Peter Frampton on His Pop-Culture Appearances in ‘Almost Famous,’ ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Family Guy’ and More: Exclusive Book Excerpt

Peter Frampton
·14-min read

Peter Frampton became such a touchstone of popular culture in the 1970s with the chart-dominating “Frampton Comes Alive!” album that it’s no wonder ripples from that have continued to show up in film and TV well into this century.

In this exclusive excerpt from his just-released memoir, “Do You Feel Like I Do?: A Memoir,” Frampton writes about being invited by filmmaker Cameron Crowe to be part of the 2000 film “Almost Famous.” (The two of them are pictured together, above, in the late ’70s, when Crowe was still a rock journalist.) The veteran rocker also talks about how he became a recurring allusion in as unlikely a TV series as “Madam Secretary,” and his delight in being literally caricatured in the animated series “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.”

An excerpt from Frampton’s personal reading of the audiobook also appears below. Here, several pop-culture passages from the new book, as Frampton comes a-literary:

“Wayne’s World,” “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”

The first I heard about the “Wayne’s World” sequel was that they had requested the use of the “Frampton Comes Alive!” album cover. In the scene, Mike Myers is flipping through some albums and finds “Comes Alive!” and says, “If you lived in the suburbs, it came in the mail like samples of Tide.” When I first saw the movie, I had no idea this was coming. I just thought I was going to have an album on a wall or something, but then they actually bring me into the context of the piece. So that was a lovely surprise.

Mike invited me to be in a crowd scene with him and Dana Carvey, but it was mainly ad-lib and I don’t think I added enough ad or lib, because it never made it into the film. It was great meeting everyone and we had a chance to chat. Believe it or not, Mike Myers told me he was actually at the “Frampton Comes Alive!” concert—and so was Woody Harrelson, who I met when I went to Cuba for a writing trip with Cuban writers. They were apparently both at the Winterland Ballroom show the night we recorded “Frampton Comes Alive!,” but of course neither one of them knew the other. I found that unbelievable. I don’t think Kevin Bacon was there, but who knows with his six degrees of separation!

For “The Simpsons,” this lovely lady, Bonnie Pietila, called me up. I was living in LA and she said, “I’m the casting director for ‘The Simpsons.’ Have you seen ‘The Simpsons’?” I said, “Uh, yeah, I love ‘The Simpsons.’” She said, “Oh, good—well, we would like to know if you would be available to be in one of the shows.” I’m thinking they must have the wrong number, because nothing’s happening for me at this point, at all.

I was in total shock, wondering why on earth they would want me in an episode. I asked what the story line was for this particular one. She said, “You would be the headline act on a Lollapalooza-like concert, called Homerpalooza.” I said, “But, Bonnie, I wouldn’t be headlining that kind of a show.” She said nothing, there was a pause, and then I started to laugh and I said, “Got it. That’s the joke.”

She told me that Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth were already on board. After I heard who was on the show, I said to her, “Okay, I think I know what you want from me now. You want me to be the old, crusty, been-there, done-that, rock star.” She said, in a nutshell, yeah.

It was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done, something that was completely out of my orbit. I went to the studio and I got all my lines down. Great people to work with, they really knew what they were doing and what they wanted, which gives you so much confidence. I’ve been involved in many other things where it hasn’t quite been that way. . . .

They said, “As you’re walking off stage, we don’t have anything written, but can you come up with something—you’ve been through all this hell, the talk box didn’t work, you’ve lost your Pink Floyd pig. Can you just say something as you walk past the mic, as Homer’s coming back on stage?” I thought for a minute and I said, “Okay, roll it.” So I walked past the mic and muttered, “Twenty-five years in this business, I’ve never seen anything like this,” and they animated my line. I’m so proud of that—I actually wrote a line of ‘The Simpsons’ and they used it! That was a huge thing for me.

Later, I was asked to appear in “Family Guy.” Death comes to my door and I open it and go, “No, no, I’m too young to die, shouldn’t you be at Keith Richards’ house?” So that was another great experience. All different stuff for me, and so much fun to do. These opportunities came my way when there wasn’t that much going on for me with new music or touring, but it kept my name out there, which was wonderful. Can’t thank those people enough.

