"Who said it's my year?
Was it you there?
Can't go wrong."
~ Peter Frampton ~
As reliable as an IHOP at three in the morning...Stanley Sheldon has been clocking thunder on his fretless bass with equal dependability, providing safe-passage for some of rock music's finest for over 40 years.
I caught up with Stanley last week to talk about his days with Tommy Bolin, his past and present work with Peter Frampton, and many other surprises.
Stanley Sheldon Interview 01/27/2015
(L-R) Bob Mayo, Peter Frampton John Siomos and Stanley Sheldon
Casey Chambers: Stanley, you have continued to enjoy a solid career in music for over 40 years. When did you realize that you could make a living being a bass player?
Stanley Sheldon: Well, that's a good question, 'cause I think a lot of young musicians struggle with that. They'll set themselves a time limit and...'if I'm not successful by the time I'm 25 or 30, I'm giving it up.' But I knew what I wanted to do when I was 16 years old. Right out of high school, I knew I wasn't gonna spend time at college. So I made the moves I needed to do and got myself to Colorado and y'know...in those first early years...when I had committed myself to music, I was a little worried. My parents certainly were.
I remember getting a letter from my little brother saying, 'Oh gosh Stan, I hope you can make it soon 'cause Mom and Dad are worried.' And at that point, I was like 21 years old or so. But I'm one of the fortunate ones. 'Cause when "Frampton Comes Alive" came out, we were all just...y'know...25 years old. So I didn't have to worry much after that. At least not about the initial success. (laughs)
Casey Chambers: Well let me ask...who were some of your favorite bass players growing up?
Stanley Sheldon: I play a fretless bass. And back then, I guess, my favorite bass players were the ones playing in bands I liked the most. I'd seen Timothy B. Schmidt from Poco play a couple times and thought he was great. Rick Danko, from The Band, was a huge influence because he played fretless bass. When I saw that, I decided I was gonna give it a try. I bought a Fretless Precision Bass in 1969 right before I left this area (Kansas) for Colorado. And I play other basses as well, but the fretless bass is the one I used on "Frampton Comes Alive" and it's kind of my signature voice. Bass players know that about me.
Casey Chambers: Playing fretless bass at that time was unusual, wasn't it?
Stanley Sheldon: There was just a handful of us. As I mentioned, Rick Danko, from The Band was the first one we all saw. Dee Murray, Elton John's bass player, was playing fretless. They were out and about in 1970 with Elton's first huge success.
Out in Colorado there were two of us...myself and a guy named Kenny Passarelli. Kenny went on to play with Joe Walsh. We both played with Tommy Bolin. That's how we met in Colorado. And back then, I think that was about it.
Casey Chambers: And you went on to make a record with Tommy...
Stanley Sheldon: Well, it went way beyond just playing on one record. Tommy and I were best friends. He was my best friend. I was his best friend. Tommy and I had already been playing together for four years at that point. We had a fusion band called Energy that was put together in Colorado in 1971.
Stanley Sheldon & Tommy Bolin (from Energy)
I don't know if you've heard any of the Energy archival stuff, but there's plenty of it, for good or ill. Some of it's better quality than other stuff. So if you're a fan of Tommy, you need to visit his archives. That's some of his most spectacular playing.
Casey Chambers: That was really early on.
Stanley Sheldon: Yeah and we were playing this fusion music. We didn't even really know what to call it. Tommy was deep into Mahavishnu Orchestra, and John McLaughlin, and Miles'..."Bitches Brew" and all that stuff. So he got us all into it. That was our first introduction into that jazz fusion. Thanks to Tommy. We made our move to L.A. together right before he got the gig with Deep Purple and I passed the audition with Peter Frampton.
Casey Chambers: Was Tommy Bolin's "Teaser" the first record you played on?
Stanley Sheldon: The first real record I played on was "Frampton Comes Alive." But they came out almost simultaneously.
Casey Chambers: That's crazy.
Stanley Sheldon: We recorded half of "Teaser" in L.A. at The Record Plant and we did the other half about a month later right at Christmas time at Electric Lady Studios in New York. Now, this is interesting, Casey because I told you those two records came out simultaneously...
Casey Chambers: Right.
Stanley Sheldon: Well, Tommy had booked Electric Lady Studios and Peter was already in there in Studio B mixing the live recordings that we had just done that summer, which was to become "Frampton Comes Alive." So while Peter was putting that together, Tommy was in the other room at the exact same time finishing the last half of "Teaser."
Tommy Bolin / "Teaser" (1975)So he met Peter and we were all kind of hanging out. Getting high together. I was going back and forth from Studio A to Studio B...cutting tracks with Tommy and then going back to Peter...who was doing most of the mixing. I didn't have to do anything with him, really, except listen and go...'Oh yeah, shit, we sound great.' (laughs) "Frampton Comes Alive" and "Teaser" were done at the exact same time.
Casey Chambers: Those must have been exciting times.
Stanley Sheldon: It was very exciting. I was playing with some of the greatest stars on earth. Especially Narada Michael Walden. One of the most memorable sessions we did was when we cut "Marching Powder" and "People People." The level of musicianship that was in that room.
"Marching Powder" - Tommy Bolin / "Teaser" (1975)
I was playing with some of my idols. Some of the greatest players on earth. David Sanborn. Michael Walden. Jan Hammer. Rafael Cruz. Sammy Figueroa. Brecker Brothers. Michael Brecker. This is the A-Team, man. So I was proud to be there. I wasn't sure I belonged, but they took me under their wing.
Casey Chambers: It sounds like things really snowballed once you made the move to L.A.
Stanley Sheldon: Yeah, Tommy and I had only been there about a month when we both got our auditions respectively with Frampton and Deep Purple. So we said our goodbyes for awhile and we were always going to get back together. But then Tommy OD and died. And that's sad.
Casey Chambers: For your Frampton audition, I read where you had to learn a shitload of songs in just two weeks. That had to have been a ball-buster.
Stanley Sheldon: Yeah, y'know, looking back it seemed like a daunting task. I've had to learn more songs in less time since...but back then, I was really thankful to have that time.
Peter gave me three albums and two weeks. I remember it like it was yesterday. 'Here's the records. I don't envy you.' I learned every song on the three records which was like 30 songs. I wasn't a huge Frampton or Humble Pie fan at that point, so his stuff was all kind of new to me. But what I did hear, I liked. I had Tommy Bolin's endorsement.
Tommy was really happy I got that audition. Happy in one sense and sad in another 'cause we were gonna have to part ways. He encouraged me to get that job. I learned the material really well and two weeks later when we met up in New York...I was still nervous as hell. (laughs) But after playing one song, Peter said, 'welcome to the band.'
Casey Chambers: And you guys...the band, I mean...must have had instant connection because everything clicks on "FCA".
Stanley Sheldon: We really did. Back at that point in time, we all used to ride in the same car. Just the four of us. Yeah, it was really cool. It was before the stardom. We were all down to earth just enjoying the fact that we were a great band. We were young. I mean shit, 25 years old. The album's about to go to #1. What could be better?
Casey Chambers: Do you remember when you found out it had reached #1?
Stanley Sheldon: I certainly do. I remember it very well. We were all on vacation in the Bahamas. Peter had taken us all down to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. And when we got back for the first show...it wasn't the very first show...but when we got to Detroit, that's when the manager called up and said, 'Hey, it just went to # 1!.' 'Numero uno!', we told Peter.
We were in Detroit getting ready to play Cobo Hall. It's a big arena and holds about 20,000. And there was such a demand, they had to add two or three more nights at Cobo Hall. The fans were just going crazy. And that was really my first taste of screaming groupies. It was such a shock. I'll never forget it.
Casey Chambers: You guys got to do "The Midnight Special." What a kick ass show that was.
Stanley Sheldon: It was great because everybody was really performing live. There was no lip syncing going on. It was famous for that and the performances are so good. I haven't got it yet, but there used to be a late night offer where you could buy "The Midnight Special"...the whole collection.
When we did the show, we got up early that morning to go tape at Universal Studio. We were there a couple hours. They ended up using the whole version of "Do You Feel..." and three or four other songs that we taped. It was almost like doing a whole show. Back in the day, they didn't care. Now it's like...'Ok, play your song and get off.' Like "Soul Train" or something.
