- On 30 August 2010
- Hits: 6136
I guess you know some of the Supertramp hits, still being played on the radios around the world, Dreamer, The Logical song or Give a little bit to mention a few, but you have no idea about who, or what, is and was behind all this. Congratulations, you've found the right place !!!
Supertramp is one of the most famous bands in the history of modern music, with millions album sold, several endless tours around the world in which they beat attendance records, and their music penetrated every home through the 70s and the 80s.
However, Supertramp was a band without a face. Their aim was to make good music and to keep their privacy, more than becoming pop-stars. This is what they wanted and they got what they wanted.
In fact Supertramp was not a band producing light and catchy pop songs or ballads like Abba or other groups, but on the contrary, it was very precise and sophisticated music, full of nuances and good quality, with deep messages in the lyrics. Hence, it's hard to understand their tremendous success, instead of being just a band for minorities. Of course, a curious phenomenon.
In order to understand what is behind all this, just take a look at the picture and the secret will be shown....
Supertramp was based mainly on the union of King Arthur (left)
and the wizard Merlin (right) as the photo proves.
Although from a computational point of view, it could also be described as a dual processor system,
parallel working thanks to a powerful serial bus and three good peripherals: o)
WHO WERE THEY ?
Now seriously ....
On the left, Rick Davies, a rhythm and blues genius with a distinctive nasal voice.
On the right, Roger Hodgson, a genius, a multi-instrumentalist musician with a prodigious voice, warm and sharp at the same time, able to sing high notes, who is able to convert any simple melody into a magical thing.
They were accompanied by a powerful and solid rhythmic base (Bob on drums and Dougie on bass ) and an extraordinary and extroverted saxophone player, fan of jazz, and master of ceremonies in the Supertramp shows, called John Helliwell.
This 5 member line-up is the one that took them to the big successes from 1973 until the departure of Roger in 1983, the glorious decade .....
The band was born in London, but they moved to Los Angeles in 1975 for the recording of the album "Crisis, what crisis?", in the A&M studios. L.A. became their base of operations for the following years. Roger got a Spanish-style house, but he moved to the mountains in north California years later. Rick and the others were based in the Los Angeles area. (John was in Topanga Canyon for example).
Roger is into meditation, vegetarian food and a healthy lifestyle, and has lived in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada (California) since the mid-70’s in a little house without many luxuries, just the basic needs. His base of operations.
Rick, after several years in Los Angeles, moved to Long Island in New York, where the passing of the seasons reminds him of his homeland ... enjoying life with his wife and, for sure, enjoying good evenings jamming with friends.
John stayed many years in Topanga, but he came back to his homeland -Manchester- a few years ago, (due to the pints -good beer- he told me just joking ...) where he continued saxophone studies and formed a jazz band, his passion.
Bob moved to a farm in the Sierra Nevada (California), but he's travels a lot, he loves surfing and is used to escaping to Mexico.
Dougie moved to Chicago, he's an important manager for artists (Moby and other artists)
Supertramp was a British band formed in London, with a Californian drummer.
Now,a few decades later, the paradoxes of life, after the departure of Roger and Dougie, and Rick (Roger too) nationalized Americans, one could say Supertramp is an American band with an English saxophone player ....
THEIR SONGS AND PERSONALITIES
Their songs are almost always based on grand piano sound ,"Take the long way Home", "Babaji", "Ain't nobody but me" or "Breakfast in America" for instance, or electric piano Wurlitzer ( “Dreamer”, Logical Song”, “Goodbye Stranger”, “Oh Darling “for example ) as interpreted by both Rick and Roger in their respective compositions (both excellent keyboard players), as well as quite a few themes composed by Roger to the acoustic 12-string guitar: "Sister Moonshine", "Give a little bit",
"Even in the Quietest moments" for example.
All this accompanied by the peculiar style of Roger to the electric guitar and also the peculiar style of John on the saxophone, together with the powerful, concise and not overloaded percussion, by Bob, also a protagonist.
