Peter Frampton’s done a lot of things in his career. From 1970s teen rock idol to solo rock guitar sensation, from heading up his own bands to playing for other people’s, the 65-year-old guitarist has packed a lot in. But he had never done an all-acoustic album — until this month. Just released, Frampton’s “Acoustic Classics” reworks his signature songs into a simpler vibe, and Saturday the guitarist brings his new sound to Tacoma’s Pantages Theater for “Peter Frampton Raw.”
A British rocker who grew up just three years behind Davie Bowie at Bromley Technical School (they jammed together, and Frampton’s father taught Bowie art), Frampton hit the pop charts by the time he was 16 as lead guitarist for The Herd. With flowing golden locks and lidded stare, he was named “The Face of 1968” by teen magazine Rave, and formed the band Humble Pie. After years of band albums and session work with the likes of George Harrison and Jerry Lee Lewis, Frampton saw three hit singles from his solo album “Frampton Comes Alive.” He also began using his trademark talk box, which directed his guitar sound into his mouth and vocal mike.
Several decades of albums, tours and collaborations later (including David Bowie’s “Glass Spider”), Frampton won a Grammy for his 2006 “Fingerprints” album. But it wasn’t until last year that he decided to go acoustic for the first time, kicking off his current tour in October and releasing “Acoustic Classics” this spring. The album features remakes of hits like “Baby I Love Your Way,” “Show Me The Way” and “Do You Feel Like I Do,” with a soft, steel-string sound and Frampton’s high husky tenor sounding more singer-songwriter than hard rock.
A week before he plays a solo show at Tacoma’s Pantages, Frampton caught up with The News Tribune to talk about why acoustic, and why he keeps seeking out challenge.
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Q: How’s the tour going?
A: It’s going great. It’s building, because we started with 12 shows in October. That was my first time out of the box with the whole acoustic thing — I wasn’t sure if it would work, either for me or for the audience. But it went straight from the off. It’s phenomenal. It’s a completely different atmosphere, more like a very large living room as opposed to a stage. The audience loved the stories, and the music broken down to its most basic form.
Q: Why did you decide to go acoustic in the first place?
A: Back when I was playing with bands, I had categorically declared I would never do an acoustic tour or album. Then (lately) I noticed that various different artists had gone back and rerecorded their original hits acoustically. They had such a success with the different approach. I thought, well, I enjoy playing acoustic. So I started doing the album and halfway through it I started the “RAW” tour. And I realized, I love this. It’s 180 degrees different from the band, but I love it as much as playing with the band.
Q: Are you using any different techniques to play the songs acoustically?
A: Not really — it’s just so basic. But I thought that I’d whip through them in the studio, then I realized I sounded like I was playing with the band in my head. (But what I wanted was) as if I’d invited you over for coffee to try out a new song on you. It’s the song, just broken out of the shell, that’s very different. I realized that was what I wanted. So I reverse-engineered my songs, changed the key slightly, because I wanted to sing them a bit softer. It’s more intimate.
Q: What are you finding most rewarding these days — what are you focusing on?
A: The next thing I want to do is me with the electric. I have a lot of different ideas, but I’m not sure yet what I’ll do. I’ve got a lot of songs and pieces that need to be recorded. It’ll be something different, because I need to challenge myself. “Fingerprints,” in 2006, was a huge challenge, and so was “Acoustic.” But I loved it. I need to push myself, be on the edge and not in my comfort zone.
Q: So you’re still learning things, even this far through your career?
A: I’ll be learning the day before I kick the bucket! I can’t help but listen to music and think, hey, what’s that — I love that line. So I slow it down, learn it. When I pick up the guitar every day it’s because I find new things that inspire me. Guitar is my passion, and that passion gets invigorated — it’s like you’re a little kid again.
Peter Frampton Raw
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma.
Information: 253-591-5894, broadwaycenter.org.