Supertramp are an English rock band formed in 1969 under the name Daddy before renaming themselves in early 1970. Though their music was initially categorised as progressive rock, they have since incorporated a combination of traditional rock, pop and art rock into their music. The band's work is marked by the songwriting of Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, the voice of Hodgson, and the use of Wurlitzer electric piano and saxophone in their songs.
While the band's early work was mainstream progressive rock, they would enjoy greater critical and commercial success when they incorporated more conventional and radio-friendly elements into their work in the mid-1970s, going on to sell more than 60 million albums. They reached their peak of commercial success with 1979's Breakfast in America, which has sold more than 20 million copies.
Though their albums were generally far more successful than their singles, Supertramp did enjoy a number of major hits throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including "Bloody Well Right", "Give a Little Bit", "The Logical Song", "Goodbye Stranger", "Take the Long Way Home", "Dreamer", "Breakfast in America", "It's Raining Again", and "Cannonball". The band attained significant popularity in the United States, Canada, Europe, South Africa and Australia. Since Hodgson's departure in 1983, founder Rick Davies has led the band by himself.
1969–72: Early years
In 1969 Stanley 'Sam' August Miesegaes, a Dutch millionaire, became disappointed with, then dropped, The Joint, the band he was financially supporting. He offered Swindon-born keyboardist Rick Davies, whose talent he felt had been "bogged down" by the group, an opportunity to form his own band, again with Miesegaes's financial backing. Davies assembled Roger Hodgson (bass and vocals), Richard Palmer (guitars), and Keith Baker (percussion) after placing an advertisement in the weekly music newspaper, Melody Maker.
Davies and Hodgson had radically different backgrounds and musical inspirations: Davies was working class and fiercely devoted to blues and jazz, while Hodgson had gone straight from private school to the music business and was fond of pop and psychedelia. Despite this, they hit it off during the auditions and began writing virtually all of their songs together, with Palmer as a third writer in the mix. Since none of the other band members was willing, Palmer penned all their lyrics.
The group initially dubbed themselves Daddy. Baker was almost immediately replaced by former stage actor Robert Millar, and after several months of rehearsal at a country house in West Hythe, Kent, the band flew to Munich for a series of concerts at the P. N. Club. One 10 minute performance there of "All Along The Watchtower" was filmed by Haro Senft (Supertramp Portrait 1970). The rehearsals had been less than productive, and their initial repertoire consisted of only four songs, two of which were covers. To avoid confusion with the similarly named Daddy Longlegs, the band changed its name to "Supertramp", a moniker inspired by The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by William Henry Davies.
Supertramp were one of the first groups to be signed to the UK branch of A&M Records and their first album, Supertramp, was released on 14 July 1970 in the UK and Canada (it would not be issued in the US until late 1977). Stylistically, the album was fairly typical of progressive rock of the era and Supertramp's sound bore obvious similarity to their British progressive rock predecessor Cressida. Despite receiving a good deal of critical praise, the album did not attract a large audience.
Dave Winthrop (flute and saxophone) joined the group after the release of the first record and soon after Supertramp performed at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. The membership continued to change in the six months following the album's release; Palmer left the band due to personality conflicts with Davies and Hodgson, followed by Millar, who had suffered a nervous breakdown following a disastrous tour of Norway.
For the next album, Indelibly Stamped, released in June 1971 in both the UK and US, Frank Farrell (bass) and Kevin Currie (percussion) replaced Palmer and Millar, while Hodgson switched to guitar and Davies served as a second lead singer. With Palmer's departure, Hodgson and Davies wrote the lyrics for this and the band's subsequent albums. The record sold even less than their debut. In the aftermath, all members gradually quit except Hodgson and Davies, and Miesegaes withdrew his financial support in October 1972.
1973–78: Initial success and commercial breakthrough
A search for new members brought aboard Dougie Thomson (bass), who had done stand-in gigs with the band for almost a year before auditions resumed. In 1973, auditions restarted and introduced Bob Siebenberg (initially credited as Bob C. Benberg; drums & percussion) and John Helliwell (saxophone, other woodwinds, occasional keyboards, backing vocals), completing the line-up. Hodgson would also begin playing keyboards (particularly the Wurlitzer electric piano) in the band in addition to guitar. This lineup of Supertramp would remain in place for the next ten years.
Meanwhile, the bond between Davies and Hodgson had begun weakening. In July 1972 Hodgson had tried LSD for the first time, and offered some to Davies, who declined. Writing to Miesegaes in November 1972, Hodgson described taking LSD as "the happiest day of my life" and expressed his anxiety that Davies would not take it. He would later describe this divergence in their experiences as the root of the rift between them. Over Supertramp's history, their relationship would be amicable but increasingly distant as their lifestyles and musical inclinations saw less and less overlap. Their songwriting partnership gradually dissolved; though all of Supertramp's songs would continue to be officially credited as "written by Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson", most of them were written by Davies or Hodgson individually.
