Bryan Ferry has always cut a dashing figure, and when the 71-year-old Roxy Music founder answers the phone on a summer evening from his London home, the mind's eye pictures the elegant crooner with tie loosened, perhaps just back from a hard day of Pimm's Cups and strawberries and cream at Wimbledon.
The last 1970s British art-rock gentleman standing after the death of David Bowie is on the line because on July 21, he and his band will kick off an American tour in Philadelphia at the Kimmel Center's Verizon Hall.
The dates are sort of in support of Avonmore, the meticulously crafted, 2014 album that takes its name from the road where Ferry's studio is located in the Kensington section of London. (It's where Prince recorded some of his final work - more on that later.) And the dates are also tied to Bryan Ferry Live 2015, the two-volume, in-concert recording that went on sale in April on his website.
Throughout his career, Ferry has a maintained a high standard of excellence, making exquisitely tailored music that's impervious to trends. The self-titled debut of Roxy Music, whose early members included guitarist Phil Manzanera and synthesizer player Brian Eno, came out in 1972.
"I like to follow my own way," says Ferry, who does turn out to be a tennis fan, though he prefers the more intimate Roland-Garros in Paris to the too-crowded Wimbeldon. "You have to like what you do, really."
Ferry's music always conveys a sense of urbanity, from the accomplished cover versions that have been a trademark since 1973's solo debut These Foolish Things to the elegant ennui of Roxy's 1982 Avalon, which produced the typically sensual signature tune "More Than This."
features guitarists Nile Rodgers of Chic and Johnny Marr of the Smiths, as well as longtime associate Neil Hubbard, who's currently in Ferry's touring band.
Ferry can sound like he was born wearing a smoking jacket, so comfortable is he with his own elan. But he comes from gritty, working-class roots in the north of England near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, an area that recently voted to leave the European Union. (Ferry politely declines to discuss the Brexit referendum, saying only, "It's a very confusing time.")
His father was a farm laborer and tended to "pit ponies," the tiny Shetlands that worked underground in coal mines. So where, then, did Bryan acquire his sophistication?
"The cinema, really," he says. "Musicals, with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Cary Grant. I loved all of Billy Wilder's films.
"The way people dressed in those movies, everyone wore a hat and a suit. I'm a big fan of Hollywood in all its various forms. When I was in high school, I started studying music and history and art, and I realized there was a whole world of creativity out there that interested me very much."
Ferry is covering two Bob Dylan songs in his current set, and he recorded an entire album's worth with 2007's Dylanesque.
"I came to him quite late," he says of Dylan, whom he calls "an underrated singer."
"When he was making his first impact on a British audience, I was listening to the Stax label, a lot of American R&B and Motown. And also the records Phil Spector produced. They seemed to have everything."
Ferry sang Bobby "Blue" Bland covers and other American obscurities in his college bands the Banshees and the Gas Board at the University of Newcastle. He studied art with Richard Hamilton, the late British artist credited with coining the term pop art, who was featured recently in the International Pop exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
"He was a great teacher, and he was creating some of his best work at the time," 1963-64, says Ferry. "So we got to see it, and he set a great standard."
Hamilton "was very interested in American pop culture," recalls Ferry, who now collects works by early-20th-century British painters, a period that he says "isn't too expensive, thankfully."
"There was quite a link between my college and the scene in New York, which we loved from afar and found so glamorous."
Hamilton was "a thoughtful disciple" of French-born conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp, whose work inspired Ferry's 1978 solo album The Bride Stripped Bare. Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) is in the Art Museum collection.
Ferry says he "usually [goes] on a pilgrimage" to the Art Museum when in Philadelphia.
After college, Ferry worked in London as a ceramics teacher "just to make money and stay alive while writing the first Roxy songs." Hamilton's ideas impacted Roxy's music in that "collage was a big part of his work."
"Putting together a bunch of different ideas, that was a big part of the first Roxy album," whose "Ladytron" and "Virginia Plain" Ferry has been playing in recent dates.
"But the thing about music is, it's quite an emotive art form. And that was another side of me, which I guess is the more passionate side. Music was a great platform for expressing that emotional aspect."
Roxy broke up in 1983 and then reunited for various tours in the '00s before splitting again in 2011. "Together, it was quite an unusual bunch of people. The fact that [saxophonist] Andy Mackay played oboe, and with Brian Eno, we could put all the instruments through the synthesizers to make it all sound a bit stranger than other bands.
"We were trying to make music that was interesting, and we thought we were going to be playing to a small, arty crowd. But luckily, we had a few songs that crossed over to a wider audience."
"Love Is the Drug," from 1975's Siren, was the band's biggest American hit. Roxy's 1970s albums also were popular among testosterone-addled teenage boys, with album covers featuring fashion models, many of whom, such as Jerry Hall, Ferry dated. The singer was divorced in 2014 from his second wife, Amanda Sheppard, a former girlfriend of one of his four sons.
Of his recorded work, the three albums that Ferry ranks highest are the second Roxy album, For Your Pleasure, followed by Avalon and These Foolish Things. "That was my first adventure in singing other people's songs. Different genres, different eras. I really enjoyed making that album."
A 2010 story in the London tabloid the Daily Mirror quoted Ferry as saying, "I have a total dread of my own mortality."
He laughs, and says, "A lot of people would agree with me on that one." But he gets serious when discussing the rash of death that has plagued the music world in 2016, particularly the loss of Prince.
"I met him in the Caribbean. He spent a lot of time in the Turks and Caicos. A very nice guy. Fantastic musician. The best performer I had seen since Jimi Hendrix.
"He asked if he could use my studio, and I said, 'Sure.' I was away on tour, so sadly I wasn't there. But I saw him in London in a really small club, with his girl band, who were all great players. So much energy. He lived for music really."
Ferry's proud of Avonmore and the positive reception it received in the UK. But now, in his 70s, he's more partial to live performing than recording.
"The last few years I've come to enjoy touring much more," he says. "I guess the older you get, the more you appreciate the audience you've built up. You're in the music there with them, in a live situation. I like to give the audience songs that they've digested and known for years. There's a certain pleasure in doing the early work. And I've got so many albums to choose from now."
Bryan Ferry, with LP, 8 p.m. July 21 at the Kimmel Center, Broad and South Streets. Tickets: $49-$75. Information: 215-893-1999 or kimmelcenter.org.