In looking back to his past, Peter Frampton has moved his music forward.
For his latest album, Thank You Mr. Churchill, the man responsible for one of the top-selling live albums of all time offers some personal reflections on his life, as well as other topics.
Between the recording of 2006's Fingerprints, for which he won a Grammy Award in 2007 for Best Pop Instrumental Album, and the release of Mr. Churchill, Frampton had to come to terms with the death of his parents.
"It was a necessary thing for me to do," said Frampton in a phone interview from Toronto, where he had just performed on his latest tour, which includes a stop at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe on Tuesday, July 27. "My mom and dad passed away between those albums. I had wonderful parents. My dad passed away while I was making Fingerprints, but he heard some things from it, and my mom died in between the two records.
"It was one morning after the grieving period when I realized I didn't have any parents, and I'm an orphan now. It made me think in a completely different way about my life. I think I panicked and that maybe I was getting too old," he added, with a laugh.
"It stirred in me a wanting to go back and see where I did come from, and how did I get here."
Two of the new songs have that autobiographical feel for Frampton, now 60. The title track starts with his birth and gives him a chance to thank Winston Churchill for bringing his father back from World War II. Another song, "Vaudeville Nanna and the Banjolele", is the story of how his grandmother had given him the instrument, which started him on his musical journey.
That led to a career which saw him join British teen band The Herd and Humble Pie before going solo and achieving Superstar sales status with his fifth album, Frampton Comes Alive!, a two-record convert recording that topped the charts in 1976.
That album included live versions of his signature songs, "Show Me the Way", "Baby I Love You Way" and "Do You Feel Like We Do". He has had a number of hits since then, including "I'm In You", "I Can't Stand It No More" and "Lying", but it is difficult for any artist to maintain the level of pop stardom created by the massive success of Frampton Comes Alive!
Frampton has continued to record and perform, and the irony of winning the Grammy for an instrumental album hasn't been lost on him.
"It's my only Grammy, and I'd be very happy if it's the only one I win," he remarked. "To get one for my guitar playing is ironic in the scheme of things.
"I started out as a guitar player, and every band I got in was because of my guitar playing, until The Herd, where who was doing the singing all had to do with looks (Frampton was dubbed The Face of 1968 by the British music press). Then with Humble Pie, it was a return to what I had been doing, because I wanted to play guitar and let Steve Marriott do the singing.
"Then with my solo career, there were all these pictures of me in various states of undress, and my image changed from a musician and session player in one fell swoop. I was the teeny bopper guy all of a sudden, and my credibility was lost for a time. It's as if you're too good looking, then you can't be talented. That slagged me for 25-30 years of my career."
On Fingerprints, Frampton worked with Rolling Stones' drummer Charlie Watts and former Stones bassist Bill Wyman, as well as members of Pearl Jam and Hank Marvin and Brian Bennett from The Shadows.
"I had to get back to my roots," he said. "I was playing with some of my earliest influences with the Shadows, and it was awesome that they all came in to help. It's something I had to do and will probably do again, but not the same way. I'm not going to repeat myself, because I do like singing as well, and I try to balance it."
On Mr. Churchill's "Invisible Man", Frampton hooked up with another group of musicians he admires in Motown's superb sessions crew, the Funk Brothers.
"They played on everybody's Motown records and invented a lot of those riffs, but never got credit, and it's awesome that they are just starting to get the recognition they deserved for so many years," mentioned Frampton.
The new album also includes the instrumental "Suite: Liberte" as well as "Restraint", a song about the "greedy pigs" responsible for the Wall Street meltdown, as Frampton referred to it.
One special moment is "Road to the Sun", which features the singing and playing of his son, Julian.
"That was so great," said Frampton of collaborating with Julian, now 21. "He's just bursting at the seams with his creativity. In the last few years, he has opened up with his singing and songwriting. We've always been jamming since he first started playing the drums at age 10, and then when he switched to guitar. We wrote a couple of songs, and one of them just kept getting better, so I slipped it into the demo pile.
"When Chris Kimsey (who co-produced the album) heard it, he asked, 'who's this?', and I said it was Julian. I had the thrill of a lifetime calling him up and telling him it was going to be on the record."
Frampton said Julian did his part on the first take and has since performed the song with him on the road on some dates.
The current Frampton band includes long time bassist John Regan, guitarist Adam Lester, drummer Dan Wojciechowski and keyboardist/guitarist Rob Arthur (former keyboard player Bob Mayo died in 2004). Frampton said he is currently performing three songs from the new album but the band has been working on adding a few more.
Fans can also keep up with what Frampton is doing on his Facebook page. In fact, it was through Facebook that he hooked up again with Kimsey, who engineered his 1972 Wind of Change album.
He recalled checking Facebook while riding a cab in New York City and seeing his friends total grow over 100,000. "It blew me away," he admitted. "To think that 100,000, and now over 300,000 are listening, to me, that's pretty phenomenal."
Tickets for Peter Frampton at Penn's Peak on Tuesday, July 27 are $42 for the Pit (standing room only) and $37 for reserved seating and avalable on-line at www.ticketmaster.com, at Ticketmaster outlets (including Boscov's, Gallery of Sound), and at the Penn's Peak box office and Roadies' Restaurant. Call 866-605-7325 for information.