Ida y Vuelta: The return of Frampton’s long lost love sparks a new creative period

by Ryan Snyder


Peter Frampton doesn’t quite recall if it was “White Sugar” or something off of Frampton Comes Alive! that closed out his 1980 concert in Caracas, Venezuela. It could very well have been the woolgathered cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” that he favored in the late 1970s. It would have been consistent with how his iconic 1954 Gibson Les Paul would soon be spending the next three decades. The plane carrying that guitar, the only one Frampton used for every recording and live performance he made after being gifted with it in 1970, would crash on its way to Panama. Along with the tragic loss of several crewmembers’ lives, Frampton’s prized instrument would seemingly be lost forever.

At least to him. The guitar would survive the crash, only to be scavenged by an eagle-eyed opportunist who would sell it to a musician working the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, neither of whom were fully aware of its value. The likelihood that the guitar’s fate would be to live out its life playing calypso covers of the Stones and the Beatles in some anti-Jean Valjeanian twist was almost a given by that point. What once would be the centerpiece of one of the best-selling live albums of all time, massive arena tours and sessions with Harry Nilsson and John Entwistle was resigned to being a part of tourist-trap white noise. Fate wasn’t finished with it, however, and 31 years later, happenstance on a cosmic level would lead it back to Frampton’s hands.

It started when the unnamed musician who owned it took it to Donald Balentina, a customs agent who specialized in guitar repairs and was coincidentally an enthusiastic fan of Frampton’s music. Balentina recognized it almost instantly and after confirming his suspicions of its origins through a friend, contacted Frampton. After two years of negotiations, it finally landed back in an elated Frampton’s hands, soon to make its 21st century debut at the Beacon Theatre in New York City on “Do You Feel Like We Do.”

“You know those things just don’t happen.

It’s one of those surreal things that usually you read in a fairy story,” Frampton said in a recent phone interview. “Every time I just look at it — it’s just on the other side of the room, it doesn’t leave my sight — it just’ blows my mind thinking about it.”

With his No. 1 lady back in his arms, Frampton’s gratitude seems to be manifesting through an especially altruistic approach to his work in 2012. His six-show performance slate for August includes a stop in Greensboro on Aug. 10 to benefit the Gate City Rotary Club before flying to Africa with Kerry Kennedy to support her Speak Truth to Power social justice tour. Injecting himself into situations like these, Frampton says, creates opportunities to benefit artistically from the unexpected while also being engaged in work in which he believes deeply.

“This is a completely off the wall thing, I’ve never done anything like this,” he said. “I’m in awe of being invited, so it’s going to be something else. I have no idea what to expect and that’s what I really like about it. You don’t know where it could lead you.”

The return of his Gibson has led him to reevaluate his creative pursuits, as well. Over the course of the 2000s, Frampton has checked off just about every artistic trope common to the aging rocker: He wrote the album with an attitude with 2003’s Now; he recorded an album of tributes to his influences in the often excellent Grammy-winning instrumental work Fingerprints; and he made the personal retrospective in the form of Thank You Mr. Churchill. His next project will be a unique one, as he’s been commissioned by the Cincinnati Ballet to create an hour-long program to be performed live for the first time in April of next year. Initially, they wanted to rework his classic material for three 20-minute sections, but Frampton’s creative itch led to his suggestion of inserting new music.

“The first time anyone will have ever heard it is when I perform it live on stage, so I’m scared to death,” Frampton said. “But it’s a challenge. Being scared you to death at this point to do something is always a good thing.”

Peter Frampton will perform at the White Oak Amphitheatre in a benefit for the Gate City Rotary Club on Friday, Aug. 10.

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