Around this time last year, Peter Frampton expected that he would not be doing shows in Missoula (where he plays April 6 at the Wilma) or much of anywhere else in the United States this year.
He said he planned to spend some time writing and recording, and if he was going to tour, it would be somewhere outside of the country.
“(I’ll) maybe take it a little easier next year in this country at least and do some other things,” Frampton said in a phone interview when he was about to begin his summer tour. “I’m probably going to take the next year off touring America.”
Instead, Frampton has done a smattering headlining shows, and then about a week after his concert at the Wilma, Frampton will begin a short run of dates opening for Steve Miller before resuming that tour on June 1 and staying on the road with Miller through August.
So much for taking it easy.
But touring with Miller was probably too good an opportunity to overlook. This summer’s run is a reprise of last summer’s popular Miller/Frampton tour, an outing that reunited the two guitarists/singers, who have been friends since the early 1970s, when Frampton was still a member of Humble Pie.
“I’ve known Steve since I was 20 years old. It’s great. We’ve done so many types of shows together, stadiums, arenas, clubs, you name it, we’ve done it,” Frampton said.
Both Miller and Frampton reached pinnacles in their careers during the late 1970s, with Miller’s trifecta of platinum-selling albums (1973’s “The Joker”, “1976’s “Fly Like an Eagle” and 1977’s “Book of Dreams”) propelling him to stadium headlining heights.
As for Frampton, he went solo after achieving an early measure of fame with Humble Pie, gradually building a following with four solo albums. Then came the 1976 double album, “Frampton Comes Alive!.”
Songs like “Show Me The Way,” “Baby, I Love Your Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do” became radio favorites, and sales of “Frampton Comes Alive!” soared, reaching some 18 million copies, while Frampton’s boyish good looks helped make him a bona fide pop star.
But pressured to capitalize on his success, Frampton rushed his next studio album, “I’m In You,” and the uneven effort was viewed as a disappointment, and he faded from the spotlight in the 1980s. But a turnaround came with Frampton’s 2006 instrumental album, “Fingerprints,” which won a Grammy. A fine studio album, “Thank You Mr. Churchill,” followed in 2010, and in 2014, he released the EP, “Hummingbird,” which features seven songs Frampton composed for the Cincinnati Ballet.
Material from throughout Frampton’s career figure to be make up his sets, both in his headlining shows (such as the April 6 show at the Wilma) as well as when he joins Miller later in April and then for the summer.
The tours with Miller have given Frampton a chance to return to his usual plugged-in, full band format he had used throughout his career. But about three years ago, he tried something different with his live shows, hitting the road for what became some two years of playing in a stripped-down acoustic setting with his long-time songwriting partner Gordon Kennedy.
The idea of doing a full acoustic show was initially daunting for Frampton.
“I’ve always done, when we have the time, I’ll do an acoustic spot, two or three numbers, but never the whole evening,” Frampton said, “This was scary, the thought of carrying the whole evening with acoustic.”
But Frampton said he quickly found his comfort zone and saw audiences responding.
“After the first few minutes out there on the very first tour we did, I just felt so at home,” he said. “And it was a different feel in the audience because it was more of a ‘Storytellers’ meets ‘Unplugged,’ as opposed to a regular rock show with the band. So lots of stories, life stories and life is funny. It’s sad and funny and everything else in between. You just have to tell it like it is, and everybody can seem to relate to it and finds the funny side of, I’m not talking about slipping on a banana peel, but everybody has funny things that happen to them that might not have seemed funny at the time. So it’s very interesting to just tell it like it is and you don’t expect people to laugh at certain things, and they do because they can identify with it. So that aspect of it, I really enjoyed. And hearing the music and the stories, you could hear a pin drop, so people are really enjoying what they’re hearing.
“It’s 180 degrees different from the band and I enjoy it so much,” Frampton said.
In fact, the shows were so rewarding that Frampton decided to do an all-acoustic album, “Acoustic Classics,” creating new stripped down versions of some of his most famous songs (including “Show Me The Way,” “I’m In You” and “Do You Feel Like We Do” — alas the latter without the talkbox guitar solo). Frampton said it took some work to find his stride in recording the songs.
“For me to do this acoustic record and re-do some of my songs, I wanted to re-do them in the way that they would be back to, as if I’d just written them,” Frampton said. “It’s like you came around for coffee and I said ‘I wrote a new song last night. Do you want to hear it?’ That’s the performance that I want to give the audience, and that’s the performance I wanted to give on the record. So when I first went into the studio and did a couple, I thought this will be a piece of cake. But I went into the control room and listened and realized it wasn’t what I wanted at all. This was 40 years on also, and it sounded like me without the band – and I missed the band. So I wasn’t doing it in the correct way. So it wasn’t pleasing to me at all.
“That’s when I went home and realized I had to reverse engineer my own songs and do them the way that I hoped I remembered how they sounded when I did first write them,” he said. “Once I came across my M.O. for this, everything started to fall into place and I really enjoyed doing it and taking them back to nothing, basically, and then bringing them up with just one guitar. Maybe I added a lead guitar, but basically it’s just one voice and one guitar.”
Doing “Acoustic Classics” and the acoustic touring confirmed a truth Frampton had sensed – that he should do projects as often as possible that seem challenging – and even scary.
“You can stay in the same circle of what you do and feel safe or you can push the envelope and do something that you don’t feel comfortable with,” Frampton said. “Those things that I’ve done, like the acoustic album and the instrumental album (“Fingerprints”) and playing live acoustically all pushed the envelope for me and have been very, very rewarding. So I now look for something that makes me feel a little nervous, and maybe that’s the thing to do.”
Alan Sculley is a freelance music writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.