Peter Frampton's Bassist "Comes Alive" Again

Classic Rock Corner was emailing recently with Andy Sharp (aka "Buffalo Speedway"), guitarist for the Austin-based Thin Lizzy tribute band Think Lizzy. He told us a story about talking music with his actual physician -- also a guitar nut -- who asked Sharp if he'd ever heard a certain record. When the patient responded "No," the good doctor actually wrote him out a prescription on official clinic stationary that said simply this:

"You need Frampton Comes Alive!"

And indeed, Sharp may have been the only classic rock fan who didn't own the 1976 double album, which not only skyrocketed Frampton's career, but became shorthand for an act's "big record" and opened the floodgates for live double albums from just about every band from then on. Recently, the release was certified 8X platinum. Even Wayne Campbell noted in Wayne's World 2 "Everybody in the world has Frampton Comes Alive! If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide."

Peter Frampton has had its ups and downs over the years, but Frampton Comes Alive! remains the touchstone of both his musical career and public recognition. In honor of its 35th anniversary, his current Frampton Comes Alive! 35 show features a performance of the entire album in the first half, followed by a career-spanning set of other material.

Rocks Offs spoke with Stanley Sheldon, Frampton's bassist on that seminal record who has returned for this tour, about his once-and-current boss, boozing with Warren Zevon, and playing reggae for a Cheech and Chong movie.

RO: How did you end up returning to the touring band after three decades? SS: In a nutshell, after a long separation of not working together, we did on his all-instrumental Fingerprints record, which went on to win a Grammy. When John Siomos and Bob Mayo [Frampton Comes Alive! drummer and keyboardist] both passed away in sequence, January and February, we started talking in earnest about mortality and that sort of thing. He invited me to come work on that album. And when the Alive! anniversary came again I didn't know if we'd be playing again, but I got the call. And I'd been waiting a long time.

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RO: How's the tour been going so far? SS: The best part has been brought into this amazing band Peter has put together. I've been in some good ensembles, but this band is great. There was a real magic in the original Frampton Comes Alive! band, and it's hard to duplicate that. I also played with my good friend Tommy Bolin in several bands. But this band rivals those. Such a high level of professionalism and interaction. The improvisations are amazing. Peter has given us a lot of latitude. And we do a really long show now.

RO: At what point did you realize that the album had transcended from being just a hit album to something more, a shorthand for something hugely successful? SS: I mean, it's really quite something! (laughs) I don't think its ever sunk in. I think there are a lot of reasons it did happen. The main ones were that Peter was already pretty well known from Humble Pie, and his touring schedule back then was relentless. That's how he built his audience. He had had studio records before that which [didn't sell well]. But he loves touring, and still does. Whether it was a little club or opening for a bigger name, when that record came out, we knew those songs.

RO: Going back a bit, how did your first meet Peter? SS: Well now that's a good story. Up to that point, I had still been playing with Tommy. We had just moved to L.A. and were looking for a singer. He was about to get the job with Deep Purple, it was early 1975. We didn't have any money and were struggling there. Kenny Passarelli, another bass player, was a good friend of ours. Peter had become aware of Kenny's playing with Joe Walsh on "Rocky Mountain Way," and was looking for someone who could play fretless bass. Kenny told Peter that he couldn't do it, but said "You should check out this guy Stan."

So I got Peter's number and called him and met him up at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, and he said "Yeah, come on over." So I pushed my amps through the hallway of the hotel, and I knocked on his door and he opened it and just looking at his face, right then...it was just destined to be. We played a couple of songs, and he said "Well, you've really got to play with John [Siomos], but I like what I hear. Here's a plane ticket to New York, see you in a couple of weeks." So I went up, played with them, and got hired after one song.

RO: Tommy Bolin was one of rock's great never-fully developed talents, dying well before he made the impact he could have. What would you want a classic rock fan to know about him other than "talented guy, played with Purple, died of a heroin overdose." SS: I think I'd want them to know that, although he gained most of his notoriety for having worked with Deep Purple, he was well beyond the scope of a "rock" musician. He was admired by jazz musicians of the greatest caliber, and also Jeff Beck, who was with him the night he died. I just wish more people would acknowledge the impact he had. Like a Miles Davis or Jaco Pastorius.

RO: I'm also a huge admirer of Warren Zevon, and you played with him on the Excitable Boy tour. SS: Well, back then, that's when Warren was in his, um, peak of drinking and debauchery. So we were all trying to keep up with his intensity level for getting messed up, and we all did a pretty good job of it! (laughs). Uh, but that was quite a tour, it was probably the peak of his career. We played a lot of universities, and they would just go bonkers when we played "Werewolves of London."  And the band was great. Me and [guitarist] Waddy Wachtel and [drummer] Rick Marotta went to go off and form out own band, Ronin, after that. But we became in industry secret! (laughs).

RO: And finally, you played on one of my favorite movie soundtracks, Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke. SS: That was really a trip! And Waddy was friends with [director and co-producer] Lou Adler and doing a lot of sessions. That movie was...a lot of fun to do. I don't really remember the sessions, because we were playing background music, so it was like "We need a little reggae section here." It was fun to watch the film while we were playing the music. But I had no idea it would be as funny as it turned out to be!

Peter Frampton plays Oct. 16, 7 p.m. at the House of Blues, 1204 Caroline St. 888-402-5837 or www.houseofblues.com. The show is sold out.

For more on Stanley Sheldon, visit www.stanleysheldon.com For more on Peter Frampton and the Frampton Comes Alive! 35 tour, visit www.frampton.com

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