I could be pissed off because they’re making fun of me, but it was the ultimate form of flattery to be the punch line of, say, a Johnny Carson joke. I remember the first time Johnny Carson said my name on his show. “Did you hear that? Johnny Carson just said my name!” That was the very first time I heard my name on TV when I wasn’t actually on the show. So all these little vignettes and name-checks made me realize that all was not lost.

“Almost Famous”

Cameron Crowe called me up and said, “I’m doing this movie—it’s a rock movie.” And I said, “No, you’re not. We’ve always talked about how you and I hate rock movies.” He said, “I know, but I’m going to do it right.” I said, “Well, if anybody can, you can. You’ve been there, done it.” He asked if I would come out to LA so we could talk about it.

I flew out and he told me all about “Almost Famous,” and he gave me a script and said, “There’s a little part for you I put in there.” I’m looking at all the big parts and I said, “Oh, I’d like to play this part.” He said, “No, no, that’s already cast. Look deeper.” So Reg, Humble Pie’s road manager at the card game—oh, that’s me. Which was great, but that wasn’t my main job. Cameron needed another song for Stillwater, the band in the movie. But I ended up writing two songs, with Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick, who were part of the team, with Tommy Sims, that wrote “Change the World” for Eric Clapton.

Cameron already had all the Stillwater album titles, with the track titles, so we just had to choose a title and write to that. “Hour of Need” was the first one we wrote; we did a demo of it and I took it out to him. I wanted to physically give it to him. I played it and he loved it. “This is perfect, this is perfect! ”

I said, “I’ll tell you what”—this is the pushy Frampton—“you don’t have what I call an encore song; they’re all very Free- or Bad Company–style slow songs.” So he said to go write one. We picked “You Had to Be There” from the titles and wrote that one too, and it’s one of the songs that Stillwater performs in the live scene when they’re supporting Black Sabbath.

I was touring, so I couldn’t be on the set all the time, but I was there for all six weeks of preproduction, and I worked with Billy Crudup on how to play guitar well enough to look like a guitar god. He had to be convincing. Whatever part Billy plays, he’s always totally convincing. He only had a couple of weeks of guitar lessons before we met. It amazed me how quickly he picked it all up. The playing and the stance were all important. So I was an on-set library of band information to help Billy and Jason Lee create their characters.

Jason would say, “So when I go out there as the front man of the band, what is my motivation?” I said, “Well, what you’re trying to do is, you just got the cover of Rolling Stone, you’re opening for Black Sabbath, and—just like we did in Humble Pie—you want to burn from the second you get on till the second you get off, and steal as many of their fans as you can. That’s your job, to pull people in and make them remember you. That’s what you’re going for.”

Four of the solos in the movie are played by another great player and friend, Mike McCready from Pearl Jam, and two of them are mine. I would learn Mike’s solos so I could show Billy, and when I couldn’t be there, he would film me before I left so he could keep working on them while I was away. Whenever I was on the set, I was with Billy playing. Cameron asked, “When will you know, what sign will you get that will make everyone think Billy looks legitimate?” I said, “ That’s easy—when he’s playing and his fingers are on the right notes, and he’s looking up with his head back and his eyes closed. That’s when we’ll know he’s got it.”

So we come to the big day. Usually we’re shooting using one camera. This day, we’ve got like four Panavisions and a Steadicam; they’re all over the place. We were in the arena in San Diego, with John Toll, the Academy Award–winning cinematographer—he taught me so much, because I’m a camera freak. I would always hang with the cinematographers when I could. We’re sitting by the screens, looking at all the camera angles, and John comes up behind me and puts a headphone set with a mic on me. I said, “What’s this for?” He said, “You know the music better than I do—call the shots.” I thought, “Oh, wow ! The power !”

My job was to explain to the camera operators where we were musically. “Drum fill—three, two, one, drum; guitar solo, second verse, come back to Jason. Okay, back to the drum.” It was a madhouse, but it was very exciting. And then the moment came, mid-solo, when Billy threw his head back and closed his eyes, and Cameron and I were standing together. Big high five! There it is!

