The history of Supertramp stretches over three de cades and despite an interruption in the 1990s, the power of their creations still pulled thousands of loyal fans to their concerts in the late 1990s. With eight albums to their credit—one platinum four gold—that generated over $50 million in sales worldwide, the British band secured itself a place in the late 20th century’s gallery of rock legends. Their most successful album, Breakfast in America, sold over 18 million copies worldwide. “Their music—self-dubbed ‘sophisto-rock’—is a carefully arranged, generally medium-tempo amalgam of ethereal art-rock sonorities; power drumming; whiffs of R&B-ish sax; steady jabs of electric piano,” wrote Jon Pareles in Rolling Stone at the peak of Supertramp’s success, “either [Rick] Davies’ bluesy, nasal vocals or Roger Hodgson’s reedy, ingenuous ones; and some of the most tenacious riffs in rock.”
It all began in the late 1960s when 25-year-old Rick Davies, an English drummer for the club band Joint living a modest life in Munich, Germany, made the acquaintance of Stranley August Miesegaes, a young Dutch millionaire who was interested in sponsoring the band. After the Joint dissolved in 1969, Miesegaes, who strongly believed in Davies’ potential, encouraged him first to switch from drums to piano and singing, and then offered financial backing for a band that Davies assembled. Hundreds of musicians showed up to audition in response to Davies’ ad in Melody Maker. One of them was Roger Hodgson, a young man who had just left a private boarding school. He exchanged ideas with Davies during a break and they soon became friends. Davies and Hodgson started out writing songs for the band together. From Supertramp’s third album on, they basically wrote and sang their own songs but shared the credits for them. While blue-collar child Davies’ hallmark was his rather cynical lyrics, the well-educated optimist Hodgson wrote mostly about dreams and aspirations.
First named Daddy, the band was soon renamed Supertramp, a name band member Richard Palmer drew from the title of one of his favorite novels. By June 1970, the new band had secured a contract with British A&M. Supertramp’s first albums, Supertramp and Indelibly Stamped, which were recorded in 1970 and 1971 respectively, were commercial failures. As a result, their rich sponsor withdrew his financial support but nevertheless paid the group’s equipment bills totaling some $100,000. However, the band finally fell apart after the second album proved to be a failure. Hodgson and Davies, who had in the meantime become close friends, decided to stay together.
The two remaining “Supertramps” put another group together in 1973. Joining the new band were bassist Dougie Thomson and saxophonist John Heliwell, both former members of the British R&B group Alan Bown. Californian drummer Bob C. Benberg from the popular pub-rock formation Bees Make Honey also joined the band. A&M Records in England gave Supertramp a second chance. They paid a small salary to the band members and the rent on an old English farmhouse, where the band moved with their families and pets. The outcome of this communal living experiment was the material for their next three albums and the re-emergence of Supertramp as “a totally unified force,” as A&M manager Derek Green told Rolling Stone.
Within five years, by the latter half of the 1970s, Supertramp managed to become a top band with an international reputation, and they performed that feat without a frontman, without creating a special image for themselves, and even without much media spectacle. Crime Of The Century, Supertramp’s third album dedicated to their former sponsor, was released in 1974 and became an instant success in England and Canada, led by the debut hit “Dreamer.” “Bloody Well Right,” another song from the album, made it into the American top 40.
For the Record…
Members include Kevin Currie; Richard (Rick) Davies (born July, 22 1944 in Swindon, England), vocals, keyboards; Frank Farrell (left band 1973), bass; Mark Hart; John Helliwell (born February, 15 1945 in Todmorden, England), saxophone; Roger Hodgson (born 21 March 1950 in Portsmouth, England; left band in 1983), guitar, vocals; Robert Miller (left band 1971), drums; Richard Palmer (left band 1970), guitar; Bob Siebenberg (born in CA), drums; Dougie Thompson (born 24 March 1951 in Glasgow, Scotland), bass; Lee Thornburg , trumpet; Marty Walsh (left band in 1989), guitar; Dave Winthrop (born November, 27 1948 in NJ), saxophone.
