By Jeb Wright
This interview first appeared in Goldmine Magazine in 2015.
The interview was conducted by Classic Rock Revisited’s Jeb Wright.
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Roger Hodson was nothing more than a kid, a dreamer of sorts when he sat down and wrote the song that became Supertramp’s first hit single. Now, 35 years later, “Dreamer” and is still played daily on classic rock radio around the world.
To celebrate the 40thth anniversary of the album which featured the song “Dreamer”, Crime of the Century, has been remastered by Ray Staff and comes with a live recording from 1975 when the band performed at the popular Hammersmith Odeon in London. The live disc has been remastered from the master tapes by Ken Scott. The album is available for purchase on CD, 2CD, 180g vinyl, Blu-Ray, digital formats and as a vinyl box set.
To celebrate the release of this album, Hodsgon sat down with Goldmine Magazine and the tales he told were magical. Their iconic songs mix pop and prog to perfection. The pop fun of “Dreamer” mixes perfectly with the rock sensibilities of “Bloody Well Right.” Forever a struggle between Roger and Co-founder Rick Davies, the Tramp put their stamp on rock and roll.
In the interview that follows Roger speaks openly about the triumph and the tragedy of his time in the band.
Jeb: The 40th Anniversary Edition has been released and it includes a live CD from the Hammersmith during 1975. How did that come about, and will the bands following albums have similar anniversary editions?
Roger: I think they would if they could find the material. Supertramp was not a much captured band in terms of recording, either visually or audio-wise. There is not that much out there, unfortunately. Hammersmith is one of the rare exceptions from that time period when we were playing the entire album of Crime live along with four songs that were going to be recorded for Crisis What Crisis that we interjected in the middle of the show. I was aware that the concert was there all of these years. It all came about from a collaboration of all the parties involved, the record companies, our old manager and the band. We all contributed to it.
Jeb: Are you an anniversary guy, Roger? Did you think, “Wow, it has been FORTY years?”
Roger: You know, I was reflecting on that recently. What I am proud about, to tell you the truth, is that forty years later I still have people telling me that the lyrics I wrote back then mean even more to them now than when they were younger listening to that record. I am aware that more and more young people are discovering the whole catalog, including Crime of the Century. The music has lived on.
Jeb: I have read you had over 40 demos for this album.
Roger: That is not true. I had probably 40 demos in my suitcase to draw from. No, we didn’t use 40 demos for the album. I have always had a backlog of material. I have 60 to 70 songs right now. To tell you the truth, for example, the song “Breakfast in America” was already written. “Give at Little Bit” was also written by then as well. You see, “Breakfast in America” would not have worked on Crime of the Century. I had to tune into what would work on the album. I had to tune in to what I was going through at the time and what Rick was going through at the time. What we were going through personally, actually all came out on that album.
Jeb: A very personal song is “Hide in Your Shell.”
Roger: That song was written right before we went into the studio. At the time my spiritual quest was really awakening. I had read some books that had really projected me on this course of self-discovery. Yet, it was a very lonely time because what I was hungry for and looking for was of no interest to the band. I was really passionate to have a deeper connection with God and none of the other band members were even interested in that, and I came under a lot of ridicule for that over the years.
Jeb: That makes me understand the writing process. You could not have co-written that song with others.
Roger: It had to be written by myself.
Jeb: Did you decide it was going to be the way to go, to write separately? Was it conscious decision or did it just happen?
Roger: It just happened. Actually, to tell you the truth, the album before, Indelibly Stamped, we also wrote separately, but the songs were not personal. The songs on that album are a motley collection where we were trying to find ourselves. With Crime of the Century, I think we came of age and we were expressing ourselves in the music. I should speak only for myself. I was expressing myself through the music and that really was awakened in me. I was no longer talking about things in third person, I was talking about myself and my own innermost feelings. That was a dramatic shift and I think that is when the songs that I wrote started to have a depth and started to connect with people in a much deeper way.
