NEW YORK (Billboard) - Since he started his career in the ‘60s, Peter Frampton has maintained his reputation as an electrifying guitarist and solo artist, most famously on 1976’s multiplatinum live set “Frampton Comes Alive!” Five days after his 60th birthday, the British legend will release one of the most personal albums of his career, “Thank You Mr. Churchill.”
Due April 27 from A&M/New Door/UMe, the set features songs that reflect on early memories as well as troubling world issues.
Frampton spoke with Billboard about his childhood, upcoming touring plans and his first two Grammy Awards, received in 2007 for the instrumental album “Fingerprints.”
Billboard: How is the album autobiographical?
Peter Frampton: There are two songs that make it autobiographical. “Thank You Mr. Churchill” uses (Winston) Churchill as the man signifying the winning of the Second World War and bringing my father home. I just thought, “What if he hadn’t been there? Would I be here today?” That led me to “Vaudeville Nanna and the Banjolele.” I had this memory as a child of my grandmother leaving a banjolele (a cross between a banjo and a ukulele) in our attic and saying to my father, “Leave this up there, and maybe Peter will get curious and you can show it to him one day.” So it is the story of how I started playing, and the track is very important to me.
Billboard: Why was it a good time to release an album with such topical lyrics?
Frampton: I don’t think it was necessarily the right time, it was just when it happened. In the past you wouldn’t hear me voicing my opinion on the greedy pigs on Wall Street, but I felt that I wanted to say something about it, because we’re all thinking it, and people are still dealing with it. Becoming more open to what’s going on around me gave me so much more to write about. Yes, there are love songs and rock ‘n’ rollers on the album, but there are some things that have special meaning for me too.
Billboard: There are many straightforward rock songs on “Churchill.” What made you veer away from more technologically advanced music?
Frampton: For me, live music is where it’s at. I went through a computerized phase in the ‘90s, and afterward I realized that it’s sort of soulless. The more I turn the computer on to write a song, the less I get from the song. My most enjoyable times playing are in front of a live audience. It’s all about moving and breathing and playing off other musicians, and that’s what I tried to capture on the record.
Billboard: After decades of working in the music industry, how did it feel to finally get recognized by the Grammy Awards in 2007?
Frampton: I had thought that it was just not in the cards for me, so it really was a surprise when I got nominated twice for the same album. And I thought I’d never win, because I was up against (legendary guitarist) Larry Carlton. And then I got it, and it was a very surreal moment for me. The first person that ran toward me after the ceremony was Larry Carlton, and he gave me a big hug and congratulated me. I couldn’t speak. I think that meant as much to me, if not more, than the award.
Billboard: Do you feel you’ve made your definitive statement as an artist?
Frampton: The day I drop dead, I will be remembered for “Frampton Comes Alive!” But for me, every day is a bonus. I’m working on my eighth year of sobriety, and the last seven years have been pretty amazing. It’s wonderful to have the energy and the clear head now to enjoy the creativity. I do see the best things up the road — not necessarily for blockbuster albums, but for the enjoyment of me as the musician and the person.
Billboard: How do you plan to tour to support the album?
Frampton: We’re starting the American tour halfway through May. We’ll be doing dates alone, some festivals with Steve Miller, and we have a co-headlining tour for six weeks with Yes, who I played with many times in ‘75 and ‘76 and haven’t played with since. Then we’re going to possibly Australia in August, and maybe Europe in October. We’ll see what we do next year, but I want to work this year.