Supertramp were an English rock band formed in London, England in 1970. Marked by the individual songwriting of founders Roger Hodgson (vocals, keyboards, and guitars) and Rick Davies (vocals and keyboards), they are distinguished for blending progressive rock and pop styles as well as for a sound that relied heavily on Wurlitzer electric piano. The group's line-up changed numerous times throughout their career, with Davies being the only consistent member throughout the decades. Other longtime members included bassist Dougie Thomson, drummer Bob Siebenberg, and saxophonist John Helliwell.
The band were initially a full-fledged prog-rock group, but starting with their third album Crime of the Century (1974), they began moving towards a more pop-oriented sound. They reached their commercial peak with 1979's Breakfast in America, which yielded the international top 10 singles "The Logical Song", "Breakfast in America", "Goodbye Stranger", and "Take the Long Way Home". Their other top 40 hits included "Dreamer" (1974), "Give a Little Bit", (1977) and "It's Raining Again" (1982). In 1983, Hodgson left the group to pursue a solo career. Davies took over as the band's sole leader until 1988, after which they disbanded and periodically reformed in various configurations.
As of 2007, Supertramp album sales exceeded 60 million. They attained significant popularity in North America, Europe, South Africa, and Australia. Their highest sales levels were in Canada, where they had two diamond-certified (ten-times platinum) albums (Crime of the Century and Breakfast in America), and their only number 1 singles anywhere ("The Logical Song" and "Dreamer").
1969–1972: Formation, Supertramp and Indelibly Stamped
In 1969 Stanley "Sam" August Miesegaes, a Dutch millionaire, ceased providing financial support to a band called The Joint, as he was disappointed with them. 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 vocals), 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 English private school to the music business and was fond of pop. 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. Hodgson and Davies collaborated on the songwriting while Palmer composed the lyrics.
The group, having dubbed themselves "Daddy", after several months of rehearsal at a country house in West Hythe, Kent, 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 (Daddy Portrait 1970). The rehearsals had been less than productive and their initial repertoire consisted of only four songs, two of which were covers.
In January 1970 Keith Baker left, and to avoid confusion with the similarly named Daddy Longlegs, at Palmer's suggestion, the band changed its name to "Supertramp", a moniker inspired by The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by William Henry Davies.
In April 1970 Supertramp, while back in Munich, returned the favor to their friend Haro Senft by contributing music to his next film, Fegefeuer (aka Purgatory), and would also agree to have tracks from their first album used in a documentary, Extremes (1971), by Tony Klinger and Michael Lytton.
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. Despite receiving a good deal of critical praise, the album did not attract a large audience.
Dave Winthrop (flute and saxophone, vocals) had joined the group in March 1970, just after the recording of the first record, and performed with Supertramp at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival on 27 August 1970.
The membership continued to change in the six months following the album's release: Palmer left the band in December 1970, followed by Millar, who had suffered a nervous breakdown. Palmer, as Richard Palmer-James, went on to work as a lyricist for King Crimson. Palmer was replaced by former The Nice guitarist David O'List, who only lasted for one gig.
For the next album, Indelibly Stamped, released in June 1971 in both the UK and US, Frank Farrell (bass, keyboards, backing vocals) 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 and composed separately 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.
1973–1978: Crime of the Century and commercial breakthrough
A search for new members brought aboard Dougie Thomson (bass), who had done stand-in gigs with the band since Farrell's departure in February 1972. In 1973 auditions to replace the departed Curry and Winthrop started and introduced Bob Siebenberg (initially credited as Bob C. Benberg; drums and percussion) and John Helliwell (saxophone, other woodwinds, occasional keyboards, synthesizers, backing vocals), completing the line-up in the summer of 1973. Hodgson would also begin introducing compositions featuring 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. Hodgson mused, "There's a very deep bond, but it's definitely mostly on a musical level. When there's just the two of us playing together, there's an incredible empathy. His down-to-earth way of writing, which is very rock 'n' roll, balances out my lighter, melodic style." 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 US, and number 4 in Canada. This album made the top 100 albums in Canada three years in a row in 1974, 1975 and 1976, even though it did not have a Top 40 hit in Canada. "Dreamer", the 1975 UK Top 20 single written by Hodgson, was the band's first hit single and drove the album to the top of the charts. Another single from the record, "Bloody Well Right", 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. Nevertheless, Hodgson said in a 2015 interview that Crisis? What Crisis? was his favourite Supertramp album. 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 US 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" (number 15 US, number 29 UK, number 8 in Canada), first written by Hodgson at 19 or 20 years of age before he introduced it to the band for recording five to six years later. As usual, the popularity of the album itself eclipsed that of its singles, and Even in the Quietest Moments... hit number 16 in the US, number 12 in the UK, and 1 in Canada. During this period, the band permanently relocated to Los Angeles.
