Peter Frampton’s new album, Frampton Forgets the Words, an LP of instrumental covers, was a “spur of the moment” decision. After finishing a summer tour with Steve Miller in 2018, he brought his band into the studio to see what they could come up with.

“I just decided I needed to record as much as possible in the shortest space of time,” he tells UCR, "because of not knowing how long I have, you know, to be able to use the fingers.”

A year later, Frampton was touring on what was supposed to be his final, large-scale trek. The guitarist decided to retire from the road following his diagnosis of inclusion body myositis (IBM), a progressive, degenerative muscular disorder. Though he had lived with the condition for some time, he was stable enough to continue playing and chose to move full steam ahead with the farewell tour, figuring he would rather bid farewell to the stage while his fingers still felt good.

When he came off the road from his final tour in October 2019 for a brief intermission, he'd anticipated heading right back out the following spring.

“I was lucky enough with the guys in the band to get all the way around America and Canada and at least be able to say goodbye to this side of the Atlantic,” he says. “We were going to go to Europe and England. And of course that's when everything came tumbling down.”

While shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic have been devastating for most touring musicians, it struck Frampton particularly hard, given the poignancy of this last tour. But he had a large amount of material to work with in the meantime.

Those 2018 pre-pandemic sessions turned into two blues albums (2019's All Blues, plus another yet to be released), the beginnings of his next original solo album and his current release, Frampton Forgets the Words, his first instrumental LP since 2006’s Fingerprints.

Stepping away from the mic for a second time seemed to come naturally. “I love singing, I really enjoy singing, but I know that it's an okay voice. I'm no Steve Winwood or, you know, someone like that. If I had to choose between the two and could only do one, it would be guitar playing,” he says. “I think, in many ways, I communicate just as well, if not more, with my guitar playing than I do with my voice.”

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The choice to do covers instead of originals was a matter of efficiency. “You don't have to spend time writing,” he explains. Yet his selections all have personal significance.

Frampton Forgets the Words includes covers of songs by a number of artists whom Frampton has worked alongside over the years, as well as musicians he's admired from afar. There’s a cover of “I Don’t Know Why” by Stevie Wonder, who sang on Frampton’s 1977 album I’m in You, a rendition of his old school pal David Bowie’s “Loving the Alien” - a song he came to know well when Frampton played guitar on Bowie’s Glass Spider tour in 1987 - and an emotional version of “Isn’t It a Pity?” by George Harrison. The recently solo Beatle had rather casually asked Frampton to play acoustic guitar All Things Must Pass.

Frampton, only 20 at the time, appears uncredited on the legendary post-Beatles masterpiece. If there's a story as to why Harrison approached him, Frampton doesn't know it. He simply believes following his own path got him the gig.

“I think that my playing was a little different to all the people at that time, everyone was playing, listening to blues, and that's all they were playing was blues style solos,” he says, citing musicians like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Peter Green and Mick Taylor. “I decided to sort of not go in that direction. Because there were too many people doing that already.”

Looking forward, circumstances allowing, Frampton hopes to return to the road to complete the finale tour in Europe and England, as well as finish production on a documentary project, which will include footage from the tour shows, as well as interviews with former bandmates, family and many of those close to him.

His health ebbs and flows; he notes in his 2020 book, Do You Feel Like I Do?, that his family worries more than he does himself. In 2019, he established the Peter Frampton Myositis Research Fund and between his rock and roll duties, he spends time raising awareness around his illness. He’s due to adopt a service dog this summer that will help him around the house, but he has no plans to stop playing guitar. “I'm never good enough,” he says, ever the optimist. “So it's always: Do something today that I couldn't do yesterday.”

 

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