All the songs are composed exclusively by Roger and Rick, and each one sings their own songs, so it's easy to know the "owner" of each song, although they always signed Davies/Hodgson imitating the style of Lennon/McCartney in the Beatles or Waters/Gilmour in Pink Floyd (both bands have certain similarities with Supertramp), in order to avoid suspicions or problems and to give an image of a "team" and discretion.
This decision was a problem later for Roger by the time of the split, as the group continued playing some of Roger's songs despite the verbal agreement between Rick and Roger, in which Rick retained the name of the band, but Roger kept their own songs, in order to asure their professional future careers.
The musical styles of Rick and Roger are quite different, but complementary, and this rare balance contributed to the magic of their songs. Musically, Rick's style (jazz influenced ) is more rhythm and blues, sometimes soul and godspell , darker and powerful. On the othe hand, Roger's style (influenced by the Beatles, Steve Winwood, Traffic, etc) is more melodic and pop, good rhythm too, but sounding mystical sometimes and powerful too. There is even a little folk flavour on some guitar numbers.
Both composers are great geniuses, without a doubt,any piano and guitar expert will tell you about the extraordinary melodies and harmonies, not trivial at all.
The result is difficult to label, but it's considered progressive pop/rock, or "sophisto-rock" as John Helliwell liked to say.
As for the lyrics, Rick's are basically ironic and cynical criticism of our society, and Roger's are more introspective, always looking for answers about the meaning of our existence and behavior ....
The third album, Crime of the Century, actually was the first album by this line-up, and it took them to the top, thanks to the song "Dreamer", composed by Roger when he was 17, years before Supertramp. This is an evidence about the huge influence of Roger in the Supertramp's big succes.
This album was actually the last time that Rick and Roger collaborated in the composition.
They explained in some interviews their mutual collaboration in the composition, like the songs "School" and "Crime of the Century", in both aspects, music and lyrics.
Since then, they only collaborated with certain single contributions on the other's songs, once finished, such as Rick's sentence "Come on dreamer, come along" in "Dreamer", or Rick's "What you got? Not a lot" in "Logical song", or the backing vocals by Roger or the electric guitar solos by Roger in many of Rick's songs.
The songs composed by Roger, some of them composed years before he joined Supertramp, (the hits Dreamer, Breakfast in America and Logical song for example) took Supertramp to the top of the hit parades, because of their pop aspect, but without leaving the spiritual or transcendental dimension (with some exceptions such as "Breakfast in America"). Roger's hits are more suitable for radio broadcast and they have that special feature of Roger’s, of touching all kinds of people, music and lyrics.
On the other hand there are also Roger's songs, less commercial but more intimate, that chill most people. Roger is a supermaster in the art of developing a simple melody until it becomes something grandiose in few minutes, an epic musical, like what the big classics used to do. Melodies that start innocently, increasing to a grand climax that make you get high when listening.
Roger Hodgson studied in a music school, and although he's an excellent pianist, he considers himself an acoustic guitar player basically. This is the instrument that gives you more freedom, you can carry it around and compose at any moment of inspiration, in a hotel, on the beach, in the mountains, etc... For this reason, the piano has more limitations (for example this was a problem for Rick during the endless tours)
Roger always plays the 12-string guitar, which has a better sound, compared to the regular 6 strings. Roger says that the sound is more far-eastern and exotic and if you pay attention, you will realize that. Especially in the arpeggios, that magical sound when only the sound of the guitar fills the room. (On the 12 strings, each time you hit a string, you actually hit two strings at the same time, a thin and another bass, which gives a special sonority, impossible for a 6 strings guitar), but playing is more demanding, it needs more precision, and Roger always use a pick.
Roger is a perfectionist for everything related to his own songs, and he wants everything to sound like the sound he has in his head for the composition. Everything in it’s place, the bass line and the percussion bits have to be exactly to his design, very precise and without changing anything. So he always writes solo, and used to record a full demo of the song including the bass line and percussion, which he then showed to the group to be performed literally. Just adding small contributions from the others as already described before, and perhaps the only one who had some more freedom was John, in the gaps that Roger left him, but always following the directions of Roger.
