Forty years ago, when we turned on the radio, we were hearing "Show Me the Way," the first hit from the album Frampton Comes Alive!, which was released on Jan. 6, 1976. The songs from that album came from four concerts, and one of them was held on the campus of Plattsburgh State University in New York.
"Show Me the Way" and several other Frampton tracks were on the radio constantly as the album went on to sell 8 million copies worldwide. It became the biggest-selling live album and held that distinction for two decades – amazing, because before that, almost no one knew who Peter Frampton was.
The Plattsburgh concert was on Nov. 22, 1975, and Fred Little was a freshman at Plattsburgh State.
"The evening of the concert, there were a number of us sitting around in the third floor of Whiteface Hall dormitory trying to decide if we were going to go to this concert that was being advertised of this Peter Frampton, and I had never heard of him before," Little says. "There was a couple of people on the floor who knew that he was the guitarist for Humble Pie in the past. And I had heard of Humble Pie, but was not a big follower of theirs.
"And then there was one person that lived on the floor that actually had one of his solo albums, so we listened to it a bit and said, 'Ah, this sounds decent.' So we decided to go down to the Memorial Gymnasium on Rugar Street and check it out, seeing that tickets were an exorbitant $2 for students."
And the astronomical price of $4 for non-students. So what stood out about the concert?
"He did the song 'Show Me the Way' and used this nifty device called the 'talk box' which most people in that crowd, including myself, had never seen used in a concert," Little recalls. "Later I figured out that the James Gang or at least Joe Walsh had used it in 'Rocky Mountain Way,' but not to the talk-like effect that Peter Frampton used it."
The talk box was a little special effects unit that allowed musicians to make their instruments sound like they were talking. It was one of the reasons that Frampton went from a little-known artist to platinum-selling with his live album.
So who would even hire this guy to play on campus before that success? At Plattsburgh, the Frampton concert was booked by Neil Jacobsen. He transferred to Plattsburgh State as a junior and within two hours of hitting campus, he strolled over to the activities office and asked the director if he could join the concert committee.
"I told him I'd like to get on the concert committee," Jacobsen says. "And he said, 'Well that's great because we don't have any chairman for the concert committee. We have a show coming up in a few weeks with Sha Na Na. Why don't you work on the stage crew? If you do well, I'll make you the chairman.' And that conversation changed my entire life."
Jacobsen did well and became chair of the committee. During his time in charge, Jacobsen booked artists who were already hot, like Frank Zappa and Joni Mitchell. Before that double live album came out, not many people had even heard of Peter Frampton. But Jacobsen took a chance on him.
"I knew about Humble Pie. I had their records," Jacobsen says. "I knew Frampton was a great guitarist and then he was solo. And I said, 'You know what, we can get him cheap. I think he means something, and let's go for it.' Back then, we had a certain amount of money to lose. So we were given the opportunity to really program and be adventurous.
"And I think I can remember standing in the gym watching the show, and it was crowded. And I remember ... the locker room as the dressing room, which nobody liked, but that's just the way it was. And I remember we all had a good time."
"He was a really nice guy," Jacobsen continues. "I didn't speak to him much. Maybe for a minute or two just to say, 'Hi, hello.' But it was a good day for them. You know, he was on a small tour, playing small theaters and clubs, and he had an enthusiastic crowd and it was great."
Frampton's road crew miked the crowd for possible use on the upcoming live album. And believe it or not, Plattsburgh made the cut. But the question has always been, what songs from the Plattsburgh show are on the album?
"In 1976, when this album came out, we all spoke with Neil Jacobsen one night and he told us that he had heard from A&M Records that the Plattsburgh songs were the first three songs on side two," says Rob Buran, who was also part of that long-ago concert committee. "As he put it, 'The quiet songs on side two.' And that would be 'All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side),' 'Wind of Change' and the one everybody knows, 'Baby, I Love Your Way.'
"Now, Peter Frampton came back in '79 and played at the Fieldhouse and strapped on an acoustic guitar and came out and said, 'This is one of the songs that appears on my album from Plattsburgh,' and he went into 'Baby, I Love Your Way.'
"Then I contacted the record company and Barry Corkin responded to me. And he went to their management and said, 'Yes, 'Baby, I Love Your Way' is one of the songs.' That's all I could get. And in Wikipedia, by the way – which I don't think is accurate – it says that 'Do You Feel Like We Do' was recorded in Plattsburgh. I don't have any evidence."
Memorial Hall was the site of Frampton's concert in 1975. From the outside, it looks like it could be a science or business school building. It's just a couple stories tall. Inside, the gym is painted white and brightly lit. It's still the home of the basketball team.
Frampton's was one of the last concerts held at Memorial Hall. Old wiring and cramped quarters sent future shows to the Fieldhouse at Plattsburgh. But 40 years ago, the album that was recorded there was heard all over campus.
"When it came out, and I was living over at the Towers, and as you walked through you could hear from different rooms, different songs from this album all over the place. Because it says in there that part of the album was recorded here," Buran says.
But today, does Frampton Comes Alive! mean anything at Plattsburgh State?
"Once in a while I'll come to the college and I'll ask them, 'Do you know the song, 'Baby, I Love Your Way?''' Buran says. "I might sing a part of it. 'Yeah, I know that.' 'Did you know it was recorded across the street at Memorial Hall?' 'No, I had no idea.'"
Neil Jacobsen, the guy who booked the Plattsburgh concert, wasn't lying about how joining the concert committee changed his life. When Jacobsen graduated from Plattsburgh, he had four job offers with concert promoters. Forty years later, he's still in the business as the president of Live Nation's Florida division. Live Nation is a giant in the concert business.
But all these years later, Jacobsen has never had the opportunity to thank Peter Frampton for the important role he played in launching Jacobsen's career. One could also say Frampton owes Jacobsen some thanks, for taking a chance on him and booking him to play at Plattsburgh State on Nov. 22, 1975.