‘I wanted to sound like me’
On Sunday, the same day that R&B diva Beyoncé and her rap star husband, Jay-Z, perform in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, classic rock will rule in the adjacent Champions Square. The double-bill features Peter Frampton — his 1976 album “Frampton Comes Alive!” is the biggest selling concert album in history — and the Doobie Brothers.
Earlier this year, Frampton performed with Ringo Starr during the Grammy Awards telecast and then joined Starr again plus dozens of other musicians for the TV special “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to The Beatles.”
“I got to hang with Ringo and saw Paul (McCartney),” Frampton said from his home in Nashville. “I performed with Stevie Wonder, John Legend, Alicia Keys, all these people who I would never in a million years have crossed paths with. It was just a great time.”
Frampton released his latest album, “Hummingbird in a Box,” in June. He and his Grammy-winning collaborator, Gordon Kennedy, co-wrote the “Hummingbird” songs for a 2013 Cincinnati Ballet production.
Frampton has been a music star since he was a member of British band the Herd in the late 1960s. At 18, he left the Herd to co-found Humble Pie, a hard-rocking, improvising group that featured Steve Marriott’s blistering lead vocals. Humble Pie recorded songs by Dr. John, Ray Charles, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon for its 1971 concert album, “Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore.”
Frampton’s flights of guitar fancy are a big part of “Rockin’ the Fillmore’s” appeal. He found his guitar voice, so to speak, during his brief but artistically important Humble Pie years.
“When you start playing, you listen to the best and steal their licks,” Frampton explained. “And I still do that today. But along the way you learn to do your version of all these great guitar players who are on the records. I wanted to sound like me, but you never know if you’re actually going to be only a version of somebody else.
“For me, the joy would be to one day turn around and go, ‘You know what? I sound like me now.’ That happened in Humble Pie. That was the most incredible band to be in. We experimented not just in rock, jazz, blues and country, we did it all. That’s when I managed to put it all together.”
Humble Pie is captured at its peak in “Rockin’ the Fillmore.” An early ’70s classic, the album was reissued last year as a four-disc CD set. The reissue contains all four of the shows that Humble Pie performed at the Fillmore East in New York City on May 28 and May 29, 1971.
Frampton and drummer Jerry Shirley, Humble Pie’s two surviving members, participated in the production of the expanded “Rockin’ the Fillmore.”
“That was a labor of love, to be sure,” Frampton said. “Jerry and I had a lot of responsibility for Steve and Greg (Ridley) to do the right thing.”
Frampton and Shirley were blown away when they listened to their unreleased Fillmore East recordings.
“Forty-two years later, we said, ‘Well, it wouldn’t have mattered which shows we chose to release in 1971. Because we were super-critical at the time, but after this amount of time, I heard things on there that I wish had been on the original album.”
Just as “Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore” is Humble Pie’s most successful recording, Frampton’s greatest solo success, “Frampton Comes Alive!”, is an in-concert recording, arriving five albums into his solo career. The double-album sold 16 million copies worldwide. Three of its songs — “Show Me the Way,” “Do You Feel Like We Do” (featuring Frampton’s talk-box guitar effects) and “Baby, I Love Your Way” — were hit singles.
A nearly fatal detour
Suddenly one of music’s biggest stars, Frampton quickly followed “Frampton Comes Alive!” with 1977’s “I’m In You” album and hit title song. But the star encountered a nearly fatal detour in June 1978. On a rainy morning in the Bahamas, the car he was driving struck a roadside wall and then a massive tree. The tree was near the house where John Georges, then 17, was staying.
Georges is now CEO of Georges Enterprises, which includes food distribution business the Imperial Trading Co., and Georges Media Group, which includes The Advocate.
“I’d been up all night,” Frampton recalled of the accident. “I flew in, got in a car, fell asleep and crashed into the wall. They heard this horrendous noise and came out. John was the first one on the scene.”
“I heard the crash and ran out to this horrific scene,” Georges recalled last week. “He was in really bad shape. He was going into shock. I spoke to him and did what I could to save him until EMS arrived. It all happened so fast. It took me a while to realize who he was. I was a huge fan.”
For years Frampton didn’t know who’d come to his aid that day. He and Georges finally met again 25 years later, following a Frampton performance in Biloxi.
“I told Peter’s road manager that I had pulled him out of a car in the Bahamas many years ago,” Georges said. “They let me and my friends in for free. Peter asked to meet me after the concert. It was really emotional for him. I said, ‘I did not save your life.’ He insisted that I did.”
“Wherever John is,” Frampton said, “he has a golden ticket for life, because he saved mine.”