Having said that, though they didn't contributed in the composition process, it's obvious that that the style and skill of John on saxophone/clarinet and of Bob on drums adds to the final result. Bob follows Roger's directions, but his left-hand roll of drums (from the jazz influence) and certain patterns in the fill-in you can hear in many songs, are Bob's.
Typically Bob's sound is very solid and accurate.
The evidence that proves this, are the BBC series recordings, before 1973. Bob was not there, and you can realize that the same songs sounds very different, another world, the percussion is simpler, not special.
Definitely Bob's percussion improves the final sound a lot, along with the special care of Ken Scott in the recording of the drum sounds, a very hard job and very well done. It could be stated that this is one of the good points in the albums of the glorious decade, and in my case, it was one of the things that caught my attention when I discovered Supertramp in the mid-70, and now I know that other people had the same feelings as well.
My personal experience, I spent my first salary on a stereo hi-fi with big speakers 3-way in order to listen to the drums in "Hide in your shell", "Dreamer", "Asylum", and "Crime of the Century", etc and to feel in my lungs the incredible end-climax in several of Roger's songs,...... the spectacular synthetized-bass sound at the end of "Lady" made the walls shake, to the annoyance of my family and neighbors .... Did you listen to it that loud ? )
Rick is not as fussy in the composition, and having composed the song, he gives more freedom to the rest of the parts. Although it's well known that he was a good drummer in the early years, so he was able to give the best tips and advice about the drums parts.
However he's more a blues/jazz musician who loves playing together with good musicians drinking a beer, having a good time, just for fun, without any mysticism or the goal of fame in mind, you know what I mean.
John represents the practical side of life.
He loves playing and enjoys sharing this passion with people. A simple man who enjoys simple things like playing jazz together with good musicians, going for a bike ride, a bicycle ride or having a beer in the pub.
He loves his profession, he took his career very seriously and his talent and skill were proved.
Many of his solos, for instance "If everyone was listening" or "Lord is it mine" are chilling, even after listening a hundred times. Today, he's around 60 years old and continues to enjoy his work. He plays better than ever, with more "colours" and experience. He likes people, good food, and he understands both Rick and Roger pretty well, he has some characteristics from both, in some ways he has his feet firmly on the ground, and on the other hand he loves people and appreciates good friendship, and likes to make people happy, but he doesn’t reach Roger's spirituality. His best point is diplomacy ..... He could write several books about it ....
What has he had to mediate on, this nice man over the years, mainly during the interviews :o)
Dougie was a good element for the group as he provided stability. He was like the glue that held such different personalities together. Roger's good friend, he supported the production tasks and even the management tasks, and he knew how to mediate in the conflicts thanks to his nice Scottish character.
In fact, years after the departure of Roger, he was the only one who criticized the fact that they performed Roger's songs, and this distanced Rick who didn’t count on him for the next album
"Somethings never change."
The main feature was transporting their albums to the live shows with no changes, no jamming, and trying always to get the best sound quality. Maybe a little bit cold compared with other bands of the moment, but powerful shows nevertheless.
John has commented on some interviews that their goal was to manage the albums so they sounded live, like a big stereo hi-fi, better than listening at home.
Rick and Roger remained in the background letting John be the speaker and master of ceremonies, also because of his extrovert character and partly because Rick and Roger were busier with the full weight of the songs.
By the time of "Crime of the Century", they began to deploy a bigger scenario, better lights and a more spectacular stage, which was improving and growing over the years. They carried a giant movie screen, installed behind them for projecting some videos synchronized with the music, like the amazing train ride in "Rudy" or the dark sky full of stars and galaxies in "Crime of the Century".
They introduced a certain ironic touch, like the umbrella and hamaca (from the cover of the Crisis album) on one side of the stage, where some crew had a drink during the show .... Funny choirs or people disguised in the final choruses of "Hide in your shell" or other songs.
All that, along with their peculiar music gave them fame and popularity on the tours and large audiences in big stadiums. They brought their own lights and sound equipment, the best at that time, in order to avoid being dependent, and toured the world.
