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Peter Frampton lets his guitar do the talking on new covers album

The album doesn’t have vocals because he feels his guitar is his “better voice.”

Adam Lester (from left), Peter Frampton, Rob Arthur and Dan Wojciechowski have released a new album of covers, “Frampton Forgets the Words.”
Adam Lester (from left), Peter Frampton, Rob Arthur and Dan Wojciechowski have released a new album of covers, “Frampton Forgets the Words.”
Austin Lord

Peter Frampton has never let anything stop him, not car accident, bad management, getting ripped off, lack of hits, or career crashing. Not even his Inclusion body myositis (IBM) muscular disease, which he was diagnosed with seven years ago.

“My forte is that I never give up no matter what has happened,” says Frampton. “I always get back up and brush myself off.”

While recording the audiobook version of his memoir, “Do You Feel Like I Do?,” which came out last October, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer realized he also has a never-ending pursuit to better himself.

“I just don’t feel I’m good enough. I’ve got to be better than yesterday,” he says. “And that’s been my MO from when I was 12 years old to today, that I don’t feel good about myself unless I’ve either come up with a brand-new chord sequence, played a solo on somebody’s piece of music that I’m really excited about. It’s got to be better than yesterday. I feel like I’ve gotten better over the years. And I think that’s my secret is that never accepting the fact that ‘well, you’re pretty good Frampton.’”

It’s a life mission that’s taken on increased importance with his IBM which is slowly making his muscles weaker. He understands the disease will one day take away his ability to perform and live life normally. “When I got diagnosed, I knew that it would only a matter of time,” he says.

So, he tries to make every note count. While touring is more difficult these days, his goal is to record as many songs and albums as he can. That includes the Peter Frampton Band’s new album of covers, “Frampton Forgets the Words,” which comes out April 23, in time for his 71st birthday.

The project is the follow-up to 2019’s “All Blues,” an album of blues covers, and his second instrumental album after 2007’s “Fingerprints.” Following “All Blues”’ success, he decided to record more covers with his band, this time picking songs from artists he was a fan of. That includes David Bowie, Radiohead, George Harrison, Stevie Wonder and Lenny Kravitz.

“We call them tributes, because we wouldn’t be doing them if we didn’t have the utmost respect and were huge fans of those artists,” says Frampton.

It was, he says, especially bittersweet covering Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” and Dave Bowie’s “Lovin’ the Alien,” having worked with both artists. Frampton and Harrison collaborated on his album “All Things Must Pass” while he and Bowie played “Lovin’ the Alien” during their concerts together. Frampton says he first met Bowie when he was about 12 or 13 and going to the same school. His father Owen, an art teacher, also taught Bowie art.

“It was my party piece,” says Frampton of “Lovin’ the Alien.” “He gave me the end of that song, which went on for another five minutes of me doing an extended solo. …If you don’t get chills, then well, there might be something wrong. …It was probably the most meaningful and scary track to do. It was very important that that ‘Lovin’ the Alien’ came out well.”

Peter Frampton performs in Chicago as part of his 2019 farewell tour
Peter Frampton performs in Chicago as part of his 2019 farewell tour.
Kate Scott/ For the Sun-Times

The one-of-a-kind tone of Frampton’s 1954 Les Paul Phenix is one of the key reasons it does. In 1980, the plane that was carrying the guitar crashed in South America and was thought to have been lost. However, he was able to recover it 30 years later.

“That guitar, the fairy story guitar, has a sound that I’ve never been able to get out of any other guitar,” he says. “It’s all down to different pieces of wood of different ages, I think… I’m very appreciative of getting that guitar back because it really is part of me.”

The album doesn’t have vocals because he feels his guitar is his “better voice.” “If I was only allowed to do one thing, which is ironic that I have this disease, but I would choose to play guitar if I couldn’t sing,” he says. “My guitar playing has a style and a recognizable sound and I feel that ... after a couple of notes, you know who it is.”

He’s eager to get back to work when things are safe, including finishing up his next solo album. “It’s just like we’re waiting for our road manager to come and take us to the soundcheck, but he never comes, and we just have to stay home.”

The singer, who has played Chicago often over the years, reveals one of his favorite memories of the city, specifically when he sold out Soldier Field in 1977, and his parents and brother flew in from England for the show. His father, who filming the show from the side of the stage on his Super 8, got so entranced by the show that he walked up right up in front of his son who was on his infamous talk-box for “Show Me the Way.”

“I was suddenly aware that there was a lens in my ear, like four inches from my ear,” Frampton recalls. “And my dad has been looking through the viewfinder, filming, not realizing that he was walking onto the stage and he was right next to me. And then without stopping filming, a tech just came and gently lifted under his armpits and just dollied him back off the stage. I have that Super 8 footage, which is amazing.”