How Peter Frampton ‘Lowballed’ His Way Onto Dolly Parton’s Album
Peter Frampton raised his hand to be on Dolly Parton's upcoming Rockstar album and wound up doing double duty on the upcoming set, which comes out Nov. 17.
Frampton will be the only artist of the myriad guests to be featured on two of the album's 30 tracks, performing a duet with Parton on his 1975 single "Baby, I Love Your Way" (which became a hit from Frampton Comes Alive! the following year) and playing the guitar solo on her version of the Beatles' “Let It Be,” which also features Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Mick Fleetwood.
"I'm very honored and pleased to be on her album," Frampton tells UCR shortly after Rockstar's track listing was announced. And he can credit his impetus for his inclusion in the project.
"I was with a friend who had finished doing some backgrounds for the vocal on the Steven Tyler duet ['I Want You Back'] and I said, 'That's right, she's doing that rock album,'" Frampton recalls. "So I came home, I called my manager, I said, 'I heard that Dolly's doing this album right now. I'd love to do a guitar solo.' He said, 'Oh, I know Dolly.' The next thing I know I'm on the telephone with Dolly's producer, Kent Wells. He said, 'I hear you want to do a guitar solo.' I said, 'Yes, I would love to do it.' He said, 'Is that all you want to do, a guitar solo?' I said, 'Well, I lowballed you with the guitar solo. I figured you had all your duets done.' He said, 'Well, would you ever think about doing one of your songs with Dolly?' I said, 'Let me think about ... yes!' (Laughs)
"So he said, 'Let me call you back.' He calls me back in, like, 10 minutes. He said, 'Dolly would love to do 'Baby, I Love Your Way' with you.' So we did, and it's pretty phenomenal. She takes it to a whole other level. It's such an honor she wanted to do that."
That done, Frampton was happy to push his luck a little, too. "I said, 'Kent, this is great, thank you. That was wonderful. But remember I lowballed you with the guitar solo? I still want to do an electric guitar solo,'" he says. "He goes, 'OK ... Would you like to do the solo on 'Let It Be?' So I said, 'Don't tell me.' He says, 'Uh-hum. Paul's singing, Ringo's playing drums, Mick Fleetwood's on tambourine.' "Oh. My. God!' He said, 'You want to do the solo?' I said, 'Uh-huh.' So I did the solo, and I'm over the moon about that."
Frampton didn't try to simply copy the familiar solo from the Beatles' version, however: "I told Kent, 'I’m not gonna do the George Harrison solo, or even the Paul McCartney one on the [alternate] take of it. I can't do that. I'm gonna play Frampton.' But I did play through a Leslie [organ cabinet], but I had it on slow, not fast like on the record. It's an interesting sound, and everyone seems to like it so far -- even though I've transgressed the unwritten law and changed a Beatle thing. But I'm pretty proud of it."
The guitarist notes that Parton was not present for any of his sessions, though the two met years ago at the office of a shared Nashville dentist, who happens to be producer Wells' brother. "She's a pistol, man," Frampton says of Parton. "She runs the show, that's for sure. It's wonderful."
The Rockstar appearances are a new part of an already busy year for Frampton, who's battling Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM), a slow-moving degenerative condition that's atrophying his muscles. On June 21 he kicks off his Never Say Never U.S. summer tour, for which he'll be seated but still ready to play favorites from throughout his career. "Yes, it's progressed, yes it's affected my hands, but I still enjoy playing for people, so why am I going to sit home when I can still go out and do it," Frampton says. "The band can't tell the difference [in my playing], and I'm worried about that," he adds with a laugh.
In addition to the tour, he's releasing a Frampton@50 vinyl box set featuring remastered editions of three of his early solo albums: Winds of Change, Frampton's Camel (which turns 50 this year) and Frampton. Meanwhile, he has another blues album in the can, following 2020's All Blues, and he's also working on a new set of all-original material that's still in progress.
"After we did the two blues albums and [2021 instrumental LP] Frampton Forgets the Words, I started getting inspired and started writing, and that's when we did five or six tracks for what is going to be the next new material album," he says. "Now I’m just basically, every day, working on getting those gems. It's great to be able to create stuff that I haven't felt this good about in a long time."