We all know about the meeting of Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley in the Oval Office in 1970.
And if you’re reasonably hip and on the Internet, you’ve probably seen the classic picture of Billy Preston, George Harrison, Ravi Shankar and Gerald Ford, taken at the White House in December 1974.
Today I found out about an equally classic White House summit meeting that, sadly, seems to have escaped the camera lens:
It seems that, on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 1976, President Ford’s son, Steven, invited the guitarist to the White House.
And the president’s daily diary records that, from 3:30 p.m. to 4:05 p.m., he met with Steve and “a group of Steve’s friends” — including Frampton; his manager, Dee Anthony; and Frampton’s keyboardist, Bob Mayo.
At the time of their meeting, Frampton Comes Alive! was hanging out at Number Two on the album charts after five non-consecutive weeks at Number One, having been nudged aside by Wings At The Speed of Sound. (Frampton’s magnum opus would return to Number One the following week.)
Presumably Frampton was in the D.C. area for a concert, as Harrison had been when he visited. (I’ve run some online searches but haven’t been able to verify that.)
I’m also assuming that Frampton’s rhythm section, John Siomos and Stanley Sheldon, made the trip too. They are not identified by name in the diary — which notes that a more complete list of participants “was not available for inclusion in the President’s daily diary.”
(The list also includes someone identified only as “Penny ____” — which makes me think of Penny Lane, the groupie from the movie “Almost Famous.” Maybe somewhere there is a graying lady with a rock n’ roll past who tells the occasional disbelieving listener that she once visited the White House on a musician’s arm.)
I note from Ford’s diary that the President took part in a meeting and photo op with Polish-American leaders until 3:30.
I wonder if he cut it short — laid on the charm and said, “Sorry, guys. You know how it is being President. It’s been a stone gas but I gotta amscray” — so he could hustle down the hall and ask Frampton how he got that neat talking-guitar effect.
Someone could write a marvelous stage play based on that missing half-hour of history.
Whaddya suppose the accidental president and the unexpected pop idol had to say to each other? What common ground could they possibly have found?
They were not alone, of course, and perhaps one of the intermediaries — Steve Ford, maybe, or manager Anthony — provided enough of a conversational bridge to get everybody through the half-hour.
Maybe Ford told his distinguished guest: “You know what? You should really be in a movie about the Beatles sometime.”
Or maybe there was a lot of stoned giggling and murmurs about how wild it was to be at the White House, man.
Ford, unlike his predecessor, did not employ taping systems; so we have no specific record of the meeting. Nor have I been able to find any photographs. Ford was campaigning for election in the fall of ’76, and maybe his handlers decided that pictures of him with Peter Frampton might lose him more votes than they gained.
Ford lost, of course; and in his turn, Frampton did, also.
Still, the 35-minute meeting they shared while at the peak of their respective powers stands as a curious sidenote in Seventies pop history.