"Do You Feel..." - Peter Frampton / "The Midnight Special"
Casey Chambers: And those songs show up in movies all the time. It must be a real trip watching a movie and suddenly hearing "Do You Feel Like We Do" start to crank.
Stanley Sheldon: Well sure. How can you go to a movie like "Dazed and Confused" and not notice you're on it? (laughs) That's one example. Yeah, it's cool. Very cool. I love when that happens.
Casey Chambers: Okay, humor me one more minute and let me inquire just a bit more about this little piece of noise called..."Frampton Comes Alive." Not just a great live album. We're talking a...two-record, doobie-rollin', gatefold, thunderclap monsterhead. What's it like to have created a rock-n-roll frame of reference for the 70's?
Stanley Sheldon: Nobody's ever asked me that before. (laughs) It was crazy. It was like being The Beatles that year. That's really a bit of an exaggeration 'cause nobody will be The Beatles. But as far as who was making a stir that year, we were it. All over the world. That's when I got my first taste of glory...which can be a double edged sword, too.
Casey Chambers: Indeed. And, sooner or later, you guys had to go back in the studio with an elephant in the room trying to follow that one up. You finished out the 70's with Frampton's..."I'm In You" (1977) and "Where I Should Be" (1979). How difficult were those sessions?
Peter had been in the hard rock band...Humble Pie...and his fans loved him for that. So when he came out with this kind of Stevie Wonderesque, softer kind of rock, his fans...they didn't dig it that much. It shipped platinum. Shipped a million units. Shipped gold, as we say, just on the strength of "Frampton Comes Alive" 'cause everybody was anxious to see what the next record was gonna be.
It got panned critically, but it really is a pretty good record. Mick Jagger is a guest on it. Stevie Wonder is a guest on it. Not one of his greatest records. Peter would be the first one to agree with that, but it certainly is not a bad record.
Casey Chambers: Not at all. You mentioned Mick and Stevie dropping in for those sessions. How'd it go working with them?
Stanley Sheldon: That was a thrill. That's been one of the highlights of my career. Whenever you meet people of that stature in this business, you just feel...'hey, I can't believe I'm here sitting in the room.' I've got a picture of it. Jagger's playing and me and Peter are standing right next to him.
I mean they both are the teachers, man. Especially Stevie Wonder. He's the one that teaches all of us how to play thought music and he's such a genius. It was a thrill.
Casey Chambers: What song were they involved in?
Stanley Sheldon: Mick Jagger was a guest vocalist on "Tried To Love." And you can hear him singing in the chorus if you listen closely. But he wouldn't allow his name to be put on the record. Maybe he knew something we didn't. (laughs) Stevie on the other hand is credited.
"Tried To Love" - Peter Frampton / "I'm In You" (1977)
Casey Chambers: You snuck in a little bass work on Cheech and Chong's "Up In Smoke" soundtrack. How did that go down?
Stanley Sheldon: Oh, I was just finding the right people. I was in with a good circle of musicians. After I got to L.A. and was with Frampton, I got to go on the road with Warren Zevon. "Excitable Boy"..."Werewolves of London". At the time, the players within that band were some of L.A.'s top session players. Like Waddy Wachtel.
(L-R) David Landau, Stanley Sheldon, Rick Marotta,
Warren Zevon, Waddy Wachtel
Waddy is a famous session guitarist out there. He plays with everybody. Right now, he's Stevie Nicks' producer or musical director. I met all these guys. They were doing soundtracks 'cause they knew Lou Adler, who is one of the famous producers out there. I just got hooked up to do that one movie. It's not like I did a whole bunch of'em. (laughs) It was cool being able to do that one though.
Casey Chambers: Yeah, and that was their first movie too.
Stanley Sheldon: It was their biggest movie as well. I got the right one. (laughs)
Casey Chambers: It's been many years since I've watched the movie..."Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." (1978) But you were in that, right?
Stanley Sheldon: Very briefly, yeah. We're in the very beginning credits. There was a progenitor Pepper band. We're the parents of Peter and The Bee Gees. (laughs) Circa World War I. There's some quick still shots of us and even some film shots of that band as they tell the story of Sgt. Pepper. And it's right in the beginning. If you blink you'll miss it. I'm actually playing a saxophone in that incarnation of the band.
