The summer I turned 11, my older brother Tom bought a bunch of albums. Styx, Kansas and Peter Frampton’s epic Frampton Comes Alive and played them as he showered and got ready to go out for the night. He went out a lot that summer. As a kid, I was forbidden from touching Tom’s precious vinyl LPs. The prior summer, I purchased, with my own money, Elton John’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1. I listened to that album a lot. And I loved it. Great album. I can’t hear “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting)” and not think of my youth. However, it was Frampton’s almost 14 minute version of “Do You Feel Like We Do” on Frampton Comes Alive that made me go against my brother’s wishes, risking my fragile life to play Frampton Comes Alive. The age gap meant that Tom could literally and figuratively kick my ass. And he often would.
I would deftly handle the record, extracting it ever so carefully from its paper sleeve, making sure to have pulled that out of the double LP gatefold jacket as if I was holding something with the kind of power that the Ark of the Covenant held in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I placed it on the turntable, cleaned it with the brush to remove stray particles and dropped the needle. I watched Tom and my dad do this hundreds of times, so I mimicked what they did so that if I did get busted, I could claim that I at least took the care to clean the vinyl before sitting down in our Victorian living room, redone in awful 1970s butterscotch carpeting and rococo draperies, the restored antique furniture redeeming the room somewhat. I’d slip on the Koss HV1a ventilated headphones that Tom and I had given my dad as a gift and crank the 20 watt receiver for all it was worth. Having a good stereo in our home. My mom bought the receiver for my dad as a birthday present the prior November. The novelty of a new piece of gear was still fresh as I played Do You Feel probably four times a day for most of that summer.
At that point in my life, I had been taking piano lessons for about four years. I slacked heavily and didn’t practice regularly or with any diligence. But something caught me in the breakdown in Do You Feel; I heard some sweet Fender Rhodes work by the late, great Bob Mayo. At that time, I was also picking up Tom’s spare drumsticks and setting up a snare drum in my bedroom to work on rudiments. I never got Scottish Highland or even marching band snare good. I was more of a triple- and quad-tom player. The point is that I was beginning to think about more than just classical piano lessons. In the hours I spent listening to Frampton, I would imagine myself on stage, playing drums or guitar or the Rhodes. I imagined, at 4:05, that I got the nod from Peter to rip out some of the most tasty Rhodes licks of the 70s and then again when I finished, I would imagine myself looking at the band members, nodding at them as if to say I was done and thanks for letting me solo, man. I would do this again as the drummer, at about 7:05 right before the talk box section of Frampton’s solo. I’d hear the crowd roar and smile and nod at the other band members to signal we needed to get ready to lay back and let Peter take it to another level with the talk box . That talk box solo defined the late 70s for me. I can’t hear this song and not remember the textures and sounds of my tween childhood. Here is the remastered version of Do You Feel Like We Do so you can hear what I’m talking about:
Some might call my solitary imaginings at 11 years old insanity or maybe delusional. It was neither. It was nothing short of the birth of my desire to be in a band and play in front of people. It wasn’t so much that I wanted a giant crowd to roar approval at my solos. It was that I felt compelled to make music with other people; I would be able to unite in a groove and go on a different journey that was more free than being bound by piano works of Chopin or Mozart, compositions of which elicited a different response inside me for their technical requirements and rigidity. I hadn’t consciously experienced an obsession until Frampton Comes Alive. I would make it a point to have alone time in the living room with the headphones every day. The headphones put the band closer to me. I made sure no one was around to make fun of me or distract me. I had to go against my brother’s wishes. At the time, if he found out, I would have paid an emotional and physical price. I didn’t care. Had to listen. Had to play along.
Another few things that should be mentioned about the live version of Do You Feel, is how the songs dynamics were unlike anything I’d heard in rock. My older sister Mary dug on soul and funk as well as the Beatles and other bands that were widely popular during the late 60s through to my adolescence. We didn’t have a great record store in our town. Some of the stores had record sections, but there wasn’t a dedicated record store. Any time somebody started one, it would go under in a year or so. Mary played me Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix (I think, I was very young) and so I had an idea about pop songs and pop song form, even if I was very young. Piano lessons had taught me about song form. I think the thing I’m trying to get at is that Do You Feel showcases great musicians, but it also showcases a performance and how to work a crowd. The building up the to the solos, trading fours and the ebb and flow of energy were all things I’d never heard before. I wouldn’t hear james Brown until 1982 on Letterman, so that summer of ’76 was the first time I’d heard a song take it down and bring it back up.
There was also the references in the lyrics to the very forbidden drinking of the wine, the waking up completely out of it and then wanting to do it all again. That is what rock and roll was about to me: a great, nonstop party. It was all just forbidden enough to make that summer under the headphones ever more deliciously subversive. Bear in mind that in 1976, Rolling Stone Magazine was considered a hippie paper that espoused drug use. And drinking of beer. It was not a glossy magazine available in grocery stores. To get it in my town you had to subscribe. All of my popular musical knowledge came from my siblings who could drive to Salt Lake City and bring back records, the radio, friends and siblings of friends who could also drive. I’d love to say that my first musical obsession was something that might be considered more hip by the critical types. There was a period in my life where I looked back with regret that I couldn’t say my first vinyl exposure was the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols, Television or any number of bands considered more alternative or underground. As I’ve aged, I have regretted that regretful period. I’ve embraced that I was raised in the middle of nowhere. I’ve embraced the “mainstream” 70s as the foundation of my musical beginnings. It wasn’t until I was older and could buy my own music that I realized there are some real gems from the 70s that often get overlooked in best-of lists.
