Supertramp Biography

Many aspiring musicians would have envied the opportunity which was given to Supertramp founder Rick Davies (Richard Davies, 22 July 1944, Swindon, Wiltshire, England; vocals, keyboards, harmonica) in 1969. While playing with the Joint in Munich, Germany, Davies met Dutch millionaire Stanley August Miesegaes, who offered to finance a new band. Davies was given carte blanche to recruit, through the UK music paper Melody Maker, the band of his choice. He enlisted Roger Hodgson (b. Charles Roger Pomfret Hodgson, 21 March 1950, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England; bass, vocals), Richard Palmer (b. September 1947, Bournemouth, Hampshire; guitar) and Bob Miller (drums). Originally named Daddy, the band took their new name from a bestselling 1908 novel by WH Davies, The Autobiography Of A Supertramp. They were signed by A&M Records on the strength of their demo tapes, but their 1970 debut Supertramp was an unspectacular affair full of lengthy self-indulgent solos. Internal disputes led to Kevin Currie and Frank Farrell replacing Miller and Palmer. Hodgson switched to guitar to accommodate Farrell on bass and saxophonist Dave Winthrop (b. 27 November 1948) was added to the line-up. The follow-up, Indelibly Stamped was similarly unsuccessful and meandering; the controversial cover created most interest, depicting a busty, naked tattooed female.

Supertramp’s fortunes looked set to slump even further when their fairy godfather departed, along with Currie and Farrell. They recruited ex-Alan Bown band members, saxophonist John Helliwell (b. 15 February 1945, Todmorden, Yorkshire, England) and bass player Dougie Thomson (b. 24 March 1951, Glasgow, Scotland) and from Bees Make Honey, drummer C. Benberg (b. Robert Layne Siebenberg, 31 October 1949, Glendale, California, USA). They had a remarkable change in fortune as Crime Of The Century became one of the top-selling albums of 1974, reaching UK number 4. The band had refined their keyboard-dominated sound and produced an album full of concise, melodic pop songs. Their debut UK hit ‘Dreamer’ was taken from the album, while ‘Bloody Well Right’ was a Top 40 hit in the USA, going on to become one of their classic live numbers. The subsequent Crisis? What Crisis? (1975) and Even In The Quietest Moments (1977) were lesser works, being erratic in content. The choral ‘Give A Little Bit’, with its infectious acoustic guitar introduction was a US Top 20 hit in 1977.

Supertramp were elevated to rock’s first division with the faultless 1979 album Breakfast In America. Four of the tracks became transatlantic hits, ‘The Logical Song’, ‘Goodbye Stranger’, ‘Take The Long Way Home’ and the title-track. The album stayed on top of the US charts for six weeks and became their biggest seller, with over 20 million copies to date. The obligatory live album (Paris) came in 1980 and was followed by the R&B-influenced ... Famous Last Words... , which generated the US Top 20 hit ‘It’s Raining Again’. Hodgson left shortly afterwards, unhappy with the bluesier direction the band were taking, going on to release two respectable solo albums, In The Eye Of The Storm and Hai Hai. Supertramp continued as a quartet with occasional tours and infrequent albums, with 1985’s Brother Where You Bound featuring their last US hit, ‘Cannonball’. Hodgson briefly rejoined in 1986 to promote a compilation of the band’s material. Guitarist Mark Hart featured on 1987’s Free As A Bird, but the album only met with minor success. After a perfunctory live album, the band concentrated on solo projects, with Hart going on to join Crowded House.

Media coverage in mid-1997 was considerable, with A&M promoting The Very Best Of and reminding us that the best of what anybody is likely to want from Supertramp is contained on compilations. Davies, Helliwell, Hart, Siebenberg, guitarist Carl Verheyen and bass player Cliff Hugo also completed the brand new Some Things Never Change. A subsequent tour demonstrated the band’s enduring popularity, and was captured on the live It Was The Best Of Times, recorded at London’s Albert Hall in September 1997. The all-new Slow Motion appeared in 2002 prior to a world tour.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.