Supertramp needed a hit record to continue working, and finally got one with Crime of the Century. Released in September 1974, it began the group's run of critical and commercial successes, hitting number 4 in Britain, number 38 in the USA, and number 1 in Canada. The album underlined its ambitiousness: Many of its songs were heavily orchestrated, and some even featured Davies and Hodgson singing in dialogue, such as the 1975 UK Top 20 single "Dreamer". US listeners preferred its B-side, "Bloody Well Right", which hit the US Top 40 in May 1975 and would be their only hit in the country for more than two years. Most of the band have said they feel they hit their artistic peak on this album, though their greatest commercial success would come later.
With a hit album under their belt, pressures on the band increased, and the followup Crisis? What Crisis? had to be recorded in the few months between two scheduled concert tours. As a consequence, most of the material consisted of leftover songs from Crime of the Century, and decades later the band would continue to regard the album as one of their worst moments. Despite Supertramp's own misgivings, the album was well received by critics, and when released in November 1975, it broke both the UK Top Twenty and the USA Top Fifty in spite of its singles all being commercial flops.
The following album, Even in the Quietest Moments..., released in April 1977, spawned a hit single with "Give a Little Bit" (no. 15 US, no. 29 UK). As usual, the popularity of the album itself eclipsed that of its singles, and Even in the Quietest Moments... hit no. 16 in the USA and no. 12 in the UK. During this period, the band eventually relocated to the United States.
The band's switch to a more pop-oriented approach peaked with their most popular album, Breakfast in America, released in March 1979, which reached number 3 in the UK and number 1 in the United States and Canada and spawned four successful singles (more than their first five albums combined): "The Logical Song" (no. 6 U.S., no. 7 U.K.), "Goodbye Stranger" (no. 15 U.S., no. 57 U.K.), "Take the Long Way Home" (no. 10 U.S.), and "Breakfast in America" (no. 9 U.K.). In March 1979, the group embarked on a 10 month 120 date tour for Breakfast In America that required 52 tons of gear, 10 miles of cable, $5 million worth of equipment and a 40 man crew. The tour broke all previous concert attendance records in Europe and Canada. Upon this tour's conclusion, the exhausted band members decided to take a rest from touring and recording for a while, though the band remained ongoing.
This run of successes was capped with 1980's Paris, a 2-LP live album recorded mostly at the Pavillon de Paris. It broke the top ten in both the USA and UK. The live version of "Dreamer" was released as a single in the U.S., where it reached no. 15, even though the studio version had failed to even chart there.
At this point, Hodgson moved his family from the Los Angeles area to the mountains of northern California where he built a home and studio and focused on his family and spiritual life, while recording a solo album, Sleeping with the Enemy, which would never be released. This geographic separation widened the rift between him and the rest of the group; during the conceptualization and recording of their next album, ...Famous Last Words..., Davies and Hodgson found far greater difficulty in reconciling their musical ideas than they had before, and it was apparent to the rest of the band that Hodgson wanted out. ...Famous Last Words... was released in 1982, and scored two more hits with "It's Raining Again" and "My Kind of Lady". It peaked at no. 5 in the USA and no. 6 in the UK. A worldwide tour followed in 1983, during which Hodgson announced he would not be continuing with the band. Hodgson has stated that his departure was motivated by a desire to spend more time with his family and make solo recordings, and that there were never any real personal or professional problems between him and Davies, as some people thought.
The Davies-led Supertramp soldiered on to continued success, releasing Brother Where You Bound in 1985. The album was a deliberate step away from the pop approach of their last two studio albums, and reached no. 20 in the UK charts and no. 21 in the US charts. It included the Top 30 hit single "Cannonball", along with the title track, a 16-minute exposition on Cold War themes highlighted by guitar solos from Pink Floyd's David Gilmour.
1987's Free as a Bird experimented in heavily synthesised music, such as "I'm Beggin' You", which reached number 1 on the US dance charts. The stylistic change was generally not well-received, however, and the album itself reached only no. 93 in the UK and 101 in the USA, breaking a streak of seven consecutive top 100 efforts on the American charts.
In addition to their shift towards less commercially-oriented material, the band members decided to drop all of Hodgson's compositions from their setlist in order to further establish an identity separate from Hodgson. However, audiences were angered by the omissions of these songs, and though Supertramp toured again in 1985 using only Davies's compositions, in 1988 the pressure of their first Brazilian tour drove them to reintroduce a handful of Hodgson-penned hits to their set.
