saw Peter Frampton live at Stage AE in Pittsburgh a couple of days
ago. I feel like I've finally earned some kind of long delayed
child-of-the-70's merit badge or something. Most of the evening was
spent in a fog of nostalgia. I hadn't planned on going but tickets
fell in my lap (thanks, Jami!). He played all of the hits you would
expect, as well as some great surprises, including being joined
onstage by Don Felder of the Eagles for a couple of numbers. I have
to say I was really very surprised at how much I enjoyed the show.
because I wasn't really that big of a fan back in the 70's. Oh, I
owned the record, of course. Everyone did. It was 1976 and I was
fifteen years old, so it was kind of required. It's a little known
fact that in the 70's there were certain albums that, if you were a
teenager, government agents came to your house and made you buy them.
Frampton Comes Alive was one of these albums. So was Rumours
by Fleetwood Mac and the first eponymously titled album by Boston. I
apparently wasn't home on the days that Hotel California and
Bat Out of Hell came out, or I was above the cutoff age for
record-buying compliance, because I never owned these. But
Frampton... Oh yeah. That vinyl sat on my shelf.
the spring of '76 you just couldn't avoid hearing cuts from this album
if you listened to Rock Radio at all. I remember hearing about it for quite some time before I finally heard the whole thing. The
first time was on an 8-Track tape at a cookout at Allen
and Phillip's house (not their real names. I'm going to refer to them
as Allen and Phillip in what is no doubt a failed attempt to conceal
their identities since anyone who knew me back then will immediately
know who I'm talking about. Some of the following may be
incriminating, but I trust that the statute of limitations, for
anything illegal as well as for my caring what anybody else thinks at
this point, are well past). It was long and drawn out and other than
the singles, kind of forgettable. I remember wondering what the fuss
was about. At the time my favorite bands were KISS, Alice Cooper,
Queen, and The Sweet, so Frampton simply didn't have enough makeup,
costuming or sparkle to hold my attention for long. He was a guitar
hero, not a superhero. But I bought it anyway.
and Phillip's family ran a small farm. The raised some cattle and
grew some crops. Compared to the giant farms in the midwest this was
a really modest operation. It did provide me with some summer work as
I helped them put up hay, milk cows, and repair fences. Every summer
we would plant three acres of sweet corn and spend part of the summer
picking and selling it from the back of a truck in nearby Waynesburg.
and I were the same age so ostensibly he was my best friend. Allen
was three years older and honestly I had more in common with him.
Phillip was more into sports than I ever was (and partially
responsible for my one year on a Little League baseball team). He also had a lot more enthusiasm for Southern Rock and cows than I
could muster. Allen didn't share my fondness for Glam, but in the
long run his musical taste was more influential in molding my 70's
Rock experience. We listened to a lot of radio together. In the
Pittsburgh market that meant WPEZ and 13Q and WDVE, which by the way
still plays the same songs today that it did then.
all come to music fandom and music culture by our own routes, based
on exposure and locale. All we had was the radio. There were no
all-ages clubs in Greene County, or clubs at all for that matter. I'm
sure jukebox hits were being played in the bars we couldn't get into,
and probably even some live bands. These were all out of our reach. I
read about that time period in other parts of the country and world
and feel some sense of envy over scenes that I know would have
completely blown my mind if I had been exposed to them. This was the
era of CBGB's and Max's Kansas City, though I wouldn't have been old
enough to get into them either. But there were places like Rodney
Bingenheimer's English Disco in Hollywood, and the Sugar Shack where
people like Joan Jett and Cherie Currie of the Runaways would go and
hang out and discover music (and alcohol and drugs and a certain
level of fame). Those girls were only a couple of years older than I
was. Allen was older than them and I hung out with him and his
friends. Why wasn't there something that cool going on around me? All
we could do was listen to the radio in our rooms, or cruise around
the back roads with the radio cranked. Apparently life on the
Hollywood strip was a lot different than life in rural southwestern
Allen graduated high school in 1976 he got a car, a little red Chevy
Nova with an 8-Track player. Now we drove around those back roads
with full rock albums blaring from the speakers. Well, blaring as
much as the sound system of a little red Chevy Nova could blare, with
momentary silences as the player would switch between tracks,
sometimes in the middle of a song if it was too long.
it's this part of the story where I become a 70's cliché. You know
that kid in the movie Dazed and Confused? Mitch, the fifteen
year old who spent the movie riding around getting high with the
older kids? Yeah, that was me. If you can picture the character of
Hyde from That 70's Show you now have a pretty good picture of
Wayne circa 1976-79.
was just that much too young to have picked up those early albums by
Led Zepplin and Deep Purple and Black Sabbath (and if I'm being
honest here, Black Sabbath kind of weirded out my back woods
Methodist upbringing). I heard the songs on the radio, of course. You
couldn't grow up around here in the 70's without hearing Stairway
to Heaven and Black Dog until you were sick of them. It
took me a lot of years to be able to go back and listen to these bands
with an unbiased ear.
while I missed some of the earlier 70's Classic Rock albums there are
perhaps a dozen or so 8-Tracks that are burned into my teenage brain
in ways that no other music in my life is. Most of these... no, None
of these would ever make a Favorite Albums of All Time list.
But they are in my synapses, every note, every word, every guitar
solo. Frampton Comes Alive was one of these. Others included
the aforementioned Boston, Slow Hand by Eric Clapton,
Leftoverture by Kansas, Bob Segar and the Silver Bullet Band's
Stranger in Town, Sixteen Greatest Hits by the James
Gang. A few years ago I picked up a used copy of Four Wheel Drive
by Bachman Turner Overdrive and though I swear I hadn't heard the
entirety of that album in nearly thirty years I knew every word.
was also responsible for another significant aspect of my teen years.
