Classic Rocker Peter Frampton Discusses the Challenges of Performing Unplugged

click to enlarge Classic Rocker Peter Frampton Discusses the Challenges of Performing Unplugged
Austin Lord
Singer-guitarist Peter Frampton wrote his classic hit “Baby, I Love Your Way” one day while vacationing at a cottage in Naussau.

He likens the experience of playing it for someone for the first time to the approach he’s taken for his current tour, dubbed Peter Frampton Raw: An Acoustic Tour. The tour in support of last year’s Acoustic Classics stops at the Ohio Theatre at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

“While I was [at the cottage], [the late singer-guitarist] Alvin Lee and his wife at the time were there, and we were hanging out for the first two weeks, so I never got any work done,” Frampton recalls via phone from his Nashville home. “They left, and I wrote the Frampton album in eight days. I came back and went to Alvin’s place, and his wife said, ‘Can you play something you wrote down there?’ I thought I could remember the lyrics to ‘Baby, I love Your Way.’ I played it just to her. Alvin was someplace else in the house. She said, ‘Oh my God.’ She asked me to play it again for Alvin. It was the first time I got reaction, and that was the approach I wanted. I had to reverse engineer how I did those songs. It’s a gentler one-on-one approach that I take on the Raw Tour. It’s how I would do those songs if no one had ever heard them before.”

Frampton says he initially didn’t like the idea of doing an acoustic album.

“I had to be talked into it,” he says. “I didn’t think I could pull it off, to be honest. But I’ve always been up for a challenge and something different. My manager asked me about doing an acoustic album and tour. I thought about it and decided to try something. I went in to my little studio here in Nashville and tried it. I came up with this MO for doing it. I didn’t want it to be the regular sit down and play the acoustic songs with the band. I wanted them to be if you came over, and we were having coffee in the kitchen, and I told you I just wanted your opinion about a song I wrote last night. You would hopefully say yes, and I would get the guitar and play it to you on a stool over coffee. The performance would be very special. I would be nervous playing this song for the first time, and it would be immensely emotional because it would have just been born.”

After agreeing to record an acoustic album, Frampton then had to warm to the idea of embarking on an acoustic tour without his Les Paul guitar and without feedback ripping through his Marshall amps.

The first acoustic show, however, proved he had nothing to worry about.

“I looked up 30 seconds through the first song, and everyone was leaning forward in their seats in this beautiful theater we started in, and everyone was smiling,” he says. “It was 180 degrees from playing with the band but provided the same amount of enjoyment. I had now found another outlet for doing my music in a completely different way, and it’s been very successful. Even close friends have said, ‘I’m not sure I would come to an acoustic show. It’s not really my thing.’ And then they come to the show, and they say, ‘It’s my thing.’ I talk to people after the shows and they say they don’t know if they like the band show or the acoustic show best. They say you just have to see both.”

The resulting album, last year’s Acoustic Classics, features stripped-down versions of his tunes such as “Baby, I Love Your Way,” “Lines On My Face” and “Do You Feel Like I Do.” “Show Me the Way,” in particular, benefits from the treatment as the stripped down approach allows Frampton to really croon.

Gordon Kennedy, Frampton's longtime collaborator and co-producer of his Grammy-winning 2006 album Fingerprints, and Frampton’s son, singer and guitarist Julian Frampton, will join him for the tour.

Frampton says he continues to write new material everyday and has tried to adapt to the changing music business as best he can.

“The music business problem of people not paying for music has gotten really bad but fortunately, you can make an album on an iPad,” he says. “Unfortunately, studios have gone out of business. I bought a studio that used to be very much a going commercial success. The price came down on it. It’s one of those little houses in Berry Hill that has a beautiful studio built out of the back. I’m so lucky that I have that. This way, I’m self-contained and can make a record when I want.”

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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