed I'd ever be this well-known."
Not even when he was an 8-year-old beginning on guitar, idolizing the likes of the Ventures and Johnny and the Hurricanes. The son of a high school art teacher, Peter grew up in Kent and by the age of 16 was a teenybopper's dream with the Herd. In 1968 "the Face"—as he was called—was a respected sessions man who then teamed up to create the heavier sound of Humble Pie till he split to record with his own group in 1971. After four LPs he owed Anthony $80,000 and as recently as 1974 Frampton was selling off possessions in his home in St. John's Wood to survive.
Despite the need for psychic release from the hassles and pressures of his art, Peter has stayed clear of hard drugs: "I'm frightened to death of heroin, LSD, all hallucinogens. I've never touched them. Too many friends have died from them." His most frequent highs are beer and brandy. Without chemicals, he says, he has "always had the capability to sit alone in a room and flake out, not say anything, just completely turn off, whether I'm happy or sad. I guess that's some kind of release. I must've given my mother fits, because she could never get through to me when I did it as a kid." Then there are those long walks in the woods with his German shepherd, Rocky. "He and I do talk to each other when we're alone"—which is as close to freaky as he's gotten. "If all this hasn't corrupted me yet," assures Peter Frampton, "it won't."
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