1979–1983: Breakfast in America, ...Famous Last Words... and Hodgson's departure
The band's switch to a more pop-oriented approach peaked with their most popular album, Breakfast in America. For the last two months of completing the album, Hodgson parked a camper outside of the studio to work diligently on mixing, with brief periods of rest in between. He remembered feeling that "it could be a big album" and that he spent "days and sometimes weeks choosing the right songs and the right order of songs so one song flowed into the next".
Released in March 1979, Breakfast in America reached number 3 in the UK and number 1 in the US and Canada. The album spawned four successful singles (more than their first five albums combined): three of Hodgson's songs, "The Logical Song" (number 1 Canada, number 6 US, number 7 UK), "Take the Long Way Home" (number 5 Canada, number 10 US, not released in UK), and "Breakfast in America" (number 9 UK, not released in the US or Canada) and Davies' "Goodbye Stranger" (number 5 in Canada, number 15 US, number 57 UK).
To avoid an overly lengthy gap between albums during their hiatus, the band put out 1980's Paris, a two-LP live album recorded mostly at the Pavillon de Paris. It broke the top ten in both the US and UK. A live version of "Dreamer" was released as a single hitting number 1 in Canada and number 15 in the US, even though the studio version had failed to even chart there in 1974. And a second single from the live album, "Breakfast in America", peaked at number 62 in the US.
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, initially titled Sleeping with the Enemy, which would later be released as In the Eye of the Storm in 1984. 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.
A worldwide tour followed in 1983, in which the band was joined by two additional musicians on stage, former Alice Cooper and Queen player Fred Mandel (guitar, keyboards, synthesizers, backing vocals) and Scott Page (sax, guitar, horns, backing vocals), and Hodgson announced he would not be continuing with the band once the tour finished in September 1983. 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. It's long been known, however, that Roger Hodgson had considerable problems with the band management, in that Supertramp's principal manager was Sue Davies, Rick Davies' wife, and, over the years, they had had many disagreements concerning the running and direction of the band's career.
1984–1988: Brother Where You Bound and Free as a Bird
The Davies-led Supertramp released Brother Where You Bound in May 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. A 20-minute film of the title track by Rene Daalder was used to promote the album.
Supertramp mounted a tour in the fall of 1985 through early 1986 that was their first without Hodgson. The lineup included: Davies, Thomson, Helliwell, Siebenberg, Scott Page, Marty Walsh (guitar, backing vocals), Carl Verheyen (guitar, percussion, backing vocals) and Mark Hart (vocals, guitar, keyboards). Brad Cole replaced Page during the tour's European leg in early 1986.
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 US, 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 him. However, audiences were angered by the omissions of these songs, and though Supertramp toured in 1985 using only Davies's compositions, in 1988 the pressure from fans and their first tour of South America drove them to reintroduce a handful of Hodgson-penned hits to their set. The band's 1988 touring lineup was almost the same as it had been in 85/86, but with Brad Cole continuing in place of Scott Page and percussionist Steve Reid instead of guitarist Carl Verheyen.
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."
1993 Hodgson and Davies reunion
On 14 April 1993 at the Beverly Hills Hilton, for a special dinner honoring Jerry Moss, co-founder of A&M Records, Hodgson, Davies, and Helliwell (together with Jeff Daniel) appeared to perform "The Logical Song" and "Goodbye Stranger". After that, Davies and Hodgson began working together again, recording demos of two new songs, "You Win, I Lose" and "And the Light". But disagreements over management prompted them to part ways once again soon after, with both songs eventually appearing, sans Hodgson, on Supertramp's next release in 1997.
1996–2002: Some Things Never Change and Slow Motion
In 1996 Davies re-formed Supertramp with Helliwell, Siebenberg and guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Mark Hart, who was new to the official line-up but had prominently contributed to Free as a Bird and to the group's tours from 1985 to 1988. Their 1985-86 era guitarist, Carl Verheyen, returned as well, along with new bassist Cliff Hugo (bass), horn player Lee Thornburg and former America percussionist Tom Walsh (who was replaced for the band's 1997 tour by Bob Siebenberg's son Jesse, who would also go on to contribute guitar, keyboards and vocals), bringing the band up to an eight-man line-up. The result of this reunion was Some Things Never Change, a new studio album released in March 1997 that echoed the earlier Supertramp sound and reached number 74 in the UK.