Being that this was my birth of what it might feel like to create; of working with other people to create something larger than ourselves, is something I chased for many many years. After many bands and false starts of bands, I finally formed a band that wanted to write and perform our own songs, I focused intently on it for four years, getting to a place where we played well. The musical landscape had changed drastically from the comparative innocence of the 70s. The escapism of 70s rock was killed by the punk movement; anybody could create music, regardless of ability, and that rawness was more “real” than the studio creations from most established acts. Which makes Frampton Comes Alive even more of a landmark. The music was played live. The sounds coming out of the speakers weren’t artificial in the typical album sense. I hadn’t heard a live recording in 1976, so the idea that everybody was good enough to play those notes and create the mood was such a drug to me. It kept me taking piano lessons. It made me practice drumming more. I don’t think I was ever as good a drummer (or anything else) as I was a keyboard/piano player. I owe so much of my musical history to Frampton Comes Alive and “Do You Feel Like We Do”. It was everything I needed to stay at music and do the work to be a better player. Even if I never made it big or played massive shows with screaming fans. Just wanted to be good enough to get in a band and make good music.
In September of 2009, I flew to Los Angeles with Heather and Marlo. We were traveling so Heather could be on the Bonnie Hunt Show. Marlo was still breastfeeding at the time and Heather wanted me along for support and to watch Marlo while she was taping her segment. We were hooked up with first class seats and whenever we fly with tickets booked by somebody else, I always check at the gate to make sure that everything is in order; both in terms of seats and the flight destination. While I was waiting in line to talk to a gate agent, I noticed a guy with some major sweet headphones on working on music. I haven’t seen anybody working on music like that (and haven’t to this day) while waiting to board a flight. Had to be a pro. Maybe an engineer? Producer? Wanting to get to the bottom of this person’s identity, I went to get some coffee and walking back to the gate got a better view of the guy.
I wasn’t 100%, but the guy looked like Peter Frampton. I did a quick check on my phone, doing searches for images to verify. After conferring over my phone, Heather and I decided that it was, in fact, the Peter Frampton. She wrote about it back in 2009 here (ed. note: I got the summer wrong so blame me for the difference in years on the dooce.com post. It was definitely 1976, not 1977. Also, Heather misquoted me in that post. I said “Fender Rhodes” and she thought I meant a Fender guitar. Some of the commenters had strong opinions around this, so I though, two years later, that I should attempt to redeem myself. p.s. The triple pickup Les Paul was an epic axe.)
As Heather wrote then, I got to geek to Peter Frampton about how huge an impact his music was on my childhood and how awesome his solos were on “Do You Feel LIke We Do”. That exchange at an LAX baggage claim carousel has kept my inner 11 year old high-fiving me for two years.
A couple of weeks ago, we got to see Mr. Frampton play the Red Butte Garden amphitheater here in Salt Lake City, the finest outdoor venue in the city. This tour is the 35th anniversary of Frampton Comes Alive. Nobody opened. The band played two long sets. The first set was the same set as on the album. After the intermission they played another hour and a half. Epic. Loved the whole damn thing. As you might imagine, when those iconic opening notes from Do You Feel came through the PA, I was in instantly in my own world, transported back to my childhood living room. I had a little bit of wine, my wine, so I was loose. I air played every damn instrument through the whole song, reliving that summer of 1976.
After the show, we met the tour manager and we were invited backstage to visit with Peter fucking Frampton. I’ve met some famous folks over the years, but this meeting for me, was the most special, the most personal. No illusions here. If Heather hadn’t have tried to get a photo of Peter Frampton on the plane back in 2009, I would not have been heading backstage. I have spent a lot of time since that LAX baggage claim moment thinking about why I was so moved, about why I had to say something and thinking what to say if I ever got to speak to Mr. Frampton again. So as we walked in to the same area of the venue that we met Norah Jones in 2003, I was giddy and happy. Especially as I was having a non-airport, normal conversation with Peter Frampton. He is warm, funny, generous and smart. He still rips it on the guitar as well. I can only hope that when I’m his age, I’m still working and doing interesting things. One of the best parts of the second set of the show was the cover of “Black Hole Sun”:
(3:54 is the beginning of something particularly awesome)
This time around, it wasn’t so embarrassing for Heather. At the end of our visit, we asked for photos again and Heather snapped this:
As we said goodbye and walked out, Heather and I were talking about how generous Mr. Frampton was with his time after a long long show. We were about 10 feet out the door and the tour manager came out and said, “Peter wants you to have this.”
Gobsmacked. That, gentle reader, is a pick. Touched by a guitar god (shut it, he is in the pantheon of the greats) and one of the people who inspired my musical journey. I just about lost it. Thanks again, Peter, for an amazing evening. Shine on!
Thanks also to my lady. Wouldn’t have been there (and wouldn’t have wanted to be there) without you.