The ‘Eureka Moment’ When Peter Frampton Discovered the Talk Box
Few musicians reach superstardom; even fewer create a distinct musical style fans inherently associate with their songs. Peter Frampton has achieved both, and as he prepares to be honored with the Les Paul Innovation Award at the 34th Annual NAMM Technical Excellence & Creativity Awards, the singer and guitarist is looking back on how he came across his signature sound.
Frampton wasn't the first musician to utilize a talk box, the effects unit that modifies instrument sounds with speech inputs to create a vocal-instrument hybrid. But on songs like "Do You Feel Like We Do" and "Show Me the Way," he brought the tool's sound to a worldwide audience.
In a new interview with Yahoo! Music, Frampton remembered the first time he heard a talk box. "When I was 12, 13, something like that, there was a radio station that beamed out from Luxembourg in Europe, and we could actually pick it up," he recalled. "It would fade in and fade out, but it was the only place we could hear great American music."
He said the station "used to have a call sign, and there’s another gadget that’s very similar to the talk box that you put on your throat. So I heard that sound, that computerized sound, very early on, and then I listened to Music of My Mind by Stevie Wonder, and he was using a throat box, and I said, 'There it is. There’s that sound again.'”
It wasn't until a recording session with one of the Beatles that Frampton witnessed the effects unit firsthand.
"I was in Abbey Road Studios with George Harrison doing All Things Must Pass, and that’s when Pete Drake, the Nashville No. 1 pedal steel player, was sitting right opposite me," he said. "In a slow moment, he got out this little box with a pipe and wires and plugged things, and we didn’t know what he was doing."
As Drake began to play, Frampton's ears perked up. "It was a Eureka moment for me," he noted. "And I just went, 'Where did you get that?'"
After the experience at Abbey Road, Frampton found himself searching for a talk box. He eventually received one as a Christmas gift and immediately started integrating it into his music.
"By the time we next toured, I was already using it," he said. "I had introduced it into 'Do You Feel' and the first time I used it, the crowd kind of moved forward about six inches. I felt I pulled them in, and they went berserk — because it was not something you’d heard at that point."