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Frampton comes alive once again

British rocker who defined ’70s sound still a virtuoso guitarist.
/ Source: TODAY

Back in 1976, Bruce Jenner was gold at the Olympics, “Rocky” was champ at the box office and Peter Frampton came alive. It was a stratospheric summer for the British rocker as his double live album became the biggest-selling record of all time. But by the end of the decade, the gorgeous guitarist had come back down to earth and his career looked dead and buried. Now, at 53, with a new album and a cross-country tour, Peter Frampton is alive again.

IN THE SUMMER of 1976 there was no rock star of greater magnitude than Peter Frampton. In one astonishing year, Frampton single-handily redefined rock ‘n’ roll success. In 1976, “Frampton Comes Alive” was the biggest-selling album in history.

“I personally thought, for about three weeks there, I was God’s gift, you know?” Frampton says, laughing. But that was then, this is now.

Frampton’s career is enjoying a renaissance — playing once again to packed houses across the country. So what’s different about life on the road 30 years later?

“We’re a bit short on the groupies,” Frampton says.

That’s not all. Gone are those curly blond locks that adorned the cover of “Frampton Comes Alive.” But at least the Hard Rock Cafe in New York was able to unearth the rest of his stylish ’70s ensemble.

Peter Frampton: “Oh God, look at this.”

Katie Couric: “It’s like buttah baby — 26 inch waist?”

Frampton: “Yeah. I have to suck it in now.”

Frampton was in town to promote his first studio album in nine years, called “Now.” It’s an apt title, since his name is so synonymous with a by-gone era.

Couric: “When you look back on that, was that a blessing or a curse, that whole experience?”

Frampton: “They both came in a package, I think, blessing and curse.”

In the early ’70s, Frampton was enjoying modest success as a solo artist, having left the band Humble Pie in 1971. But in 1976 everything changed.

“All of my dreams and more came, you know, instantly overnight with the success of that, obviously,” Frampton says.

“He was strapped to the nose cone of rock ‘n’ roll,” says film director Cameron Crowe, who wrote the liner notes to “Frampton Comes Alive” while working for Rolling Stone magazine. “On a scale of 1 to 10, it was 12. It was huge.”

But while Frampton hoped his music would do the talking, the pop-idol press was more interested in taking in the sights than listening to the sound.

“Everyone was sort of accepting me where I wanted to be accepted, which was phenomenal. And then the pictures started coming — the photos started coming,” says Frampton.

Couric: “Funny you should mention that. Would you be referring to this picture?” (holds up a photo of Frampton, shirtless, on the cover of Rolling Stone)

Frampton: “Yeah. When I first saw that picture, I was in an airplane somewhere. And I wanted to jump out of it.”

An equally vain album cover to the critically panned follow-up “I’m In You,” changed the perception of Peter Frampton from guitar god to pin-up poster boy.

Couric: “And then I guess your definitive jump-the-shark moment was with the movie “Sergeant Pepper.”

Frampton: “If things weren’t bad enough, yes, Katie, the movie came along. Yes, just at the right time or the wrong time, yeah.”

The 1978 box-office bomb “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” co-starring the Bee Gee’s, was that year’s “Gigli” — and called by some the worst movie ever made.

“My mother went to the premiere,” Frampton said. “And when I did the suicide scene, people cheered. They were supposed to go, ‘Oh no! Don’t jump!’ But they cheered.”

But those would be among the last cheers Peter Frampton would hear for almost 15 years.

“There were hurtful periods, yes,” he says. “And you know, it was very depressing at some points. But I’ve always managed to bounce back. And the thing that’s always saved me has been my hobby, which is my guitar playing.”

Frampton started playing live again in 1992. What was supposed to be six weeks of playing in clubs turned into six months, and he’s been touring annually ever since.

But when he’s not on the road, “All He Wants To Be Is By Her Side.” Frampton married his wife, Tina, in 1996. Together, they have a 7-year-old daughter, Mia.

Couric: “Your fans might be interested to know that you’re living a very nice, quiet life in Cincinnati, Ohio.”

Frampton: “Yes, I am. And everybody goes, ‘Ewwww, why are you living there?’ And I go, ‘because I like to.’”

Couric: “When you go to the grocery store or the drugstore, so people say, ‘Hey aren’t you...?’ Because I have to say, you do look pretty different than you did in 1976.”

Frampton: “Right. No, they all know me now. I go into the bagel shop and they go, ‘the usual, Mr. Frampton?’ You know, I’ve always wanted someone to say that to me.”

And, in the basement of their sprawling suburban home, Frampton’s built himself a state-of-the-art studio — where he recorded his new CD.

Couric: “From the home office in Cincinnati, Ohio.”

Frampton: “That’s right — The Bunker. I had to become self-contained so that I don’t have to ask anybody for any money to make a record. And now, it’s like, I can go down there and work until I drop.”

And he can still help out Tina in a pinch, when Mia needs a ride to dance class. Pretty good gig — devoted husband and father by day, resurgent rock star by night.

Says Cameron Crowe: “People like to chew up celebrities and throw them out. And what you find is, I think, over the long run is who they are survives. And Peter has so survived — virtuoso guitarist, virtuoso person.”