Jeb: The thing that has come to haunt you is that you did the Beatles type of credits where you both shared all songwriting credits.
Roger: I don’t have too many regrets in life, but that is a regret on multi-levels, really. There is a huge misconception that it was Rick and I writing these songs together that created the magic and success of Supertramp. As I told you, it was when we started writing separately that we came into our own as songwriters. That is when we not only got hit songs—“Dreamer” was my first hit song, and also Supertramp’s—but the music also took on a much deeper quality.
On the other hand, I have to say that it is a regret because so many people who have such a deep connection to my songs relate them to Supertramp, and that they were written by Rick and I, and the truth is it has been hard for me as an artist and as an author of so many deeply personal songs to have them attributed to Supertramp and also to Rick as a co-author. The funny thing is that he didn’t even like, or even agree, with much of what I wrote. That is the ironic thing. The other regret is on a business level, as I have to say that the truth is that I’ve lost a lot money because I wrote most of the hit songs for Supertramp. Back then, I was very naïve in the ways of business. Supertramp’s manager didn’t help; he didn’t give me any good advice. I look back and this is my thing that I wish had been different.
Jeb: “Dreamer” was just you screwing around on an organ like a kid in a candy shop.
Roger: It was! It was the first time that I had a Wurlitzer piano alone to myself. I took it down to my mother’s house and I set it up in a back room and I started playing. It is true, that is a perfect example, and I really felt like a kid in a candy store. This song literally exploded out of me. I wrote it in about an hour. I didn’t censor myself and I just sang whatever came into my mind. It was literally born out of excitement. It is so interesting to me that as a young musician of 19 or 20, with so many aspirations and dreams, for me to have my first hit song be “Dreamer”. It’s perfect, isn’t it?
Jeb: “School” is also a wonderful song.
Roger: It is an interesting song because it doesn’t obey any of the rules of verse/chorus. It is its own little journey. It is interesting. I think we captured it in the studio very well. I think the mix is wonderful and the piano solo sounds incredible. It just sounds right. It is a mini-journey and it is an epic. The effect it has on audiences is very spellbinding. It is a very period piece. People are really taken back to the time they first heard that song and at that time many were in high school when they first heard it.
Jeb: You tend to discuss songs that you wrote, but we are talking about Crime of the Century here, so we have to talk about a song that Rick wrote. “Bloody Well Right” is just a huge song in the history of Supertramp.
Roger: Listen, all of Rick’s songs were great. I played on that and I helped to arrange it. It was fun to play. I got to play electric, which I loved. It was great and it is a fun song. Rick and I met through music. Philosophically, and in other ways, we were very, very different… but where we really could communicate was through music. I really enjoy playing his songs. I am not sure he enjoyed playing mine as much, as he never told me that, but I enjoyed playing his.
Jeb: Did he write all of “Crime of the Century” or was it more of a collaboration?
Roger: Well, it is that fine line of when does arranging move into collaborating? One of my biggest forays is that I can hear, when someone plays me a song, I can hear in my head where it wants to go, I can hear the parts and I can hear the bass line. It is what I brought to Supertramp in spades and it is what I brought to Rick’s songs. I really helped them to develop and to fulfill their potential. “Crime of the Century” was no exception. The guitar solo and the whole end section I had a big hand in.
Jeb: You can hear both of your personalities in that song.
Jeb: Were there chinks in the armor even then? You had mentioned that your spiritual beliefs were different than guys who were in a rock band. Were you just ignoring it at that time, or were you worried this would be a problem?
Roger: I didn’t think about it, really. I was who I was and I had my passion and my deep yearnings that propelled me in life. Rick was a very, very different animal with a very different philosophy, and the rest of the band was too. We co-existed pretty well, but there was that element of ridicule, or that element of cynicism that I had to deal with.