There were other things with the props I would notice. “Those mics weren’t invented yet,” stuff like that. That’s why I’ve hated all the rock movies; it’s supposed to be the fifties and there’s a microphone that wasn’t invented until the eighties. So I was the perfect guy for that. I was the “authenticity advisor”—that was my name for it, anyway.

During the big live shoot in San Diego, I couldn’t remember whether we used wooden barricades back then or metal barricades. So I called my old stage manager, Steve Lawler, and he said, “Metal — what else you want to know?” They said, “Okay, we’ve set the stage. Black Sabbath’s gear is going to be behind them, right?” And I said, “Yeah, you’d have black drop cloths over everything, you’d cover it so you wouldn’t see anything except the band in front.” The right amps, the right guitars, I love all that stuff. That’s the fun part.

When we did the ballroom scene, the Steadicam operator asked if I wanted to try it. I said, “Yes, please!” Back then, Steadicams were so heavy, I could barely walk with the thing. I have a great picture of me beaming, wearing this huge Steadicam.

That was how to make a movie. Cameron commanded such respect; he’s great with actors. In the director’s cut, I’m in another scene besides the card game, right at the very beginning. I’m in the lobby of the Hyatt and I see Penny—Kate Hudson—and I haven’t seen her in a while. My character’s with another couple of friends and we come over and we’re talking to her, and one of the actors had a line he kept blowing.

Cameron took me aside, he said, “Can you do that line for me?” I said sure. I didn’t know it, so I studied it, but I kept saying one wrong word—I was ad-libbing and I don’t remember what it was now, but it seemed inconsequential. But it was not the word Cameron had written. He was very good; he wouldn’t correct me in front of other people. He took me aside and whispered the line in the script. I realized, okay, he wants it exactly as written, and rightly so. It’s his script. He labored over every word. And he’s Cameron Crowe!

“Almost Famous” was a phenomenal experience for me. It almost made up for [the ill-fated experience of the film] “Sgt. Pepper.”

“Madam Secretary”

I started watching the TV show “Madam Secretary” when it first aired. One night I was watching a new episode and my eyes almost popped out of my head. Tèa Leoni was wearing one of my T-shirts as she and Tim Daly were having a late-night chat in their bedroom before lights out. My social media blew up with my loyal followers loving what they saw.

I immediately sent a tweet to Tèa thanking her for wearing me to bed. And, if she needed anymore, I had loads of vintage and new T-shirts stashed away. I got a lovely reply, and she said to send them along. Tim, on the other hand, sent me a tweet joking that I might want to take a cold shower. This, then, became a thing for her character to wear old rock T’s to bed. Quite often she’d wear another one of mine on the show.

One day, I got a call and Tèa asked if I would appear on the show. Her character Elizabeth’s favorite song is “Baby, I Love Your Way” and they needed a surprise artist to perform at the party after Elizabeth and Henry renew their vows. Having watched the series from the beginning, I felt I knew all the characters before I actually met them on set. Actors would come up to me to introduce themselves, and I could tell them, “I know who you are. I haven’t missed a show yet!”

The last episode of the series covered the wedding of Elizabeth and Henry’s oldest daughter, Stevie, to Dimitri. Unbelievably, I got another call from Tèa, and this time they needed a wedding singer! I have to thank her, the whole cast, and the crew for two of the most enjoyable days on the set of my favorite TV show.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, people are out of work, in desperate need of food and so much more. Tèa’s grandmother cofounded UNICEF USA in 1947 and ran it for twenty-five years. It must run in the family, as Tèa’s father became president of the organization later. Tèa has been a UNICEF Ambassador since 2001 and asked me to be a part of an online UNICEF fundraiser to help children and their families all over the world who are in dire need.

Tim, Tèa, and I are waiting for the “all clear” so I can travel to New York for dinner. And afterward, jam with Tim, who has a lovely Gibson CS-336 I have to play.

Excerpted from “DO YOU FEEL LIKE I DO: A Memoir,” by Peter Frampton. Copyright © 2020. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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