But their show was never as spectacular as Pink Floyd for example, more in the theatre and visual side, Pink Floyd had already performed their mega-show "The Wall" in 1979.
In fact, Supertramp was not looking for that show concept either.
The first two albums with the previous line-up, although they were good, did not attract much attention except in schools and University circles.
In some numbers you can guess some of the sounds and features that will come later ( Roger's voice and guitar, the Wurlitzer and Hammond sound, Rick's style, etc.)
The Crime of the century album is a masterpiece in many ways, and catapulted them to fame. Curiously it does not include any acoustic guitar song from Roger. In fact, the songs chosen for the album, which were not considered the best they had ready, but the most suitable in the running order, following the idea they already had in mind some time earlier for this project.
The next album, Crisis, includes guitar songs, and was recorded a little bit in a hurry under pressure from the record company due to the unexpected success of the previous album. They weren’t able to work on the album as much as they would have liked, but the result is excellent. A similar quality compared to Crime, as powerful, strong and intimate, but something more rock.
For many people, me too, Crisis gather the best from the band.
As the years passed, the real success of Roger's songs and his interest in perfectionism in the recordings and production, meant that his songs and influence had more weight in the albums, and that's already noticeable in the next album (Even in the quietest moments).
Actually, Rick gets terribly bored working on the mixing desk, and so he left Roger and the engineer to do the job. And he felt grateful because the final result was worthwhile.
Roger inspired or persisted in some way, a change of concept for this album, recorded in a studio in the Rocky Mountains,(who in the band loves living in the mountains ? ) The goal this time was not the perfect sound, but the warmth and intimacy of songs.
Four of Roger's songs and three of Rick's. In this album Roger introduces elements from his yoga/meditation influence: "Even in the Quietest moments" is on "Om tune" -mantra, used in meditation- very relaxing, which helps to connect your mind and physical body. And "Babaji", a divine figure from the book "Autobiography of a Yogi" that Roger had just finished reading, a book well-known in the yoga environment.
In the next album, ”Beakfast”, the weight of Roger won again. It's easy to guess Rick's frustration after yielding to all the decisions. Roger inspired or persisted again his point of view about making an album more pop and light after three "serious" albums. Also, due to the fact that the guys were maturing and the times were changing.
And the bet was good again, at least in the commercial and business side, but for the fans hooked on the previous albums (me too)it was a little disappointing, we were hoping for a new musical epic, something great.
The positive point was, among others, it served to introduce Supertramp to the rest of the world, and many people discovered the previous masterpieces as a result.
As you can see, Roger is very restless and always thinking about changes, evolution. In fact, The Beatles and other groups did it. If not, you would stagnate. After Breakfast, Rick's and Roger's musical viewpoints became more distant and it seemed impossible to fit any longer. Even so, they found the way to work on a final project (hence the name "Famous last words") but with many concessions and limitations, and each one keeping the good songs for future solo projects. The recording sessions were difficult, some times in L.A., some times in Roger's studio in north California, far away. Roger didn't like to go down to L.A. and Rick didn't like go up to the mountain.
The result is a not too balanced album, where they returned, in some way, to the old dramatic sound that took them to fame. There are some wonderful numbers like "Know who you are" or "Waiting so long", splashed with light catchy-pop songs like "Crazy" or "It's raining again" and a light R&B like "Put your old brown shoes" with a certain Godspell taste, and a ballad "retro" like "My kind of lady."
By the way, when you try to play the song "Know who you are" you realize the chords are pure bossa-nova !!! only a genius like Roger can do that .... That's incredible.
A good album anyway, which served as a last tour and Roger's farewell at the same time.
But this album was released, unfortunately, in a changing time for music: new groups, new styles, new technology. The market at that time was changing quickly, pop and disco music had evolved into the "New Age" groups, young people with a new look and electronic help (Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Thompson Twins, etc. ..) and new styles such as Police, U2, etc, hence the big dinosaurs of the 70s started to be non-fashionable quickly in the mid-80s.
