Just six weeks into the new year, Peter Frampton can say he’s already had a pretty good 2014.
As if being inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville just after the GRAMMY Awards wasn’t enough, Frampton played an integral part in the 50th anniversary celebration of the Beatles’ arrival in the U.S. — which reaches its zenith with Sunday’s broadcast of the all-star “The Beatles: The Night That Changed America — A Grammy Salute” on CBS at 8 p.m. ET. Recruited to perform for, and with, Ringo Starr during the David Lynch Foundation gala on Jan. 20 in Los Angeles, Frampton wound up backing Starr during the GRAMMY Awards ceremony and serving with the house band assembled by Don Was for “The Night That Changed America” taping the next evening.
And, the guitarist tells Billboard, spending a week playing Beatles and Beatles-related songs is not a shabby proposition.
“It doesn’t get better than that,” Frampton says. “You think you know them because they’re ingrained in your soul — until you start to listen to them and work out the parts. They’re very, very clever. It was eye-opening as we all went, ‘Ah-ha!’ Don found this place where you can download just about every Beatles number, the multi-tracks — which shouldn’t be out there, but they are — and we were able to isolate our parts so we were able to come up with exactly the right parts for the songs. I think it was, like, 19 or 20 songs we learned for all the shows, total, so we had our work cut out for us.
“We’re all just coming around after getting our sleep now, and it’s all sinking in about what we did and what we were part of and how honored we all were to be part of this. It was something special, and it’s part of history.”
Frampton — who played alongside Toto’s Steve Lukather, drummer Kenny Aronoff, Foo Fighters’ Rami Jaffee and others — says one of his highlights was playing Funk Brother Eddie “Chank” Willis’ part on Stevie Wonder’s version of “We Can Work It Out.” And he, like so many others, was overwhelmed to see Starr and Paul McCartney reunite both at the GRAMMYs and “The Night That Changed America” taping.
“I think they both had reservations,” Frampton notes. “In fact Paul actually mentions on the show, he said, ‘How do I honor myself?’ It’s sort of weird, in a way, but I think the fact there were so many phenomenal people that came to the table that wanted to be part of it and to honor them, it was only fitting they should come on at the end and show us how it’s really done — and boy, did that. It’s a phenomenal end of the show. It was very, very moving; there were a lot of not-so-dry eyes in the house.”
An irony for Frampton, however, is that while he understands its significance in America, the Beatles’ appearance on “Sullivan” actually didn’t resonate heavily back in 1964 when he was growing up as a Beatles fan in Britain. “Y’know, none of us had a clue what ‘Ed Sullivan’ was, especially how bit it was and that it was THE show that everybody sat down to watch in the entire country on Sunday night,” he explains. “They had no idea, either; they thought, ‘Oh, we’re just doing a TV show in New York.’ So no one really knew until they did ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ and then we in England saw on the news how the Beatles had taken America by storm. It didn’t mean anything to us at that point.”
Frampton is now turning his attention to a variety of his own projects, including mixing the music he wrote for the Cincinnati Ballet as well as a “best of” selection from last year’s Guitar Circus tour, all of which he plans to sell digitally. He still hopes to create some sort of Humble Pie tribute, “but not this year,” and, Frampton adds, “I’ve got loads of new material, and whether people want it or not, I’m gonna be recording it, for myself if nobody else. It will be available, and those who want to pick it up can.” He’ll be going on tour the third week of June, mixing his own shows with co-headline dates with Doobie Brothers, while Frampton is planning about a dozen Guitar Circus dates, with Buddy Guy onboard, for September.