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Rock Legend Peter Frampton Remains Vibrant Despite Muscular Disease

The British icon's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame comes as he faces some health challenges

By Pam Windsor
Peter Frampton playing the guitar on stage. Next Avenue
Peter Frampton  |  Credit: Austin Lord

The album that introduced him to the world nearly 50 years ago remains one of the best-selling live albums of all-time and later this year, Peter Frampton will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

"It's humbling to say the least," he says.

His 1976 "Frampton Comes Alive!" album with mega hits like "Baby I Love Your Way," "Do You Feel Like We Do," and "Show Me the Way," highlighted his talents as a singer, songwriter and guitarist, and made him a global superstar.

His doctors, seeing how his musical background has helped him, now believe it may help others with the condition.

His Hall of Fame induction comes as the British-born Frampton, who now calls Nashville, Tennessee, home, faces some health challenges. In 2019, he surprised fans by announcing his Farewell Tour. It came with the news he'd been diagnosed with Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM), a rare and progressive muscle disorder with symptoms that often include weakness in the thighs, wrists and fingers.

Frampton thought it best to stop performing on a regular basis, thinking the disease would eventually affect his ability to play the guitar.

Five years later, the 74-year-old is still touring.

While the disease has affected his body, it's happened at a slower pace than medical experts expected. The muscles in Frampton's legs have weakened, so Frampton walks with a cane and now remains seated when he performs. But he's still a master at playing the guitar.

"I'm still working and I'm doing good," he tells Next Avenue. "My legs are pretty shot now, so I have to sit down to play, but I kind of like that. It feels like we're sitting together in a living room, it pulls the audience in, and is much more intimate. And my fingers may have a little less strength than they used to, but they still know what to do."

And then some. On June 9th, Frampton was given the Les Paul Spirit Award in Nashville in recognition of his extraordinary talent, as well as use of innovation in his music. After gracefully accepting the award, Frampton sat down for a lengthy jam session much to the excitement of those in the room. He performed a string of his greatest hits, including a spectacular 14-minute rendition of "Do You Feel Like We Do" making it very clear as to why he's about to become one of the newest members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Music as Treatment

His doctor, Lisa Christopher-Stine, who is the Director of the Johns Hopkins Myositis Center, says she's amazed at how well he's doing.

"We thought he'd eventually stop playing for his own comfort and instead he just kept getting better," she says.

She credits some of that to Frampton's pointing out the disease was "life-altering, not life-ending," his dedication to a non-negotiable exercise program he began on his own, and his extremely positive attitude.

"Peter Frampton has one of the most impressive outlooks and sheer determination and will of any patient I've evaluated in my 20-plus years of practice," she says.

Part of Frampton's ability to continue playing the guitar so well may also have something to do with the many years he's spent doing it.

He's been playing virtually non-stop since he was eight years old and got his first guitar. By 13, he was already in a band. At 16, he was lead singer and guitarist for Herd, then at 18, a co-founder of Humble Pie, before embarking on a solo career.

Recognized as a talented guitarist, it was Frampton's use of the Talk Box which helped him create a signature sound that helped set him apart. The device allowed him to push the sound of his guitar through a tube, then insert the tube into his mouth to shape sounds or words.

An old photo of Peter Frampton. Next Avenue
Peter Frampton  |  Credit: Michael Zagaris

"I first heard Steve Wonder use a Talk Box," he recalls, "then Joe Walsh used it on 'Rocky Mountain Way.' And I started introducing it to the act in 'Do You Feel.' It hadn't been recorded that way and I remember the first night I did it, I could feel the entire audience move toward the stage another two feet. It was an incredible moment."

In the years since, digital technology has made it much easier to create new sounds with computers, but Frampton still uses his original Talk Box technique.

"Mine is still analog, it's not a digital anything," he says. "It's a physical thing that works which makes it much more appealing. I can talk to the audience through it, and they just love that, you know?"

While there is no cure for IBM, Frampton has sought treatment through the Johns Hopkins Myositis Center and is active in clinical trials. He's also created the Peter Frampton Myositis Research Fund and works to educate others about the disease. (Currently there are an estimated 24,000 people in the U.S. suffering from the disease.) His doctors, seeing how his musical background has helped him, now believe it may help others with the condition.

"My doctors say they are now asking new patients if they play an instrument and if they don't, suggest they start," he says. "Whether it be piano, violin, guitar, anything that keeps the fingers moving."

Christopher-Stine says Frampton has done quite a bit to educate people about the disease.

"He came in as a legendary rock star and has done so much for research and raising awareness. People have diagnosed themselves after he told his story."

She says there are currently two drugs in clinical trial, one of which is especially promising. It won't reverse the disease but could stop progression.


A New Album

Frampton is mindful his own IBM clock is ticking and is determined to make as much music as possible while he's still able.

"I'm working on a new album," he explains. "We'll go back into the studio, probably July-ish and start recording more stuff. I'm still working on some of the songs. It's got to be a 'best of' that people haven't heard yet."

The album will likely be out sometime next year. He's also busy with a documentary and will be shooting segments in London, New York, and elsewhere later this year. It follows his memoir "Do You Feel Like I Do," released in 2020.

"The great thing about doing the documentary is it'll be the complete story for the very first time," he says. "Apart from my book, of course."

In the meantime, he's looking forward to his October Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction as he considers which fellow musicians he'll invite to be part of the ceremony. Throughout his lengthy career he's collaborated and/or toured with many of the best.

Even as he battles IBM, he'll still be able to perform at his own ceremony.

"I've got people in mind but I'm obviously not going to tell you," he says, laughing.

Frampton had all but given up on becoming a member of the Rock Hall because although he became eligible more than two decades ago, he'd never been nominated until this year. He's honored he'll have a plaque alongside other music greats like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and others.

He's excited, too, even as he battles IBM, it comes at a time when he'll still be able to perform at his own ceremony.

In the meantime, he's grateful for every day he's able to continue doing what he loves most, which is playing music, especially for a live audience.

"I just love playing with the band I've have had for so long," he says. "They're wonderful, wonderful players. So, yeah, I don't want to stop. Who wants to stop?"

Pam Windsor
Pam Windsor is a freelance feature, travel and entertainment writer. She currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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