After 1988's tour, the group fragmented. Davies later explained, "We'd been out there for about 20 years just recording and touring and it seemed time to have a break with no ideas as to if or when we would come back. We decided not to actually say anything, just sort of fade away like an old soldier."
1996–2009: Later years
In 1996 Davies re-formed Supertramp with Helliwell, Siebenberg and guitarist/vocalist Mark Hart, who was new to the official lineup but had prominently contributed to Free as a Bird and its supporting tour. Four new members were added as well, bringing the band up to an eight-man lineup. The result of this reunion was Some Things Never Change, an album that echoed the earlier Supertramp sound, released in March 1997. It reached no. 74 in the UK.
In the summer of 1997, Supertramp returned to the road, resulting in the live It Was the Best of Times (1999), followed by Slow Motion in April 2002 and a 2002 worldwide tour, after which the band went inactive once again. Another attempt to bring Hodgson back into the band failed in 2005.
Supertramp continued to play several Hodgson-penned songs during live shows following their reunion. Hodgson subsequently claimed that the band's explanation for dropping his compositions from their setlist back in 1983 is a lie, and that the real reason was that he and Davies made a verbal agreement that they would not play those songs. Davies has never publicly alluded to such an agreement, and former member Dougie Thomson has commented "Nobody except Rick and Roger were privy to that conversation. Rick and Roger had several dialogues that no one else was privy to. Again, that's hearsay."
In 2008 it was announced that Supertramp's music would be featured in the film adaptation of Irvine Welsh's best-selling novel Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance. In 2009 Hodgson said he could not see a Supertramp reunion ever happening: "We've looked at it and talked it over... I would never say never but Rick [Davies] has pretty much retired right now and I'm in the prime of my life. The reaction I am getting from fans is 'please don’t reunite'."
On 21 April 2010 it was announced that Supertramp would give 35 concerts in late 2010. Dates were announced for concerts in Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands, Italy, France and other European countries. This tour called "70-10" was to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the group's first release.
Roger Hodgson embarked on a solo 2010 tour to Australia, New Zealand, South America, Europe, Canada, and the US, and thus was unable to rejoin the band for the 70-10 tour. However, in response to a fan campaign, Hodgson sent a letter to Rick Davies and had his manager send one to Davies' management, offering to join them for select dates during gaps in his tour schedule. Davies did not reply, but his agents notified Hodgson that his offer was declined.
In 2011 both Hodgson and Supertramp continued to tour separately. When asked whether Roger Hodgson might appear on some of the 2011 dates Davies replied, "I know there are some fans out there who would like that to happen. There was a time when I had hoped for that too. But the recent past makes that impossible. In order to play a great show for our fans, you need harmony, both musically and personally. Unfortunately that doesn’t exist between us any more and I would rather not destroy memories of more harmonious times between all of us."
- Current members
- Rick Davies – vocals, keyboards, harmonica, composition, melodica (1969–1988, 1996–2002, 2010–present)
- Bob Siebenberg – drums, percussion (1973–1988, 1996–2002, 2010–present)
- John Helliwell – woodwinds, keyboards, backing vocals (1973–1988, 1996–2002, 2010–present)
- Carl Verheyen – guitars, percussion, backing vocals (1996–2002, 2010–present; touring musician: 1985-1986)
- Cliff Hugo – bass (1996–2002, 2010–present)
- Lee Thornburg – trombone, trumpet, keyboards, backing vocals (1996–2002, 2010–present)
- Jesse Siebenberg – vocals, guitars, percussion (1997-2002, 2010-present), keyboards (2010–present)
- Gabe Dixon – keyboards, tambourine, vocals (2010–present)
- Cassie Miller – background vocals (2010–present)
- Supertramp (1970)
- Indelibly Stamped (1971)
- Crime of the Century (1974)
- Crisis? What Crisis? (1975)
- Even in the Quietest Moments... (1977)
- Breakfast in America (1979)
- ...Famous Last Words... (1982)
- Brother Where You Bound (1985)
- Free as a Bird (1987)
- Some Things Never Change (1997)
- Slow Motion (2002)
Remixes and cover versions
- Bob Esty covered "Lord Is It Mine" for the 1979 film Roller Boogie
- In 2001, the German power metal band At Vance covered "The Logical Song" on their album Heart of Steel.
- Scooter covered "The Logical Song", including use of samples, in their single "Ramp! (The Logical Song)".
- In 2007 Gym Class Heroes sampled "Breakfast in America" in their single "Cupid's Chokehold".
- In 2005, the Goo Goo Dolls covered "Give a Little Bit" on their Let Love In album.
- In 2013, the band Mindless Self Indulgence covered "The Logical Song" as a bonus track.
- Supertramp official website
- Roger Hodgson official website
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