Maybe in hindsight it was good for me, because I had to find the inner strength of conviction for what I believed. It was difficult many times in future albums after Crime of the Century. It raised its head more after that album. The band really never even asked me what the songs were about. Sometimes I had to really fight to get songs on the albums. “Lord is it Mine?” Is an example of a song that no one wanted on the album, yet it is a great track on Breakfast in America. They didn’t ask me about what the inspiration was for my songs, or what the songs really meant, and it made it a little difficult. I always felt more like a solo artist within a band.
Jeb: Is this part of the reason why fans should not hold their breath for you to get back together with Supertramp?
Roger: I don’t know…I will tell you when Rick announced the 40th anniversary back in 2010 and he did that tour, I actually did offer to join him for a few shows. I was receiving so many requests from fans and I knew how much the Supertramp fans really wanted it. I thought, “What the hell, let’s do it.” I told him I would maybe do a few shows, but he declined my offer.
The truth is that it is not what it was way back in what I call the ‘Golden Years of Supertramp’ after I left, and the band itself totally disbanded. A few years later, Rick and his wife trademarked the name ‘Supertramp’. Now, every time he goes out, which is every five or ten years, he goes out with different musicians. He could go out with five plumbers and call it ‘Supertramp.’ It is totally different to what it was than back when I was with the band.
I don’t really mind what he does. What I have the most trouble with is when fans, or people in the public, tell me how they thought I was going to be there. That is the place that upsets me. The last time they toured in 2010 they called it The Anniversary Tour and they also called it The Greatest Hits Tour, which intimated that I was going to be there, as I wrote most of the hits. We heard all over the map that the tour was being advertised with my voice singing the songs. It gets really squirrelly.
What has the most artistic integrity is when an artist performs his own art. Rick has plenty of songs that he could perform. He has great songs. The joke of it is that I know many of the songs of mine that he is performing he doesn’t even like. To me, I don’t feel like he’s really going out with much artistic integrity.
I do believe artists should be true to their art, and I don’t think they should just do it for commercial gain. I think there is a place in me that feels very protective of the fans and I don’t like seeing them being fooled, disappointed or misled like that. The great thing is that so many fans who did see me when I was in the band tell me that the music doesn’t have the heart or the spirit of the Supertramp that they remember, but that they do feel that when they come to see my shows.
Jeb: You were involved in albums and the tours. You looked at this from the small details of your emotions to the huge part of putting on an ‘arena rock tour’.
Roger: I literally lived and breathed Supertramp. That was my baby and it was really truly where I found my worth. When I picked up my first guitar I used it to escape with my music, but when I created Supertramp with Rick, I dove head first with my full force of passion and belief into seeing what I could create with Supertramp. I was a force to be reckoned with. I was very strong in the studio and I was very strong in the live show. I really was into creating the best result of the highest quality possible. Because of that, I think we were really known for breaking new ground in live sound. Live sound and lights; we set a new precedent back then.
Jeb: Then why did you leave?
Roger: Alright Jeb, you sit yourself down there and I’ll tell you! At what point does a man and a woman look at each other and say, “You know this is not working anymore. We’ve got to call it quits.” I didn’t do that straightaway, believe me. As I just said, I put my whole being into what I believed in. It came to the point to where I didn’t believe in Supertramp anymore. The unit of Supertramp was fractured and Rick and I were estranged. There was a lot of stupid stuff going on and after the experience of Famous Last Words, which was such a disappointment to me, compared to what it could have been, there was no point in me continuing.
I wasn’t going to just continue because we could make a bunch of money. It had to be more than that. It was at a time where I was very disenchanted with the music industry and I needed to take a break. It was at a time where I had two small babies and I wanted to be around them as they grew up. I left the band and I spent the next fifteen years at home raising my kids. I made a few solo albums, but I basically entered a new phase of my life.
Jeb: You have come back with a vengeance putting your name out there as the author of those songs. I respect how you are doing it and what you are doing.
