While he's been involved in several branches of the music business since the '60s, Pete Frame is primarily renowned for his "Rock Family Trees." These are extensive charts, combining graphics and text in about equal measures, that explore the evolution of certain groups, regional scenes, and rock subgenres. They do so by documenting the shifting lineups of personnel in bands, spin-off groups, and where musicians came from and went to before and after their peak periods of fame and creativity. The family trees have been the basis for several oversize books, and are familiar even to those who have never seen the volumes via reprints and specially commissioned trees that appear in magazines, liner notes, and tour programs. Frame became an intense rock fan as he entered his teens in 1956; possibly as a consequence, that year he slipped from third to twenty-eighth place in his school exams. When the beat boom really got going in the early '60s, he was able to see many of the great and minor British rock acts first-hand. As a trainee surveyor in the London office of the Prudential Assurance Company, Frame's work frequently brought him to Liverpool, experience that would come in handy when he devoted most of an entire book to family trees of Liverpool groups. He became a rock journalist in the late '60s, contributing to New Musical Express and especially the defunct Zigzag, which he founded and edited. It was in Zigzag that his first family trees were published, the very first (of Blood, Sweat & Tears) appearing in 1971. Although some of his first trees were rudimentary, these grew in both size and detail, so that by the late '70s they were occupying two small-print oversize pages. Were Frame's rock family trees nothing more than layouts explaining who joined whom, when, and where, they'd be of interest purely to trainspotting record collectors, though still of value as reference tools. Frame's family trees, however, are separated from the usual dry discographies and rock fact anthologies by both the depth of his research and the wit of his writing. The paragraphs of text accompanying branches of the tree make for wonderfully entertaining reading in their own right, often offering little-known, fascinating tidbits or interview quotes.
Frame has a non-judgmental love of both the famed and the obscure -- and, doubtless, an amazing record collection, judging from his erudite references to uncounted little-known albums and singles. His descriptions of various lineups and transitions is always passionate, and relayed with a keen sense of humor. The charts aren't casually put together by any means; each one takes a few weeks to complete on the average. The trees are very much rock-oriented -- Frame doesn't pretend that they're anything else - -with relatively little coverage of soul, R&B, disco, rap, and country, although he's done some work in vintage country blues. He's strongest on '60s rock (both British and American), but has also tackled rockabilly, punk, new wave, metal, and more with zeal. Frame's first anthology of family trees appeared in book format in 1979, as Pete Frame's Rock Family Trees. A second volume followed in 1983; both were combined into the reprint The Complete Rock Family Trees. The Beatles and Some Other Guys: Rock Family Trees of the Early Sixties concentrates on Merseybeat, although some non-Liverpool British Invasion bands are thrown in. More Rock Family Trees, covering everything from "Roots of the Blues" to the Paisley Underground and the "Madchester" scene, appeared in 1998. Although the earlier Rock Family Trees tend to be more consistently interesting than the later ones -- understandable, as Frame tackled the most of the very most interesting classic rock bands when he started out -- all are recommended acquisitions for the serious rock fan. In addition to working as a journalist/illustrator, Frame was with Charisma and Stiff records for a time, and, according to the author bio from his early Rock Family Trees volumes, "worked in various clandestine operations connected with the spotting, managing and publicizing of talent." He has also made BBC radio documentaries with producer Kevin Howlett on musicians like Buddy Holly and Leonard Cohen, and two BBC television series have been based on his trees.