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Plugged-in Frampton returns to Britt with a full band

Around this time last year, Peter Frampton didn’t expect to play any shows in the Rogue Valley — or anywhere else around the United States — this summer.

He planned to spend some time writing and recording, and if he was going to tour, it would be somewhere outside of the country, he says.

“I’ll maybe take it a little easier next year in this country at least and do some other things,” Frampton says in a phone interview. “I’m probably going to take the next year off touring America.”

Instead, Frampton did a smattering of headline shows early this year before he launched into a summer run of dates that had him on the road through mid-August opening for Steve Miller. After adding a few more headline shows, his performance schedule extended into the first week of September.

The British rock guitarist and his band will perform at 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 27, at Britt Pavilion, 350 S. First St., Jacksonville. Lenny “Fuzzy” Rankins performs at 6 p.m. in Britt’s Performance Garden. Tickets are $68 for reserved seating, $292 for premium lawn seating for four, $146 for premium lawn seating for two, $42 for lawn seating, and $32 for ages 12 and younger. Tickets can be purchased at brittfest.org, at the box office, 216 W. Main St., Medford, or by calling 800-882-7488.

So much for taking it easy.

But touring with Miller was probably too good an opportunity to overlook. This summer’s run was a reprise of last summer’s popular Miller and Frampton tour, an outing that reunited the two guitarists and singers, who have been friends since the early ’70s, when Frampton was still a member of Humble Pie.

“I’ve known Steve since I was 20 years old,” he says. “We’ve done so many types of shows together, stadiums, arenas, clubs, you name it, we’ve done it.”

Miller and Frampton reached pinnacles in their careers during the late ’70s, with Miller’s trifecta of platinum-selling albums (1973’s “The Joker”, “1976’s “Fly Like an Eagle” and 1977’s “Book of Dreams”) propelling him to stadium heights.

As for Frampton, he went solo after achieving an early measure of fame with Humble Pie, gradually building a following with four solo albums. Then came the 1976 double album, “Frampton Comes Alive!”

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, while Frampton’s boyish good looks helped make him a bona fide pop star.

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, and he faded from the spotlight in the ’80s. But a turnaround came with Frampton’s 2006 instrumental album, “Fingerprints,” which won a Grammy. A fine studio album, “Thank You Mr. Churchill,” followed in 2010, and in 2014, he released the EP, “Hummingbird,” which features seven songs Frampton composed for the Cincinnati Ballet.

Frampton will cover music from across his career in his shows, with his headline dates allowing him to include songs omitted in his shorter opening sets for Miller.

The tours with Miller gave Frampton a chance to return to his usual plugged-in, full band format he used throughout his career.

About four years ago, he tried something different with his live shows, hitting the road for what became some two years of playing in a stripped-down acoustic setting with his long-time songwriting partner Gordon Kennedy.

The idea of doing a full acoustic show was initially daunting for Frampton.

“When we have the time, I’ll do an acoustic spot, two or three numbers, but never the whole evening,” Frampton says. “This was scary, the thought of carrying the whole evening with acoustic.”

Frampton says he quickly found his comfort zone and saw audiences responding.

“After the first few minutes out there on the very first tour, I just felt so at home,” he says. “It was a different feel in the audience because it was more of a ‘storytellers’ meets ‘unplugged,’ as opposed to a regular rock show with the band. So lots of stories, lots of life stories. Life is sad and funny and everythingin between. Just tell it like it is, and everybody can seem to relate to it and find the funny side of it. I’m not talking about slipping on a banana peel, but everybody has funny things happen to them that might not have seemed funny at the time. I really enjoyed that aspect of it. I could hear a pin drop during the music and the stories, so I knew people were really enjoying what they were hearing.

“It’s 180 degrees different from the band and I enjoy it so much,” Frampton says.

In fact, the shows were so rewarding Frampton decided to record an all-acoustic album, “Acoustic Classics,” creating stripped-down versions of some of his most famous songs (including “Show Me The Way,” “I’m In You” and “Do You Feel Like We Do” — alas the latter without the talkbox guitar solo).

It took some work to find his stride in recording the songs, Frampton says. He wanted to reimagine the songs in a way that would sound like he’d just written them.

“That’s what I wanted to give the audience,” he says. “When I went into the studio, I though it would be a piece of cake. But when I listened in the control room, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted at all. It wasn’t correct, and it wasn’t pleasing to me at all.

“That’s when I realized I had to reverse engineer my own songs and play them the way they sounded when I first wrote them,” he says. “Then everything started to fall into place, and I really enjoyed taking them back to nothing, basically, and bringing them up with just one guitar. Maybe I added a lead guitar, but basically it’s just one voice and one guitar.”

Recording “Acoustic Classics” and the acoustic tour that followed confirmed a truth Frampton had sensed: He should work on projects as often as possible that seem challenging ... even scary.

“You can stay in the same circle of what you do and feel safe or you can push the envelope and do something that you don’t feel comfortable with,” Frampton says. “Those things that I’ve done, like the acoustic album and the instrumental album (“Fingerprints”) and playing live acoustically all pushed the envelope for me and have been very, very rewarding. So I now look for something that makes me feel a little nervous, and maybe that’s the thing to do.”

More than 40 years after his breakthrough album, "Frampton Comes Alive! British singer, songwriter and guitarist Peter Frampton continues to progress as an artist. Photo by Austin Lord