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Less Super, More Tramp: A Conversation With Roger Hodgson, Formerly of Supertramp

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A band should be more than just a brand, and a great song can mean so much more than simply a commodity.

I first learned this lesson as a kid in the mid-Seventies when I convinced my late great father to take me to see a group billed as The Drifters who were playing a nearby hotel during a family vacation in Miami Beach. Even then, I understood just enough about math to realize the young guys onstage could not be the same men who sang on the timeless records that my parents had in their collection. Sure, the guys we paid to see that night sang "Up On The Roof," but even my ears could tell this these were not the original singers who could make our cares drift right into space, like the song says.

The other day I thought about that early loss of musical innocence when I spoke for the first time with Roger Hodgson -- although I've been a fan of the man since I was a teenager. Though you may not be aware of it, you are almost certainly familiar with Roger and his body of work too. For a decade and a half, Roger Hodgson served as one of two main songwriters and vocalists who founded Supertramp, and as fate and his talent would have it, Hodgson was the one who wrote and sang the vast majority of the band's ten most enduring hits -- including such classic rock standards as "Give A Little Bit," "Logical Song," "Take the Long Way Home," and "Dreamer," to name a few of the more obvious favorites.

A deeply personal, introspective and even spiritual writer, Hodgson composed apart from the band, and some of his greatest songs were written before Supertramp even formed. Like some of you, I spent more than a few hours of my youth listening to Breakfast In America on headphones. I loved those songs then; I love them now -- and so do my young sons today. Though Supertramp was not always a critical favorite, these songs have stood the ultimate test of time.

In 1983, Roger Hodgson decided to leave Supertramp, in part to focus more on raising a family. In walking away from the band and stepping back from the music business, Hodgson made an agreement with the group's other main writer and singer Rick Davies. As Roger tells it, the two then-friends agreed that Davies could continue on with Supertramp, but that, in essence, Roger would take his songs with him. Rick could perform his own songs as Supertramp, and Roger would sing his songs as a solo artist. For a time, this agreement apparently held, but eventually -- as Supertramp became a decidedly less successful recording and touring enterprise without the ongoing artistic contributions of Roger Hodgson -- Rick Davies seemingly changed his mind.

Unfortunately, I missed the chance to see Hodgson onstage with Supertramp back in the day, but about a decade ago, I was very happy to catch Roger singing a few of his classic songs on one of Ringo Starr's All-Starr tours. Instantly, Hodgson's still stunning and singular voice brought me right back to being a typically tortured teen to whom "The Logical Song" made tremendous emotional if not entirely logical sense.

Recently, Supertramp kicked off what has been called a "70-10" 40th Anniversary World Tour in Germany, though Roger Hodgson was not invited to be a part of this supposed reunion. Still, Davies and company certainly have made plenty of room for Hodgson's songs in their set list -- much to the chagrin of the man himself. At the Gerry Weber Stadium in Halle, Germany, for instance, the act now called Supertramp, such as it is, performed the following Hodgson songs: "Breakfast In America," "Give A Little Bit," "It's Raining Again," "Take The Long Walk Home," "The Logical Song" and "Dreamer."

In recent years, Hodgson has returned to performing in truly excellent form, a fact beautifully documented on his upcoming album Classics Live as well as the outstanding and already available DVD Take The Long Way Home: Live In Montreal. If you get a chance to get those releases or see Roger Hodgson in concert, take it, because to hear the man sing his own songs as only he can, there's no doubt that he's the real deal. By any name, he still offers everything I loved about Supertramp.

Generally, Roger Hodgson is a man who speaks first and foremost through his songs, but now he's coming forward to speak out and try to set the somewhat distorted record straight:

Why do you think the songs that you wrote and sang when you were part of Supertramp continue to endure for people around the world?

The songs I contributed to Supertramp came from a very pure place in my soul. They were not contrived for any mere commercial purpose -- simply to write "hit" songs. Without even being fully aware of it, I created these songs to explore my very private longing for love and that sense of a true home, a place of real connection inside our heart. Though even I did not fully understand it at first, I now know that these songs were vehicles for me to try and figure out answers to the fundamental questions of life. That's why I never get tried of singing my songs, as I'm doing on my 2010 World Tour. The songs that I have written are, in a sense, the purest and deepest expression of who I am. I believe that's why songs like "Dreamer," "Give A Little Bit," "Take The Long Way Home" and "The Logical Song" continue to be meaningful to me, and to so many other people around the world.

How do you feel about Supertramp now performing those songs without you?

Because these songs are so meaningful to me and to all those who love them, they are not to be taken lightly or exploited cynically. So it breaks my heart to say that's exactly what's happening now with Supertramp's supposed 40th reunion tour. The irony is these songs of mine that Rick is now playing and using to advertise this tour are the same ones that Rick didn't even want on Supertramp albums all those years ago. Suddenly when it's time to sell tickets for his shows, Rick seems very fond of my songs. Even if Rick is going to go ahead play my songs, it would better and more honest if he could at least let people know who wrote those songs, and make it clear that I am not part of this "reunion." So how does this all feel? It feels terrible. It feels unfair. It feels wrong. And it shows a complete lack of respect for all people who love this music.

The Supertramp tour is called "70-10," presumably because it covers 40 years of Supertramp music, right?

In fact, it seems Rick is only playing one song from the whole 28 years since I left the band -- that's twice as long as I was even in the band. I feel terrible about the way Rick is promoting this Supertramp tour. He's using my songs and even my voice to promote his shows. That's wrong. A third of the songs performed at these concerts are my songs that I wrote and composed on my own -- songs that Rick gave me his word he would not play after I left.

So why did you leave Supertramp? After all, the band was still tremendously successful then.

I wanted to spend time with my young children at home instead of being on the road. But it was also because I wanted out of the music business. I just wanted to break from this same lack of ethics and morals and integrity you sometimes see in the music business. So I took a break from it all, and moved out of the city to some place more rural and peaceful. It was also because our musical styles were going completely different ways at the time. Yet as I said, the very songs Rick didn't like and didn't want on Supertramp albums -- songs that he would make fun of and criticize and be condescending towards me about -- he is now using to promote his tour. Rick is not even showing the respect or the common decency to let the public know when they sing my songs that I am the songwriter and composer who wrote and sang them. Even if Rick was going to break our agreement, he could still acknowledge that I wrote the songs and that I am not on stage now. Sadly, it seems very clear that Rick wants to write me out of the Supertramp history, and to make matters worse, he's doing it with my songs as the soundtrack.

I believe you've offered to be a part of a true reunion and possibly even make some special appearances with Supertramp. Assuming that particular call never comes, do you still plan to keep on singing your songs?

Yes, I did. And I've been overwhelmed by all the fans who would love to see that. So we really tried, but Rick and his wife Sue said no. So if people want to hear my songs, I hope they will come hear me sing them in concert. I intend to keep singing my songs with the sort of love and respect they deserve. I'm happy to sing them for the people out there who've kept them very much alive and well in their own hearts for all these years. Finally, I want to say that I really don't like coming forward like this, but I feel people have a right to know the truth. And the reality is that Rick Davies can own a trademark, but he cannot own the truth.

For more on Roger Hodgson, go to www.rogerhodgson.com