Roger: It is because I made that decision then that I am doing it now. I really did follow my heart. I took a break. The break was very, very good for me. I went through a lot of tough things, and I went through a lot of wonderful things, and I really learned a lot about myself. Now I have come back, as the kids are grown. I felt the urge to perform and I am discovering that I am a much more whole, complete being with much more to give. I am not burned out, and my voice, luckily, is in great shape. These songs that I have written have stood the test of time very well and are finding new audiences. I am finding an audience of people who have lived with them for 30 or 40 years and have wonderful memories with them.
Jeb: Even your “sell out and make a commercial” song was great. That is a heartfelt commercial.
Roger: [laughter] Are we talking “Give a Little Bit” for Coke?
Jeb: Yes, I thought that was a brilliant way of doing it.
Roger: I did too, actually, and that is why I said yes. I liked the theme of it. The idea of using security cameras in a good way was a cool idea, so I said, “Why not?”
Jeb: What is next for you in 2015?
Roger: We are putting together another year of touring. That is what I am still being called to do. The word is getting around, and there are people who want to hear these songs from me. What is happening in these concerts is very magical. The band has even gotten better since you’ve seen them. People are blown away by the band and the sound we make. Every concert feels like a giant celebration and is very magical. While I can still do that, I am going to keep doing that, at least for a few more years. There is new material and I play one, or two, or three songs that are new that people have not heard, or that I have not recorded. That is my plan for the next few years.
Jeb: I have three more questions, two of which are about Crime of the Century. On the record there is a dedication that says, “To Sam.” Who is Sam?
Roger: This is an interesting story that I haven’t told that often. Sam [Miesegaes] was our first manager. He managed Rick before I met Rick. The biggest thing I am so grateful to Sam about is that when I went up to London to the audition that Rick was holding- my mother sent me up to London, she said, “This is a genuine opportunity. Go to London!” - I went there and Rick was holding the audition, and that is where we met. I was under a record deal. I was 19 and I already had a record deal, so Rick and I couldn’t make a record without me getting out of this deal. Rick and his manager Sam wanted me so much that they basically bought me out of the contract. I am very grateful to Sam for that.
Jeb: In later years you were very involved with the artwork on the covers. For Crime of the Century did you come up with the art, or was it the record company?
Roger: It’s been a long time now, but I think it was the art director at the record company who we worked with. He really understood what we wanted and he got the music, as that cover really represents the heart of Crime of the Century. I can hear it in my songs and I can hear it in Rick’s songs. It really is all about the human spirit trying to get out. I love the cover as it is so perfect. We being naked on the back was also perfect.
Jeb: Was that weird at all?
Roger: [laugher] We were into it. I think we actually came up with that idea. I was very idealistic at that time, as I had to be naked. Everyone else was wearing underpants, but I had to be naked [laughter].
Jeb: That is dedication to your art!
Roger: That is who I was back then. It is still who I still am, but in a different way today.
Jeb: Last one: You learned that Princess Di was a huge fan of yours. You played at the Concert for Diana at the request of her sons. What was that like?
Roger: I loved Princess Di, I loved what she stood for and I loved the hope that she gave the English, as well as the rest of the world. She was a very wonderful human being. It meant a lot when I first heard that she was a huge fan of Supertramp. I have a feeling that she was a real fan of my songs. I was very sad that she died before I was able to play for her. Ironically, the other guys did… they actually had played for her. There is always a point of sadness for me that I never got to do that for her.
Ten years after her death was when the Princes invited me to join them in celebrating their mom at Wembley Stadium. It was a very emotional event. I think the greatest feeling was playing “Give a Little Bit” and having the whole stadium stand up and we were all singing that song and sending our love to Princess Di—that is what it felt like. It was very touching and the Princes were much moved. They told me afterwards that they used to dance around the kitchen with their mom singing “Dreamer.” That just really touched me.
Jeb: That raised the hair on my arms. I can’t imagine what it did to you, the guy who wrote that song.
Roger: Because of who she was, and because of her vulnerability, I feel like she connected to that vulnerability in my songs also.
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