Knowing he wanted to tour this summer, Peter Frampton found himself asking, perhaps not in these exact words, “Now, what do I do for an encore?”
He was coming off his epic “Frampton Comes Alive! 35th Anniversary tour” — a 2011-12 outing in which he played his landmark 1976 concert album front to back for the first time since the mid-1970s — plus another 80 to 90 minutes of music each night on a trek that numbered 116 shows.
The tour was a big success, raising Frampton’s profile to its highest level since the late 1970s. The tour has now been documented with a 2-DVD set, “FCA! 35 Tour: An Evening With Peter Frampton,” and a separate 3-CD package, “The Best Of FCA! 35 Tour.”
It’s a tough act to follow, but Frampton looks to have come up with something pretty special for this summer, a tour he’s calling “Frampton’s Guitar Circus.”
“It started with the Frampton Comes Alive! 35th Anniversary tour, being such a theme. Obviously it was a very powerful theme for me,” Frampton explained in a phone interview. “Then after that, I said well what am I going to do next? And then being that my passion is guitar, I just thought it would be great to have a tour where it’s just all guitars, not all me this time. It’s me and different guitarists, and as many as I can get on the stage at once.
“So it was just a different kind of (idea), again pushing the envelope and doing something different,” he said. “And I had no idea who would want to come and join me, and lo and behold, the first person who said yes was B.B. King. So I’m so honored. And then Robert Cray and Sonny Landreth, [Steve) Lukather (who will perform with Frampton Tueday night at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek], Steve Cropper, all of these other people are going to come and sit in, Don Felder from the Eagles. It’s just phenomenal. It’s going to be fun for the audience and it’s going to be as much fun, if not more, for us.”
King will join Frampton from Aug. 8-31, with slide guitar master Landreth also on the bill. Cray, meanwhile, was featured from May 28-June 28, with Landreth, Lukather (who opens the July 23 show at Vilar Performing Arts Center) and Kenny Wayne Shepherd open the July and early August dates.
‘Distinctive tenor ... incomparable skills’
A host of other guitarists will make appearances at specific shows throughout the tour, including Felder, David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), Richard Thompson, Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick), Dean DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots), Roger McGuinn (The Byrds), Vernon Reid (Living Colour) and soul music legend Cropper.
“There’s no doubt that Frampton is one of the greatest guitarists of all time, and he’s still got it,” said Vilar Center Executive Director Kris Sabel. “His distinctive tenor voice plus his incomparable skills on the guitar make him one of music’s most distinguished artists, and we could not be happier to host him again this summer.”
Exactly how the shows will unfold was not set it stone at the time of the interview.
“I think basically it will be beginning, middle and end, and whatever jamming goes on between the two or three main acts on the show, that is to be determined,” Frampton said. “But there will be at least one guest, a friend of mine, or someone I’ve admired, that will come and sit in during our set as well.
“So it’s just going to be very challenging for us, keeping us on our toes,” he said. “We’re sort of turning into the Frampton Letterman Band.
A flow followed by a Grammy winner
Frampton has had some of the highest of highs and lowest of lows of any music artist.
He achieved an early measure of fame as guitarist in Humble Pie, going solo after that group recorded its famous 1971 live album, “Performance Rocking The Fillmore.” (A box set that will include all four concerts from Humble Pie’s stand at the San Francisco venue is being prepared for release, probably next year, Frampton said.)
Frampton gradually built a following with four early 1970s studio albums and plenty of touring, which set the stage for the decision to make “Frampton Comes Alive!” The 1976 double album became nothing short of a phenomenon.
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.
In the process, Frampton became the biggest act in rock during 1976 and 1977, and when he appeared shirtless on the cover of “Rolling Stone” magazine, his image as a pop music idol was cemented. That was problematic for Frampton, who to be known for his skills as a guitarist.
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.
The three albums that followed, “Where I Should Be” (1979), “Breaking All The Rules” (1981) and “The Art Of Control” (1982), were even bigger flops, and for much of the next two decades, Frampton was out of the spotlight.
But a turnaround came when Frampton decided to make his 2006 instrumental album, “Fingerprints.” It won a 2007 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album, giving Frampton’s career a shot of momentum.
That album was followed by the 2010 release, “Thank You Mr. Churchill,” an excellent collection of songs with vocals that solidified the fact that Frampton was once again writing and performing at a high level.
‘An eye opener’
Then the “Frampton Comes Alive!” 35th anniversary tour gave Frampton another significant success.
“I think it was a master stroke, and I have to give my manager, Ken Levitan, a lot of credit for bringing the idea to me, knowing that I could probably have a shoot the messenger (moment),” Frampton said. “I never really wanted to do that, to go out and do ‘Frampton Comes Alive!’ again in its entirety, until he came to me and said look, people are doing this. Various different bands are doing themed tours of specific albums, and you have definitely got an album that is a great thing, to say the least. So I said ‘OK, I’m not thrilled, I wouldn’t just do that. What do you think about doing the complete evening, and then after ‘Comes Alive,’ doing another hour and 20 minutes of the music I’ve been doing ever since?’
“People have said it was a brave move to do that after (playing) ‘Comes Alive!,’ but it was phenomenal for me because it was an education as to what I had done since ‘Comes Alive!,’” he said.
“I’m not just ‘Comes Alive.’ It (the tour) was far more successful than I ever thought possible. And I put it down to the fact that, if I had just come out and done ‘Comes Alive!,” I would have felt like we were doing an oldies tour ... I think to me, it just paid off in re-education. It just reawakened myself to those people that were huge fans and were sort of at an ‘I wonder what he’s doing’ kind of thing. For those that were there all along with the new stuff and everything, I think it was an eye opener, too.”