Founded in 1969; signed with A&M, June 1970; first big gig at the Isle Of Wight Festival, July 1970; first album Supertramp released, 1970; Richard Palmer quit, December 1970; Robert Miller quit, January 1971; Kevin Currie and Frank Farrell joined band, 1971; Indelibly Stamped released, June 1971; Frank Ferrell quit, February 1973; auditions held and new band put together: Dougie Thomson and John Helliwell joined, 1973; first single “Land Ho” released, 1974; produced three albums and went on three world tours in three consecutive years, 1974-77; appearances in the Rock Around The World radio shows, 1976, 1977, 1978; Breakfast In America released, 1979; Breakfast In America became international multi-platinum album; live recording from Paris concert released, 1980; Famous Last Words released, 1982; Roger Hodgson left, 1983; two more albums released in 1985 and 1987; last tour in 1988; revival album Some Things Never Change released and promoted by world tour, 1997.
In 1975, Supertramp toured the United States for the first time, visiting 25 cities and filling 2000-seat venues. When the tour ended, Supertramp went to Los Angeles to record Crisis? What Crisis? However, the band did not become really popular in America until two years later, with the release of their fifth album Even In The Quietest Moments. “Give a Little Bit,” the album’s first track with it’s catchy acoustic guitar intro became an international hit, although not a major one.
That changed with 1979’s Breakfast In America. Four of its tracks—“The Logical Song,” “Take The Long Way Home,” “Goodbye Stranger,” and the title song—became international top hits. The album was a multi-platinum success. Several songs went to number one in the charts in Europe, Australia and the United States, and the band was able to sell out stadiums. Supertramp’s live show lasted over two hours. Superior sound combined with films, slides and a computer-controlled light show were given priority over the individuals in the band. This perfectionism, with Hodgson its main driving force, caused critics to complain about the band’s overly polished sound. However, a rawer edge was added when their roadies joined them on stage as the Trampettes to sing falsetto backup for the tune “Hide in Your Shell.” A live album recorded at a November 1979 show in Paris before some 8,000 people was released in 1980.
Famous Last Words, Supertramp’s next studio album, was released three years after Breakfast in America, in 1982. David Fricke’s review for Rolling Stone described its content as “light, glistening melodies … cushioned like crown jewels in rich, sensuous arrangements,” but at the same time noted a “sense of emotional helplessness and blasé surrender at the heart of these songs.” The album’s title became the band’s fate. Unhappy with the heavy blues influence, founding member Roger Hodgson left one year after its release, and Rick Davis took over the song-writing and singing. Brother Where You Bound from 1985 was dominated by R&B schemes and featured Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour on the title track. The 1987 album Free as a Bird with its brassier, pop oriented sound was the band’s last studio recording of the 1980s. After a tour in 1988, the group only performed occasionally together.
Some Things Never Change, Supertramp’s first studio album in ten years, was released in 1997. Produced with the help of studio musicians from Los Angeles, the album kept the slow pace typical for Supertramp, but with a stronger emphasis on jazz elements. Their 1997 world tour which brought them to the United States again was well covered by the media. But—as Ernesto Lechner noted in a concert review for the Los Angeles Time—the American audience was not impressed by the new songs, even if they were supported visually by computer-generated images. Only when Davis sang the good old pieces, did people start moving. “The night belonged to Davis, who filled the songs with such passion that they didn’t seem a touch dated,” wrote Lechner. This is proved by their still huge and loyal fan base in Europe which pushed the album into the top ten in many European countries. According to Supertramp’s website, the band was planning another release in 1999.
“Land Ho,” A&M, 1974.
Supertramp, A&M, 1970.
Indelibly Stamped, A&M, 1971.
Crime Of The Century, (includes “Dreamer,” “Bloody Well Right”) A&M, 1974, reissued 1987.
Crisis? What Crisis?, A&M, 1975, reissued PGD/A&M 1988.
Even In The Quietest Moments, (includes “Give a Little Bit”) A&M, 1977, reissued PGD/A&M 1988.
Breakfast In America, (includes “Breakfast in America,” “The Logical Song,” “Take The Long Way Home,” “Goodbye Stranger,”) A&M, 1979, reissued PGD/A&M 1987.
Paris, A&M, 1980, reissued PGD/A&M 1987.
Famous Last Words, A&M, 1982.
Brother Where You Bound, A&M, 1985, reissued 1987.
Free as a Bird, A&M, 1987.
Classics Volume 9, PGD/A&M, 1987.
Some Things Never Change, Oxygen, 1997.
Very Best Of Supertramp, Poly, 1994, reissued 1999.
Dallas Morning News, June 5, 1997.
Independent, September 17, 1997.
Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1997.
Rolling Stone, July 12, 1979; December 9, 1982.