A symbol of revival, of taking something that once was an all-powerful force and giving it new life. Phoenix, like the name of legendary guitarist/songwriter Peter Frampton's favorite guitar (lost, reunited with Frampton 30 years later, and actually spelled "Phenix"). Also the name of one of the cities where Frampton chose to kick off his first-ever acoustic tour. But the British great isn't trying to reinvent himself — no. He just wants to remind you how to "feel like I do."
Frampton's career started when he was still a kid. By 15, he was in the Preachers, managed by the Rolling Stones' Bill Wyman. By 16, he was in the Herd, a London act with countless hits. By 18, he had helped form Humble Pie, one of pop music's first supergroups. And by 21, it was clear he even had an ear for refreshing solo material. He solidified his stature in rock music with his 1976 breakout live release, Frampton Comes Alive!, which sold more than 6 million copies in the U.S. alone.
Frampton has accomplished much in quest to appeal to multiple generations of fans, regularly releasing new albums and dabbling in collaborations (from David Bowie to Pearl Jam's Mike McCready) and appearing throughout pop culture (The Simpsons, the Oprah Winfrey Show, and Geico commercials). He even served as technical advisor on Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous and taught guitar to the film's star, Billy Crudup. Look closely: Remember that scene with the road managers' annual poker game, where Penny Lane (played by Kate Hudson) is sold for case of beer? Frampton appears as "Reg," Humble Pie's fictitious road manager.
Now, fresh off a co-headlining tour with Cheap Trick (where he undoubtedly put his electric guitar skills to good use), Frampton's embarking on a new venture: a tour and album tailored completely to the acoustic guitar — two firsts for the musician.
"People have been trying to get me to do it for ages," Frampton says. "I thought, I don't know. I need the band. I need electric. But then I thought, Well, let's try it. It has to be very intimate. My writing partner of 15 years, Gordon Kennedy, will be joining me, as well as my son Julian. And it's a completely different experience!"
While kicking the tour off in Arizona makes sense routing-wise — it begins March 9 in Tucson and heads to Phoenix March 10 — there are other reasons Frampton is looking forward to the Phoenix gig.
"I lived in L.A., and after an earthquake, I moved to Scottsdale in '94," Frampton says. "I lived in Arizona for a year, and family reasons moved us farther east. But I miss every sunset, you know? The sunsets are unbelievable in Arizona."
Frampton didn't finish the new album, Acoustic Classics, until he returned from the Northeast and East Coast legs of the tour in late 2015. The album was released February 26 and features 11 unplugged versions of the artist's most popular songs. Tracks include "I'm in You," "Show Me the Way," "Fig Tree Bay," (from his '72 solo debut, Wind of Change), the new track "All Down to Me," and, of course, "Do You Feel Like We Do."
Many people never forget the first time they heard Frampton. For me, it was "Do You Feel Like We Do," the almost 14-minute recording from Frampton Comes Alive! In fact, it was one of the songs that Frampton was most nervous to record acoustically in the studio — and not just because he had to reduce it to eight minutes.
"It's so iconic. Whether you go, 'Oh, not that song again,' and you change the channel because it's so damn long or it's, 'Oh, I haven't heard this in 20 minutes,'" says Frampton, laughing. "I should be so lucky; I shouldn't be mocking it. Anyways, there's so much soloing going on in it, and I originally wasn't going to use the talk box on the track. I didn't necessarily think it was going to be a good idea."
Frampton also was surprised by the challenges he faced while recording.
"I wanted these songs to come easily. Like, if I was hanging out and I brought you over and said, 'I just wrote this song last night,'" he says. "I would record a song in the morning, and come back in the afternoon, and think 'Where's the band? That's not the performance I was looking for.' I actually had to reverse-engineer my songs to get what I wanted."
"Do You Feel Like We Do" is a song that clearly defines why people fall in love with the guitar — the feeling behind it, the layered textures, the unique sound. While it was the only sound Frampton wrote about hangovers (probably "when he was hungover," he adds), it shifted something in the musical landscape. It was a song on an album that made people connect with the authenticity of a performance and the personality of an instrument.
It's tracks like that, along with the others on Acoustic Classics, that Frampton thinks provide that feeling to listeners everywhere — or so he hopes. The feeling was evident back then, and the goal is that it will be now as well. It's achieving that feeling among music fans and an audience that challenges Frampton and his desire to bring intimacy back to shows.
Frampton feels that intimacy (along with the connection to the music and instruments) has been lost. This is due in part, he feels, to technology. Most artists can't stand that an audience brings out their phones for video and photos, choosing to watch them through a tiny screen, he says.
"Take photos and video during the first three songs, then put your phone away," he instructs. "You want to make them part of the show. That's what I've always tried to do. As soon as they pick up their camera, they've left the room. People say, 'Well, I just take them for the memories.' But how many times have you watched that video?"
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SHOW ME HOW
Another thing Phoenix fans can expect: a glimpse of Frampton's signature guitar that he recovered about five years ago after not seeing it for 30 years. It made the cover of Frampton Comes Alive!, but after a plane crash while on tour in South America in 1980, it disappeared. It reappeared in the Caribbean after a local guitar collector spotted it and contacted Frampton. The singer basically won't let it out of his sight now, and he plans on using it to play a few songs: "It's just got a sound. When I first brought it back to the Frampton Comes Alive! 35th anniversary tour, people were craning their necks when I started playing it. There's a sound that pairs with that guitar that people just know."
His love for the instrument — and itch to write new music after spending time revisiting his classics in the studio — has him picking up the instrument even more frequently now.
"I don't play to play what I played yesterday," Frampton says. "I pick it up to play something new."