The Voice of Supertramp (aka Roger Hodgson) is on the line. And as I’m speaking with The Voice of Supertramp I am thinking that I don’t really like Supertramp. Then I’m thinking that I do like The Logical Song. And logically, there are other songs by Supertramp that I like – Bloody Well Right would be one of them. But most of the ones I like are written by Hodgson. I’m also thinking about the album cover to …Famous Last Words…. I remember it so well from my childhood. One of the iconic images from my parents’ record collection; or at least my recollection of that record collection.
But The Voice of Supertramp is nice to talk to – incredibly earnest which is probably no great surprise to anyone reading if you have heard one of The Voice’s songs. But it is reassuring to think that the man that wrote Give A Little Bit actually still stands by those words – and by the song.
“Give A Little Bit is special”, Hodgson tells me. The British singer/songwriter is speaking from his American home. I ask if there’s one song in particular that stands out in his set now. He doesn’t hesitate to name the song that has been donated to so many charities; Hodgson giving a little bit of his catalogue so that organisations can suggest that everyone does their bit. “There is”, he tells me, “a connection; something spiritual – it’s a timeless message. I’m so happy that the song continues to be used and requests continue to come in for the song to be used and if they are for the right reason then I am always happy to see it used. But when I sing it live, in my show, it still retains its original purpose – to entertain. And it’s gone on to mean so many things now, to so many people. And that really is very touching to me, really special”.
Hodgson is touring as a solo act, as The Voice of Supertramp. He sings the songs that he wrote with the mega-selling 1970s prog-turned-pop act. He also performs some material from his lesser known solo albums. But he knows it is the hits that the fans are there to hear.
“It’s wonderful realising I’ve written songs that have stood the test of time. And they really are my songs – I wrote most of the hits that Supertramp had”.
He didn’t write Bloody Well Right but he is close to being bloody well right when you line up the hits. A Hodgson set will include the already mentioned Give A Little Bit and The Logical Song. The catchy-in-the-same-way-that-influenza-is-catchy Dreamer and then there’s Breakfast In America, Take The Long Way Home and Fool’s Overture.
“Fool’s Overture is a great one in the new show”, Hodgson says proudly. “It’s not as big of a hit as say Dreamer or Give A Little Bit, but it’s one where, when I play it, the fans just go crazy and so it’s nice, it’s one for the real hardcore fans. They instantly light up when the song kicks in”.
Hodgson was signed to a label in 1969 and went on to create Supertramp with Rick Davies; the two sharing the songwriting duties, competing for hits as the band’s accessible pop ditties overtook the early prog-rock aspirations. He says ambition was always there but it wasn’t until the band was several albums in to its career that he fully realised how successful they were becoming – and what this meant.
“I had dreams – as a young gigging musician you do. But I never imagined they’d go as far and as wide as they did. I mean you can never plan for it; you just have to follow the dream. I count myself incredibly lucky. I feel touched that fans are still interested in the songs – and I am thrilled to think that these songs really do still mean something. I still get a thrill out of performing them”.
Hodgson previously visited New Zealand in 1976 – with Supertramp. He remembers the time – as fleeting as it was. “I remember we went to a beach – and it was lovely. We played a show that went very well and I remember saying that I’d go back – I loved it. I can remember saying that I loved it. But it’s taken a long time, so I’m sure it will have changed a lot now”.
Hodgson walked away from Supertramp after the group’s 1982 album …Famous Last Words…
I tell him it’s a favourite for me – not so much for the music as the image; it was a pop-art poster to me, aged six or seven, thumbing through mum and dad’s LPs. It was a cover I knew and loved well. The music, sure, that was there too. Particularly It’s Raining Again – the main radio hit (and another that is in Hodgson’s new show). My memories stir memories from the album’s co-creator. Not as happy as some of his other memories from his time with the band.
“The Famous Last Words album…well, it’s lovely hearing your story about the cover and the album and its place in your life, but” – here there’s a pause for an uneasy chuckle, an almost mocking chuckle; a near hiccup of a laugh – “it really is a title that reflects the fact that things were not going well. It was not an easy album. Better songs could have been on it, if you ask me. And I think some choices were not for the best”.
Unhappy with the split of songwriting duties, Roger Hodgson caused a split by leaving the band, carrying over many of his song-ideas to 1984’s debut solo album, In The Eye Of The Storm. His big solo hit was Had A Dream (Sleeping With The Enemy).
Meanwhile Davies carried on with Supertramp – the agreement was that he would only sing the Supertramp songs he wrote. Hodgson released an album in 1987 – and another in 2000. But, essentially, he retired.
“Touring had been a huge part of my life and it was fantastic but it was time to focus on family and I took 20 years off to raise my kids – but then my heart told me to play music again. I never stopped playing music – but I had a long break. My son is a musician, he was raised around it. But it’s great to be back on the road now, playing the songs. I never tire of it. I never tire of hearing people’s stories about being a fan, about their favourite albums and songs; I never tire of seeing and hearing the reaction. I’m really proud of this work”.
Hodgson even has a favourite Supertramp album. Normally when you interview a musician they will talk about never listening to their own work. I found it refreshing that Hodgson was so honest about his work. So keen to talk about the hits…
Surprisingly his favourite Supertramp album is not the mega-breakthrough to the pop market, Breakfast In America. So it must be one from before that. But it’s not 1977’s Even In The Quietest Moments nor 1974’s Crime Of The Century. It is also not the 1970 debut self-titled LP; for nostalgic reasons I would have thought. No, The Voice of Supertramp’s favourite Supertramp album is 1975’s Crisis? What Crisis? – an album he urges me to listen to again.
Our interview ends. And I do listen to the album again. Could it be his favourite because The Voice of Supertramp sings lead on 70% of that album? I wonder…
If you are waiting for the full Supertramp reunion – Roger says “never say never, but it really is unlikely”.
This interview took place in 2010 ahead of Roger Hodgson’s solo tour of New Zealand