RockPop Cover Story: 'Frampton Comes Alive'
"Frampton Comes Alive", a photograph taken in 1974 by Richard E. Aaron, used on the cover of Peter Frampton's 1976 2-record set titled "Frampton Comes Alive", released on A&M Records.
The biggest-selling live double album of all time (such a big-seller that, in the movie "Wayne's World 2", Mike Myers' character Wayne states that "everybody in the world has Frampton Comes Alive. If you lived in the suburbs, you were issued it free along with samples of Tide."), the record made Frampton, who'd made a name for himself as a "teen idol" in the UK with his band The Herd and then with his guitar chops both in the studio and with the band Humble Pie, a household name.
His band's powerful live performances, as well as his use of the "Talk Box" effects device, made hit singles of songs such as "Show Me The Way" and "Do You Feel Like We Do." The record was a compilation of a number of performances recorded in 1975, including shows in California at the Winterland Ballroom and the Marin County Civic Center, as well as two New York-area performances.
There was so much material available that A&M decided to make it a two-record set, doubling the studio workload of the band and master engineer/remixer Chis Kimsey (see photos, below). Once it was decided that this would be a double album, A&M's art department needed to create an eye-catching package, and so our story begins...
In Richard's words, "One day Peter Frampton, whom I had photographed many times by the early '70s, called and asked if he could take my photo portfolio of him to A&M headquarters in Los Angeles. The senior art director was looking for a photograph for Peter's next record, a live concert album. Of course I agreed but thought nothing more of it. Although I was already in demand as a photo-journalist, I had pretty much given up on ever having an album cover credit; art directors, it seemed, preferred studio shots.
A few weeks later, I got a message on my answering service that Peter had called and that it was "very important" that I return his call in L. A. By this time, his career was beginning to take off, and the answering service operator was impressed that he had called -- "Do you really know Frampton?"
The message came in at 9:30 a.m., which made it only 6:30 a.m. in Los Angeles. I reached Peter immediately, and he said, "Richard are you standing or sitting?" " Why?" I asked. "Well you should sit. You not only got the cover of my LP but you also got three out of four of the shots inside the double album. " (Editor's note - Richard's photographs of Frampton, guitarist and keyboard player Bob Mayo and bassist Stanley Sheldon were used on the inside of the gatefold). I was in shock. Finally, after three years, I got my first album cover, and it was from a musician who's music I actually liked and who was also a friend. He knew that it was my first album cover and he congratulated me.
A few months later at a party for Peter in New York, he showed me a mock-up of the cover -- a gatefold with a performing shot of Peter that extended over both outer sleeves. This was the first time I had seen the photo A&M had picked (Ed. Note #2 - interestingly, the shot used was taken at an earlier concert at Madison Square Garden in NYC and is not from one of the shows featured on the recording). The art department had put an extra diffusion filter over the photo to give the hypnotic effect to the viewer, a dreamy effect. The two background stage lights to the side of Peter's head had been re-positioned to make it more symmetrical, and also some coloring added in selected areas on the print. At the time, the only thing that really bothered me was that the focus wasn't sharp; I was trained to believe that every photo had to be technically perfect -- no exceptions. What would my professors at New York School of Visual Arts and the Brooks Institute say when they saw it?
Through the years, colleagues would good-naturedly kid me about the focus. At first, I would say that I had purposely used a diffusion filter. Then, about 10 years later on a radio interview, I came clean -- I told everybody it was out of focus. The album went on to become the biggest selling live LP in history, which just goes to show you: teachers, and critics, aren't always right".
For this story, Richard went into his archives and provided us with 2 additional never-released photos he took to document the making of this classic recording. Both images were taken at Electric Lady studios in New York City in late 1975 during the mixing sessions for the "Frampton Comes Alive" record.
The first photo shows Peter with his then-girlfriend Penny McCall (long before their famous palimony suit), the late Bob Mayo, and studio/mix wizard, producer Chris Kimsey. Richard was invited by Peter to the studio - his first visit to the Hendrix-built complex - and asked if he could bring along his camera.
The second photo shows the three lads in deep concentration - they'd just been notified that this record was going to be a double LP and now they had twice the work to do!
Richard E. Aaron biography
In a career that spans over three decades, Richard E. Aaron has shot still photography for a wide variety of media, ranging from feature films, television and video to corporate public relations, entertainment publicity and album covers.
Perhaps best known for his music photography, he was honored by Modern Photography Magazine as one of the "10 Best Rock Photographers" in the world, he has more than 50 album covers to his credit including "FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE," still the biggest selling double live LP. He shot the first photographic rock 'n' roll cover of Time magazine - Paul McCartney/Wings Over America. All told, his work has appeared in more than 6,000 magazines, newspapers and books worldwide.
His extensive work in music photography (4,000 groups photographed) led to his first tour assignment, "Fleetwood: The Visitor in Africa" (RCA Records), a tour shot on location in Ghana West Africa. Similar projects for many top rock & roll groups around the world followed. He traveled through the People's Republic of China for several months in 1986, where he documented the first Western rock group to record an album and tour.
He still he shoots music - as in music videos, CD jackets and publicity. A native of New York, Mr. Aaron and his photo agency have been located in Los Angeles since 1980.
He is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts (New York City) and of Brooks Institute of Photography (Santa Barbara, California) - BA,BFA,MA.
Click here to see all of Mr. Aaron's works in the RockPoP Gallery collection.
About "Cover Stories"
Our weekly series will give you, the music and art fan, a look at"the making of" the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.
Every Friday, we'll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. - all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.
We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you'll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art - and the music they covered - played in your lives.
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