THEIR INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS
Like in all bands, almost without exception, the relationships between members over the years, are never too easy. They were not bad, but they didn't have much in common (different hobbies, goals, etc) .
Rick and Roger are totally different for instance.
Roger was pretty shy on stage at that time, but a joker and extroverted privately, almost more than John. While Rick is a more introverted and distant person. He really enjoys playing music in a band a lot, but it's not easy to get on with him.
So, the split was not an unusual thing. Actually, the unusual thing was the fact that they were 14 years together !! But during our youth, we know, nothing is impossible !!
Then, as you get older, you get money, family, personal projects, pressure from the record company, etc, everything becomes more complicated ....
Every member of the band got a house in a different place, their own lives, after many years of struggle in the music world, and all that creates distance, but it does not mean that the relationships were bad.
John, Bob and Dougie are very affable people who never caused problems.
Apart from the routine discussions during the preparations for the albums and tours, there was no remarkable problem between them.
THE SPLIT IN 1983
From what you've read until now, it can be inferred that the split had to happen sooner or later, in a band with two composers.
Everything in this life has an ending. And, with different musical goals, with different ways of life (one in the city, one in the country), with family, different ideals, etc., it's very difficult to manage it for long time. (Rick explain this very clear in the video "The story so far": when two painters try to work on the same picture, there are problems when one wants to put the blue and the other one wants to put the red colour in the same place....")
This situation happened with the Beatles, Pink Floyd and most of the bands.
There are only a few rare exceptions such as the Stones to break this universal rule, because it was, and is basically a band based on a leader and therefore, there are no fights. But it's just the law of life.
If you read some interviews from the Breakfast-tour in 1979, Roger and Rick explained very clearly that the endless tours were killing them and they decided that the Breakfast-tour would be their last tour. They were exhausted with this way of life, since their youth, recording albums and touring again and again. Roger for instance, went from school to Supertramp when he was 19 years old, without transition, and that does not allow for a normal life, enjoying the normal things in life, having a family, because it's like living in a bubble.
Therefore they needed a change.
But despite this, there was a new album and a tour two years later, in some way, I think, to say goodbye to the fans as a band and also to promote their future projects, to stay in the minds of people, just marketing (my opinion), since it must not be forgotten that music is their source of income.
Therefore it makes no sense to look for magic answers about the split or looking for someone to blame. That take you nowhere.
It's part of the cycle of life, everything is changing and to deny that is just to reject the evidence.
It was the sum of all these factors, a very meditated decision by Roger and agreed with the band, who preferred to keep working in the same direction.
Roger raised the possibility of working in solo projects as well for the band, but he saw more disadvantages than advantages, he didn't want to do the same sort of things with the band, it would be deluding himself, he was honest.
During the 1983 tour Roger was devoted to saying goodbye every night to the fans, thanking them for their support over the years, and explaining that changes are good in life and this change would mean good things for both parts in the future. In fact it was the first tour in which Roger was speaking to the audience every night. He always left that role to John, the more extroverted on stage.
And the warm feedback from the public gave him confidence for his solo adventure.
In fact the new album was finished and the promotion ready, just before starting the Supertramp tour in 1983, which made him work in a hurry to do it on time. This album was called "Sleeping with the enemy", but for some reasons that only Roger could explain, he decided to shelve the project until the end of the Supertramp tour. And finally after the tour, he decided to change the project, changing some songs (in order to make it less intimate and more powerful and joyful) and the new name was "In the eye of the storm," undoing everything already scheduled.
The album was promoted with two pop songs, continuing the same style as the Breakfast album (songs "Had a dream" and "In jeopardy") and, the album did not reflect a real change , for some reason. Good songs, the fans treasured them, but without big surprises really.
Also Roger's image to the world during the promotion was of such a pop star (he shaved his beard and cut his hair and wore colourful rocker clothes) leaving the image of a mystic with long hair and white hippie clothes in Supertramp. It was a big change, hard to assimilate ...
