Supertramp is a British progressive rock band that had a series of top-selling albums in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Their early music included ambitious concept albums, but they are best known for their later hits including “Dreamer”, “Goodbye Stranger”, “Give a Little Bit” and “The Logical Song”. Supertramp attained superstardom in the United States, Canada, and most of Europe. However, they were not quite as popular in the UK (where most of the band members are actually from).
Backed by a Dutch millionaire named Stanley August Miesegaes, vocalist, pianist and ex-drummer Rick Davies used newspaper advertising in Melody Maker to recruit an early version of the band in August 1969, an effort which recruited vocalist/guitarist and keyboardist Roger Hodgson.Â Other members of this proto-Supertramp includedRichard Palmer (guitar, balalaika, vocals)Â and Robert Millar ( percussion, harmonica) . Initially, Roger Hodgson sang and played bass guitar (and, on the side, guitar, cello and flageolet). The band was called Daddy from August 1969 to January 1970, at which time this was changed to Supertramp, a name taken from W.H. Davies‘ book, The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, published in 1908.
The first album, Supertramp, was released in July 14th, 1970 in the UK only (it was first issued in the US in 1977). Although it was very intense and lyrical, it proved not to attract the audience and little of critics paid any attention to this first effort. However, Supertramp was able to earn a slot on the bill of the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, which was headlined by the likes of The Doors, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix. Richard Palmer abruptly quit six months after the album’s release. Robert Millar suffered a nervous breakdown shortly afterwards. For the next album, Indelibly Stamped, released in June 1971 (in both UK and US), Frank Farrell (bass) , Kevin Currie (percussion)Â and Dave Winthrop (flute and saxophone)Â replaced Millar and Palmer, while Roger Hodgson switched to guitar. “Indelibly Stamped” featured rocking Beatlesque tunes, with vocal harmonies similar to Simon and Garfunkel songs (Davies now serving as the band’s second lead singer, alongside Hodgson, who suggested that the band should have two lead vocalists), a more commercial approach and eye-catching cover artwork. Supertramp had established themselves as a “cult” band. Sales, however, failed to improve and sold even less than their debut. In early 1972, Miesegaes withdrew his support from the band after paying off debts. All members gradually quit except Hodgson and Davies.
These two first albums were later reissued during Supertramp’s popularity peak and have maintained a certain appeal with die-hard fans. The first album is melancholic and quieter and the songs are spread out more than they were later on. Roger Hodgson once called it his favourite Supertramp album (which later became Crime of the Century). The second album is their most traditionally rock album, and certainly their heaviest sound.
In late 1972, after being persuaded to carry on, Davies and Hodgson went on an extensive search for replacements, which first brought aboard Dougie ThomsonÂ (bass), who played with the band almost a year before auditions resumed to complete the line-up. In 1973, auditions restarted and brought in Bob Siebenberg , (drums), (credited for several years as Bob C. Benberg,Â to stay under the radar of British Immigration), and John HelliwellÂ (saxophone, other woodwinds, occasional keyboards, backing vocals), joining original members Davies and Hodgson and the newly brought in Thomson, completing the line-up that would create the group’s defining albums. Hodgson would also begin playing keyboards in the band in addition to guitar, usually acoustic and electric pianos on his own compositions. The classic Supertramp keyboard is a Wurlitzer electric piano (model 200A) with its unmistakable bright sound and biting distortion when played hard.
Crime of the Century, released in September 1974, began the group’s run of critical and commercial successes, hitting number four in Britain, supported by the iconic countercultural opening track “School“, and the top-10 single “Dreamer”. Its B-side “Bloody Well Right” hit the US Top 40 in May 1975. Siebenberg would later comment that he thought the band hit its artistic peak on this, their third album, though their greatest commercial success would come later.
The band continued with Crisis? What Crisis? released in November 1975. It achieved good though not overwhelming commercial success. The following album, Even in the Quietest Moments, released in April 1977 spawned their hit single Give a Little Bit, and the FM radio staple Fool’s Overture. During this period, the band eventually relocated to the United States and moved steadily from the progressive styles of their early albums towards a more song-oriented pop sound.
This trend reached its zenith on their most popular album, Breakfast in America in March 1979, which reached Number 3 in the UK and Number 1 in the United States and spawned four successful singles, “The Logical Song“, “Take the Long Way Home”, “Goodbye Stranger” and “Breakfast in America”. The album has since sold over 18 million copies worldwide.
The run of successes was capped with 1980s Paris, a 2-LP live album, in which the band stated its goal of improving on the studio versions of their songs. Instead of focusing on songs from the hugely successful Breakfast in America, it included nearly every song from Crime of the Century, another testament to the importance of that album in the group’s development.
In 1982 Supertramp released its eighth and final album Famous Last Words was the studio follow-up to 1979s Breakfast in America and was the last with original guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Roger Hodgson. Relations between Hodgson and Rick Davies were becoming more strained. They fought over musical, creative and personal directions daily during the recording sessions for Famous Last Words. One instance saw Hodgson wanting to dismiss the other band members whilst Davies defended their right to stay in the band. The album was mainly recorded and mixed at Hodgsons house dubbed Unicorn Studios in Nevada City, California as he didnt want to leave his wife, his then 2-year old daughter Heidi and newborn son Andrew behind.
In 1983 Roger Hodgson finally had enough, and one night in a concert, as the last song of that concert, when he finished singing the song, Don’t Leave Me Now, he just walked off the stage and quit the band.Â He has never been in contact withÂ any of the other band members since.
It is said that when he left Supertramp, he took Supertramp with him.Â He still performs all of the Supertramp songs that he penned in solo concerts.
From the Crime of the Century album.
I can see you in the morning when you go to school
Don’t forget your books, you know you’ve got to learn the golden rule,
The teacher tells you stop your playin’ get on with your work
And be like Johnnie – “too-good”, don’t you know he never shirks
– he’s coming along!
After school is over you’re playing in the park
Don’t be out too late, don’t let it get too dark
They tell you not to hang around and learn what life’s about
And grow up just like them – won’t let you work it out
– and you’re full of doubt
Don’t do this and don’t do that
What are they trying to do? Make a good boy of you
Do they know where it’s at?
Don’t criticize, they’re old and wise
Do as they tell you to
Don’t want the devil to
Come and put out your eyes
Maybe I’m mistaken expecting you to fight
Or maybe I’m just crazy, I don’t know wrong from right
But while I am still living, I’ve just got this to say
It’s always up to you if you want to be that
want to see that
want to see it that way
– you’re coming along!
- Audio from the 1974 album, Crime of the Century: