- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2016

He released the most famous live rock album of all time in 1976 at the tender age of 26, which many saw as his artistic peak. Yet Peter Frampton, the English guitar master, has continued to reinvent himself for decades since.

Known for such bombastic rock staples as “Do You Feel Like We Do” and “Baby, I Love Your Way,” Mr. Frampton will bring his live acoustic show to the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre Sunday evening at 8 p.m. The artist said the “RAW: An Acoustic Tour” will strip away the theatrics and noise of rock and take the ax-man back to his roots.

“We tried to keep it as un-electric as possible — no talk box,” Mr. Frampton told The Washington Times of the instrument he has made much use of during his career.

And his new album, “Acoustic Classics,” is precisely that. Gone are the electric guitars, the talk box and the studio tricks. Mr. Frampton said he wanted the stripped-down album to feel for the listener “like I’m in the living room with you playing on the couch.”

“I didn’t want it to be just another version of the songs. I wanted to take 40 years off those songs and go right back to the embryo, as it were,” Mr. Frampton, now 66, said.

Even with hundreds of concert dates at his back, Mr. Frampton maintains that he was nervous about how worldwide audiences would receive his classics in an unplugged from.

“Fear clutched my heart before I walked out on stage the first night,” he said, “because I thought ‘I’m not sure if this is going to work.’ But then, within a few phrases, feeling the audience with me there … I instantly realized this is 180 degrees from what I’m used to doing, but I love it just as much.

“It’s just as enjoyable to do it this way as it is to do it electrically,” Mr. Frampton said.

Although he has seemingly mastered the instrument, Mr. Frampton said that playing songs he wrote four-plus-decades ago acoustically has challenged him both as a musician and a student of the music.

“Even at this age — in my mid- to late-60s — I want to get better. I don’t want to rehash what I did yesterday,” he said.

Volumes could be written about Mr. Frampton’s yesterdays, notably his English upbringing, in which he crossed paths as a teenager with the likes of David Bowie. Mr. Frampton and Bowie attended the same school, though Mr. Frampton was a few years behind the chameleonlike Bowie, who died in January of cancer. (Mr. Frampton last communicated with Bowie via email sometime before his death.)

“Early on, I became very good on guitar, and then all the bands I was in, everyone was much older than me,” he said of his journeyman days. “I got drawn into these circles in England where very soon I’m sitting next to [Rolling Stones bassist] Bill Wyman and being produced by him and Glyn Johns.

“And I’m 14, I’m on TV with the Rolling Stones. It was a very heady period.”

Mr. Frampton’s favored ax is his treasured Les Paul, but lately he has been taking up a French series called Maurice Dupont. Taking up that instrument, he says, has allowed him to attempt to learn the stylings of Django Reinhardt, a French player widely hailed as one of the greatest to ever take up the instrument.

“At the same time I was listening to Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, my parents were playing the Hot Club de France and Django Reinhardt, which I couldn’t wait to get out of the room when they put on that jazz stuff,” he said with a laugh. “But [Reinhardt] has been with me since I was 8 years old.”

Mr. Frampton said the only way to emulate Reinhardt’s work, since the late guitarist’s finger work was so brisk, is to in fact slow down the recordings “like you used to with the 45s or 33s.”

“That’s the only way to learn Django,” Mr. Frampton said of his idol. “As I’m playing along with him — very slowly — the sound of the guitar I have now is almost the same as the sound of his guitar built in the ‘40s.”

Mr. Frampton gained new legions of fans thanks to being willing to have fun with his own image. In a 1996 episode of “The Simpsons,” he played himself as the senior member of a touring rock show called “Hullabalooza,” which featured Gen X favorites like The Smashing Pumpkins and Cypress Hill.

Upon getting the entreaty from the long-running animated sitcom, Mr. Frampton was convinced the call was meant for someone else.

“I said ‘You want me?’” he said. “I said, ‘Well, tell me the premise.’”

The producers pitched the story. Mr. Frampton recalls his initial response was “I wouldn’t be doing that.”

“There was silence at the other end. Then I said ‘It’s a joke!’” he said, laughing amiably about accepting the gig. “‘You want me to play the old, crusty, been-there-done-that, hate-the-new-guys-coming-up guy rock star, right? I’m your man!’”

Mr. Frampton has also voiced himself on fellow animated farce “Family Guy,” adding that it helps to not take yourself too seriously.

“It’s an honor to be part of those [shows] and help make fun of yourself, because I think it makes you much more of a human being rather than what people might think of you,” he said.

Filmmaker Cameron Crowe also tapped Mr. Frampton to be the “authenticity adviser” on and write some songs for Mr. Crowe’s thinly veiled autobiographical “Almost Famous” in 2000. As a teenage reporter for Rolling Stone, Mr. Crowe wrote the liner notes for “Frampton Comes Alive,” thus bringing their relationship full circle.

For one of the concert scenes of the film’s fictional band, Stillwater, cinematographer John Toll even tapped Mr. Frampton to decide multicamera shot angles.

“I got to call three Panavision cameras. That was probably one of the most exciting moments of my life,” Mr. Frampton recollects.

Mr. Crowe also had Mr. Frampton portray the road manager for Humble Pie, a band of which Mr. Frampton himself was once a member.

“Almost Famous,” set in the ‘70s, told of the days when artists could sell millions of albums and live off the royalties, a vanquished concept in the era of the internet.

“The Adeles are the ones that sell the megamillions,” Mr. Frampton said of the English singer, now on a worldwide tour and as popular as ever. “The bottom line is that music doesn’t sell anymore apart from a handful of acts. The only way that artists can earn money really to support themselves is live.”

Mr. Frampton once sent Steve Jobs a thank-you email for unveiling iTunes, where consumers could pay a dollar to download a song rather than stealing it off services like Napster. At least from the iTunes sales, the artist gets something.

“I got a nice email back from Steve Jobs saying ‘thank you, and if you’ve got any ideas for the future of music, please let me know.’ That was very nice,” Mr. Frampton said of the late tech guru.

Even for Mr. Frampton’s son Julian, whose band opens for Mr. Frampton on tour, having a famous musician father doesn’t give him a leg up.

“One thing I found really interesting is [record companies] won’t release something new unless he had a million following on Facebook, which he doesn’t have yet,” Mr. Frampton said of his progeny. “It’s very difficult to start out right now. I don’t know how you do it.”

Regardless, Mr. Frampton remains thankful for his success and says he is enjoying playing for live audiences more than ever before.

“I think climbing up the mountain is more interesting, more enjoyable, than sitting at the top,” he said. “Once you’ve got up there, you’ve got nowhere to go except down. It’s a wonderful feeling to be up there, but that wears a little thin, like the air up there,” he said, laughing.

Tickets to Peter Frampton’s “RAW: An Acoustic Tour” at the Kennedy Center are available by going to Kennedy-Center.org.

 

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