In addition to Rock and Roll, it was Allen who introduced me to those
twin fears of parents everywhere, drugs and alcohol. Now let me go on
record here and say that I never indulged in either of those two
activities to the extreme extent that many people do, nor have they
ever caused problems in my life. But, I was a teen in the 70's. There
was a modicum of indulging that I seemed to have been more successful
in covering up than many of my contemporaries.
eighteen was more significant then than it is now. The legal drinking
age in Pennsylvania was twenty-one at the time, but in nearby West
Virginia it was eighteen. There was a place just spitting distance
over the state line in a small village called Rock Lick. I would
hazard a guess that almost everyone from my home school district got
their first legal taste of beer from Patty's Place. Not that I was
one night we were camping out in the cornfield in a small canvas tent
and Allen decided to sneak up to the farmhouse after his grandparents
went to bed to go get beer. He “borrowed” their car, so this must
have been before he got the Nova, so I'm thinking summer of '75. He
made the twenty or so mile trip to Patty's Place and returned bearing
a six-pack of something cheap. So, sitting around a campfire in a
dark cornfield, I had my first beer. Can't say I was very impressed
with it. Still not a fan, truth be told. Phillip and I, after our
single beer apiece (Allen finished the rest), took a long walk in the
middle of the night on a winding dirt road, both of us believing we
were a lot more drunk than we actually were, freaking out that we
were going to get caught. When the only car of the evening went by we
jumped a barbed wire fence and hid in some bushes, giggling like the
drunkards we weren't. The next morning we were tired from lack of
sleep and Allen was probably a little hung over. We picked a truck
load of fresh corn and sold it the next day at 90 cents a dozen.
Rodney's English Disco it wasn't.
Allen went away to college in the fall of '76 he discovered pot, and
of course he had to come home and share it with us. I was far more
hesitant to take this step than I had been with the beer, but peer
pressure and curiosity won out. I was never a pothead the way some
people were. I never bought it on my own or ever owned any that I
brought home with me. But if Allen was around and had some I would
indulge. We would pull our stash out of the little plastic bin we
called the Toybox, shove the cartridge into the player, and by the
time Frampton was asking everybody if they feel like he do, we did.
in the Holy Trinity of Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll I was two for
three. Meat Loaf would sing that two out of three ain't bad, but
given the choices here I would gladly have given up the pot and bad
wine for a little loving. The 8-track was never going to be the
soundtrack of a love life for me. The first couple of girlfriends I
had were simply into very different things than I was, so it would be
years before I met anyone I truly shared this passion with.
spent more and more time at college and Phillip and I drifted apart.
I started hanging out with another pair of brothers and transferred a
lot of the same behavior patterns to them. No 8-tracks were involved,
but we played a lot of records. They shared my obsession with KISS
and that proved the basis for a lot of our friendship at the time. We
put on the KISS makeup and made pretty bad costumes for a community
Halloween party. We skipped school together on the day we went all
went to our first concert, KISS at the Civic Arena in January of '78.
Later that spring we made much better versions of the costumes,
donned the makeup and lip-synched our way through Firehouse and Black
Diamond for a school talent show.
the early 80's I had a used blue Ford Granada. It came equipped with
an 8-track player. In spite of the years hanging with Allen I never
actually owned any 8-tracks, and it was a dying technology by this
point. Luckily for me the previous owner had left a copy of Heroes
by David Bowie in the car. By this time I was hanging with a new
friend who shared my interests in music and comics. Younger than me
he was possessed of either more self-control or more fear when it
came to illicit substances. The alcohol and pot pretty much left my
life entirely while we were hanging out.
occupies a strange place in my music history. Today I am a huge fan.
Rebel, Rebel and Fame were two of the earliest 45
singles I ever owned. With his makeup and costumes and sparkle you
would think I would have been all over Bowie. But, the heyday of
Ziggy Stardust was over by the time I was really getting into buying
my own albums, and he wasn't getting a lot of coverage in the
admittedly sparse music press I had access to. Though I was aware of
Diamond Dogs when it came out, on my limited budget I somehow
never picked it up. His Berlin years went by pretty much unnoticed by
me and the radio stations I listened to.
Heroes was a complete surprise when I slotted the cartridge.
It was weird and challenging, but even though I quickly installed a
cheap tape deck in my car instead of investing in more 8-tracks, I
still listened to that one a lot, and it quickly led me to picking up
a lot of his back catalog.
car cassette player was a must from then on. In the 90's I bought
adapters so that I could plug my portable CD player into my car
stereo. Today my mp3 player is plugged directly into my car. I have a
tough time driving anywhere without some tunes.
blame the 8-track. Over the years I have picked up most of the albums
that were seared into my brain (still don't have that Bob Segar
record. So much for Old Time Rock and Roll). There have been other
albums, many of them, that I like better than these, that mean more
to me, that are the soundtrack to other parts of my life. But, if I
really think about it, every era of my life has these kinds of
albums. These are the ones that are important at the time, that
provide a backdrop to life but that slip away over time. It can take
years to be able to listen to them again and recognize their
some of them, in this case Frampton Comes Alive, continue to
exert influence in ways I would never have expected. At the concert I
stood near a couple of teenage boys. I was surprised to see them
singing along with all the hits. At one point during Show Me the
Way one of them lifted a lighter into the air. Not his cell
phone... an old fashioned lighter. The songs are as burned into his
brain they are in mine and this will be a part of his personal
they blasted their car stereo on the way home.