Stanley Sheldon | Bassist | Live/Studio | Songwriter
That summer of '75 went so fast. The next thing I recall is being in San Francisco a few months later and preparing to play at Winterland for a gig Bill Graham was promoting.
After arriving, I got a hold of my friend Bobby Lakind. Bobby was playing conga drums with the Doobie Brothers had recently moved to San Francisco. He and his wife Janet lived over in the Marina district, close to Fishermans’s Wharf. It was so charming in San Francisco. Incredible rolling hills, the beautiful old architecture, Chinatown, and of course the famous “trolleys.” Bobby gave me a quick tour of the city. He drove us around in his BMW, and even showed me the famous route that had made movie history in the film ‘Bullit.’ Steve McQueen’s roller coaster ride through the streets of San Fransisco is still one of the most exciting car chase sequence ever filmed. Bobby gave me a quick glance and said “hold on,” Then he put his foot to the gas pedal and started speeding up… My God, he was going to try and imitate Steve McQueen! Bobby drove the hills, but it was really a rather tepid display of driving prowess. There were traffic laws to contend with after all. Nonetheless, we were thrilled enough by his testosterone-induced bravado that afterwards, we decided we needed a little “something” to calm us down. We went back to the hotel. I chopped up a couple of lines. After snorting the dope we felt the warm feeling wash over us, and we both settled back to enjoy the high. The show was still a few hours away, so we had time to order some room service.
It was going to be a big night, and Peter had even paid for my girlfriend Judy to fly up and join us. It would be her first opportunity to meet and to hear the band. We were all staying at the Miyako Hotel over in Japan town. That night, Penny, John, and I and scored some more heroin from our San Francisco dealer Paul. I had never experienced dope of that quality. It was China white, and I was so high that I didn’t realize that Peter had hired Wally Heider Studios to supply a remote truck in order to record our show. Looking back, I am glad that I didn’t know. The performance was magic: The lights went down in the smoke-filled confines of the jammed-to-capacity Winterland ballroom. The jubilant crowd calmed themselves momentarily while the emcee introduced us: “If there was ever a musician who was an honorary member of San Francisco society…Mr. Peter Frampton”…the crowd went berserk. Peter had a strong following in the Bay Area because of past performances sharing the stage with Steve Marriot in Humble Pie. But this night belonged to Peter. The heroin induced such calm in me that I was able to focus on my instrument with an intensity that seemed preternatural. My mind was perfectly clear of any distraction; I was there to play the songs, and the high had induced a tranquil spirituality I had never experienced before. I believe that is the great attraction to dope for most musicians. What is sought in performance is not instantaneous gratification, rather an immediate spiritual experience; but without having to do any of the hard work associated with real spirituality. I think we get high for the right reason, but without considering the serious ramifications of bodily harm and ill health that are part and parcel of hard drug use. Nonetheless, during the moments of a euphoric “high,” perception becomes reality, and regardless of the “high,” my reality on this particular occasion felt natural and good.
High Times at Winterland
It was becoming clear that we (the four band members) really did have something special. I was still very inexperienced, and if I had known we were recording I might have frozen up. Anyway, I found out when the show was over, and then we all went out to the remote 24 track recording truck to listen to what we had on tape. We could not believe our ears. It sounded too good to be true – and it was almost flawless. This single performance represented, in its entirety, and without overdubs, what would later become our chart-buster: ‘Frampton Comes Alive.’
The next evening Cameron Crowe came out to our hotel to spend some time with the band. You know, Rolling Stone Magazine, and the film“Almost Famous” which potrays Camerons early years at Rolling Stone. Yeah, it was 1975, and just like in the movie he really was just a kid. Peter was a friend of Cameron’s already; I gathered that they had met back when he was with Humble Pie. Remember the fictional band “Sweetwater” from Almost Famous? They are a fictitious movie band and a composite of some of the more famous 70’s rock bands: Free, Zep, a little Eagles thrown in the mix. With the movie band, Cameron has sought to capture a basic rock attitude. Among many of today’s bands, this attitude still prevails. The Black Crows are/were as good an example as any of this on-going legacy. Other American bands (Aerosmith or the J. Geils Band, for example) have also made a mark by imitating R&B influenced British rockers like the Rolling Stones, Humble Pie, or the Faces. These prototype British invasion bands had merely co-opted their styles earlier on from American blues masters like Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, and the other rock and roll pioneers, such as Little Richard and Chuck Berry. And round and round we go. The British/American reciprocal pattern of cultural exchange created a trans-Atlantic blues/rock style, typified by the Stones. Cameron’s movie band, “Sweetwater,” manages to capture some of the subtle nuance and basic attitude of the trans-Atlantic tradition, but of course that is just a composite movie image.
Our situation was not some Hollywood movie fantasy. We were a real band, and I can remember suddenly understanding the gravity of the situation: was this success staring me right in the face? I tried to react as nonchalantly as possible. We were all out partying on the second floor balcony of our motel when I walked up to Cameron. “Hey man, you think there is any possibillity you could mention the band in that Rolling Stone article you are going to write… I’m the bass player you know… Frampton’s great,” I said, “but he really needs his band.” I remember it like it was yesterday, this kid, probably not even out of high school, sizing me up with a glance and blowing me off like he’d heard this one more than a few times. I knew then and there that world of show business had a lot more to do with power and politics than with music or art, and I learned it from a little kid that happened to know a lot more about it than I did. Cameron wrote that article (no mention of me!), and many others, as well as some nice liner notes for the ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ record. He and Peter remain friends to this day. As it happens, Peter wrote some of the music for Almost Famous, and Cameron used him as an on-set consultant. Peter even had a cameo role in the movie.