In the summer of 1997, Supertramp returned to the road, resulting in the live It Was the Best of Times (April 1999).
After a three-year hiatus, Supertramp released in April 2002 a new studio album entitled Slow Motion, followed by a 2002 world tour entitled "One More for the Road Tour".
Supertramp continued to play several Hodgson-penned songs during live shows following their reunion. Hodgson subsequently claimed that when he had left the band back in 1983, 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 (who retired from performing to move into music publishing) 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." The publishing company and contract legally recognize which songs each songwriter actually wrote. Hodgson has contractual approval rights over the use of his songs and Davies for his.
2000s–present: Hiatuses and touring
After the 2002 "One More for the Road Tour", Supertramp went inactive once again. Another attempt to bring Hodgson back into the band failed in 2005. 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 perform 35 concerts in late 2010 in Europe. The tour was titled "70-10" to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the group's first release. Hodgson concurrently embarked on a worldwide solo tour, 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's management, offering to join them for select dates during gaps in his tour schedule. Davies's agent notified Hodgson that his offer was declined.
When asked whether Hodgson might appear at any Supertramp concerts, 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 anymore and I would rather not destroy memories of more harmonious times between all of us." Hodgson and Supertramp continued to tour separately in 2011. Supertramp performed their last 2011 show on 16 July at "Les Vieilles Charrues" Festival, Carhaix, France.
The group's lineup for their 2010-11 tours was Davies, Helliwell, Siebenberg, Jesse Siebenberg (now assuming Mark Hart's role on vocals, keyboards and guitar), Cliff Hugo, Carl Verheyen, Lee Thornburg, Gabe Dixon (vocals, keyboards, percussion) and Cassie Miller (backing vocals).
From July 2011 to 2015, Supertramp went dormant again. Meanwhile, Hodgson toured his "Breakfast in America World Tour" from 2012 onwards. On 25 January 2015 at Cirque Royal in Brussels, Belgium, Hodgson continued his "Breakfast in America World Tour" with a European leg concluding 7 September 2015 at Tempodrom in Berlin, Germany and the North American leg of the tour extending from November in Tarrytown, New York, concluding on 13 December in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In 2015 Supertramp announced their first tour in more than four years: a 25-date European tour entitled "Supertramp Forever" set to launch on 3 November 2015 in Porto, Portugal. The tour would include a London show on 7 December at The O2 Arena, and would end on 11 December 2015 at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam, Netherlands. On 4 August 2015, however, the band announced that the tour was cancelled due to health issues affecting Rick Davies, who had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma and required aggressive treatment to combat the disease.
In late August 2018, Davies gave an interview in which he expressed that, for the most part, he has overcome his health problems and enjoys playing music again, something he couldn't do in 2016, when he was under medical treatment. Davies can also be seen performing a few tracks in a rehearsal/sound check at a bar with some of Supertramp's current members at his side. In the same interview, Rick also stated that Supertramp would never likely return as a structured band.
Bold denotes members of the classic lineup.
- Rick Davies – vocals, keyboards, harmonica, songwriting (co-founder; 1970–1988, 1996–2002, 2010–2011)
- Roger Hodgson – vocals, keyboards, guitars, bass guitar, songwriting (co-founder; 1970–1983)
- Richard Palmer-James – guitars, vocals, percussion, songwriting (1970–1971)
- Robert Millar – drums, percussion, harmonica (1970–1971)
- Dave Winthrop – saxophone, flute, vocals (1970–1973)
- Kevin Currie – drums, percussion (1971–1973)
- Frank Farrell – bass, keyboards, backing vocals (1971–1972)
- Dougie Thomson – bass (1972–1988)
- Bob Siebenberg – drums, percussion (1973–1988, 1996–2002, 2010–2011)
- John Helliwell – saxophones, woodwinds, keyboards, backing vocals (1973–1988, 1996–2002, 2010–2011)
- Steve Reid – percussion (1987–1988)
- Mark Hart – vocals, keyboards, guitar (1996–2002, 2015; touring musician: 1985–1988)
- Carl Verheyen – guitars, percussion, backing vocals (1996–2002, 2010–2011, 2015; touring musician: 1985–1986)
- Cliff Hugo – bass (1996–2002, 2010–2011)
- Lee Thornburg – trombone, trumpet, keyboards, backing vocals (1996–2002, 2010–2011)
- Tom Walsh – percussion (1996–1997)
- Jesse Siebenberg – vocals, guitars, percussion (1997–2002, 2010–2011, 2015), keyboards (2010–2011)
- Gabe Dixon – keyboards, vocals (2010–2011)
- Cassie Miller – backing vocals (2010–2011)
- 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)
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