The next album "Hai Hai" was even more pop and less intimate. Roger explained that he had to yield to the market pressures, and he was not able to do the album he would have liked, but whatever the reasons were, we can not know the kind of change he was seeking when he left Supertramp, because after that, due to the terrible accident he suffered at home, both wrists broken, the album promotion was cancelled, and he left his music career for a decade. He spent the following years focusing his efforts on his family, bringing up the kids, and on personal self-realization. Perhaps, just my opinion, a little bit tired of all the pressures from the market, having to always please everybody and not being able to follow his heart, because of his affable nature and being easily influenced. A really nice man, big heart.
On the other hand, the rest of the band kept going under the name "Supertramp". (this name is the property of Rick and his wife, "Rick Davies Productions") They released two albums coinciding with Roger's.
The first album "Brother were you bound," just Rick's style obviously, good feedback from the market, but not a big success like in the glorious decade.
Rhythm and blues quality, with a good sound and a nice listening. Only the long track on the second side, which gives the name to the album, is a bit long, with a part in the middle difficult to digest, and a negative and out-dated message in the lyrics. It includes a small contribution from David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) on electric guitar, wasted, because it could have been signed by any other guitarist, not special at all.
All the feedback from the fans about this album are good, except the important absence of Roger, of course ...
But the material was fine. Only the first song, "Cannonball", didn't follow the traditional style of the band, looking for a "disco" sound, according to the tendency of the moment. It was not too bad a try, and it worked well. I'd like to point out that both John and Bob were able to shine in their playing and that makes the sound familiar.
On the other hand, the second album "Free as a bird", was pretty weak, cold, with no charisma, some tracks disco and pop and even latin styles, some old ballad Rick recovered from his archives (the tittle track for instance). The same Rick was not too happy with the result (see the official video "The story so far").
In this album the work of John and Bob passes almost unnoticed, except in some little parts. And a new voice, Mark Hart (ex-Crowded House), which also performed some of Roger's songs on the tour. (year 1988)
From then, a decade of silence by both Roger and Supertramp. They returned in 1997 with new albums.
Roger Hodgson in Gran Canaria. October 2007. Foto by Miguel Angel
Today (September 2010) Roger is still touring around the world (see the section Roger Hodgson's ALL TOURS) Some solo (acoustic) concerts together with a saxophone-player, and even concerts with large symphony orchestras (the most spectacular) playing the songs he wrote for Supertramp, before Supertramp and after Supertramp.
It could be said that certain songs of Roger's performed by a symphony orchestra, like "The fool's overture," reach their true meaning and glory.
All this with great audience and media success, thanks to his great voice and playing, and a great charisma with the public. Roger connects easily to the audiences, he's a loved man, and now he's doing what he has wanted to do for ages, just make the people happy, giving and receiving a little bit of love, and spreading a simple message of peace and love through the music.
Supertramp did their last tour in 2002. That tour and the previous ones have been mostly based on the material of the glorious decade, which is what fans expect to hear, and only a few songs from the new albums, and even some classic blues from other artists.
Since then, we had no news. Each member was busy with their own personal projects.
But now, September 2010, Supertramp is on tour again, without Roger, who keeps trying a reunion. No news about a new album at the moment, just re-editions deluxe (remastered) including some rare live shows.
About a possible Supertramp reunion with Roger, there is no good news at the moment for those who are waiting for that (though you must know that Roger has had several contributions from John Helliwell, Bob Siebenberg and even Dougie, in some tours and shows over the years, but never all together. And Rick and Roger were working together for a short period at the beginning of the 90's, but that finally didn't work out)
For several years Roger was not in favour of reunification, he didn't accept Rick's conditions, and now the ball is in Rick’s court, who doesn't accept Roger's conditions. (Roger is in favour of reunification now)
The fact is that there's no agreement and it seems that at this point there won’t be with Rick soon, 65 years old.
Although, stranger things have been known ....
Didn’t Sean Connery do "Never say never again" in 1983, twelve years after giving up the role of Bond in "Diamonds are forever" year 1971 ??
Miguel Angel Candela
To know more, please read the SUPERTRAMP Interviews