When Peter Frampton was asked about the death of the live album, the one-time mega-pop star just groaned.
The British singer-songwriter's first few albums had little commercial success. But then Frampton's life changed dramatically when “Frampton Comes Alive” dropped in 1976. The album sold more than 6 million copies in the United States and yielded such hits as “Show Me The Way,” “Baby, I Love Your Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do.”
“I can't say why the studio versions of the songs that became hits weren't successful,” Frampton said while calling from Nashville. “All I can think of when I hear the recordings from (the San Francisco venue) Winterland is that there is so much passion and energy.”
That's also why Cheap Trick's “Live At Budokan” and Kiss “Alive” helped bands with a degree of success become arena rock stars during the mid-'70s.
“The funny thing is how it was back then,” Frampton said while calling from Nashville. “Live albums didn't count as part of your record deal but that particular album turned my career around and I was told that wasn't part of my deal.”
The disc didn't just turn Frampton into a star. He became as ubiquitous as pin-up/actress Farrah Fawcett. He sold out venues as large as Philadelphia's JFK Stadium, which held more than 100,000 people.
“I remember playing there and it was wild to see people as far as you could see,” Frampton said. “The sound in a place like that couldn't be very good. Being able to play that was all due to 'Frampton Comes Alive.' ”
“That will probably be the biggest album of my career,” Frampton said.
Yes, that's a safe bet as Frampton, 63, enters the twilight years and albums certainly don't sell like they did a generation ago.
“This is a very disposable era,” Frampton said. “People don't listen and purchase music like they used to.”
But they do buy concert tickets. Frampton, who will perform Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, still performs the old hits.
“The fans want to hear those songs and I still enjoy playing them,” Frampton said. “So why not play them?”
But Frampton's unsung material, particularly recent tunes, remind fans that the one-time most prominent singer-songwriter on the circuit, is a very good guitarist and songsmith with considerable ability and laudable taste.
“Fingerprints,” his 2006 album, is comprised of instrumentals that run the gamut from R&B to to jazz to funk.
“Thank You, Mr. Churchill,” from 2010, finds Frampton offering prog-rock and blues tunes. It's a far cry from his pop days but then again so was his work with the '60s blues act Humble Pie.
“People forget or don't realize that I was a guitarist first and then I became a singer,” Frampton said. “I never wanted to become a singer. I knew way back when I was no Steve Marriott or Paul Rodgers but you steal from the best and I stole from Steve Marriott and Peter Wolf. I was a guitarist.”
Frampton is such a terrific player that director/former rock journalist Cameron Crowe asked him to teach actor Billy Crudup how to play guitar for “Almost Famous,” which is loosely based on the filmmaker's initial foray into music writing.
“Billy had never played guitar and I had to teach him everything in a short period of time,” Frampton said. “It was fun but what cracked me up was back in the day I would talk to Cameron and he would tell me how much he hated rock movies since they weren't authentic in his eyes. When he called me about making the movie, I said, 'you're making a rock movie?' He said yes but I want it to be authentic and I want you to come on board to help it become just that. So I reminded him about the little things, like that back in the early '70s, which is what Cameron was going for with 'Almost Famous,' the barriers between the band and the fans weren't metal but wood. Little things like that mean a lot. I also taught Billy how to play and how to act on stage when his band opened for Black Sabbath. I know because Humble Pie opened for Black Sabbath. That was just one of the many experiences I had and the good thing for me is that the experiences keep adding up.”
Peter Framption's Guitar Circus
With Robert Cray
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater
Tickets: $49.50, $59.50, $99.50 and $225, (727) 791-7400 and www.rutheckerdhall.com