Casey Chambers: Jumping ahead to the '80s, you did some session work on Lou Gramm's first solo album..."Ready Or Not." (1987)
Lou Gramm / "Ready Or Not" (1987)
Stanley Sheldon: Yeah, Lou and I were really good friends. We lived in the same neighborhood up in New York City. Our wives became friends first. We both had infant sons. So we started hanging out as family. And then when he left Foreigner to do his first solo project he invited me to play on a track or two. So that was cool. 'Cause I always really loved his voice. I think he's one of the greatest singers in rock.
Casey Chambers: He's pretty strong. What songs did you work on?
Stanley Sheldon: The song I played on was the big radio release called, "Midnight Blue." I was happy to be on that 'cause we did an MTV video. You can see it on YouTube. Pretty cool video. It's got a gorgeous young girl in it. It was really cool to do that one with Lou. I'm only on one other besides that. I'd love to reconnect with him.
"Midnight Blue" - Lou Gramm / "Ready or Not" (1987)
Casey Chambers: In 2006, Peter Frampton released a killer instrumental album, "Fingerprints." There's a song the two of you wrote together...
Stanley Sheldon: That's correct, yeah. "Ida y Vuelta (Out and Back)". He won the Grammy for Best Instrumental Pop Album of the Year. And we had just recently reconnected in 2005 after many years of not really communicating that much.
What brought us together was Bob Mayo (keyboards/guitar) and John Siomos (drums)....the other two fellas from our original "Frampton Comes Alive" band. They had both passed away within two months of each other that year. In January and February, as a matter of fact. It was this time of year.
"Ida y Vuelta (Out and Back)" - Peter Frampton / "Fingerprints" (2006)
Casey Chambers: I'm sorry to hear about your old bandmates.
Stanley Sheldon: Yeah, it was pretty devastating for Peter and I...'cause that left us as the only two original members still alive. That's when he invited me to come to his house and work on the new record with him...y'know...the instrumental album.
And after we did that, I had a feeling there was gonna come a day when he'd call me up and say, 'Hey, you wanna come back out with me?' Since we are the only two survivors from the original band. And he did that on the 35th Anniversary of "...Comes Alive" which was in 2011. I've been with him ever since.
Casey Chambers: What are some of your favorite Frampton songs you really get off playing in concert?
Stanley Sheldon: Oh, that's a good question. When we did the 35th anniversary a couple years ago, we were playing the record in its entirety for the fans. We played three and a half hour shows that year, 'cause we did all the other stuff besides "Frampton Comes Alive." And it was really cool. I was revisiting so many of those songs.
I love the song that starts the record off..."Something's Happening". That's one of my favorite ones. "I Wanna Go To The Sun". I love a lot of them. My favorites are also the ones everybody else talks about, too. We just introduced putting "I'm In You" back in the set last summer.
Peter shied away from playing that one for years. (laughs) He was so upset with his pretty boy image on the record and the way the critics panned it. He just didn't want anything to do with it. But it sounds great. We've got a great arrangement of "I'm In You" now.
Casey Chambers: If you were to recommend one album...any album...for me to listen to today, what would it be?
Stanley Sheldon: My favorite record right now is the new D'Angelo album ("Black Messiah"). He has a fretless bass player...Pino Palladino...and he's my favorite bass player. This is the first D'Angelo record in 12 years, so his fans have been waiting. The record lives up to the wait. And it's incredible for a bass player especially.
D'Angelo is a latter-day Marvin Gaye in my mind. A huge star. Among musicians, he's infamous for his recordings. This is only his third album and Pino Palladino plays bass on all three of 'em. And Pino goes out on the road with The Who too. as well. He's a much sought after player. Everybody wants Pino. Check it out.
Casey Chambers: Excellent. And you're going to be hitting the road with Frampton pretty soon, as well.
Stanley Sheldon: Yeah, we're getting ready to go out on the road again this summer. They're already booking the shows. We're gonna be doing a double co-headline with Cheap Trick. It's awesome, at my age, to have this artistic and financial security. I'm really fortunate.
Casey Chambers: Dig that! Sounds like a killer show. Stan, thanks for hanging out and I appreciate your time.
Stanley Sheldon: Sure. Thanks Casey.
Stanley Sheldon Website
Follow Me On Facebook & Twitter