Supertramp

  • Biography:

    Supertramp began as the wish fulfillment of a millionaire rock fan. By the late 1970s, the group's blend of keyboard-heavy progressive rock and immaculate pop had yielded several hit singles and a few platinum LPs.

    In the late 1960s Dutch millionaire Stanley August Miesegaes heard Rick Davies in a band called the Joint. When that band broke up, Miesegaes offered to bankroll a band if Davies would handle the music. Davies placed classified ads in London newspapers for a band. The first response was from Roger Hodgson, who was to split songwriting and singing with Davies in Supertramp, the name they took from W.H. Davies' 1938 book, The Autobiography of a Supertramp. Drummer Bob Miller suffered a nervous breakdown after their first LP's release; he was replaced by Kevin Currie for the next, but like the first, it flopped.

    After a disastrous tour, the band (except Davies and Hodgson) broke up. Davies and Hodgson recruited Bob Benberg from pub rockers Bees Make Honey, and John Helliwell and Dougie Thomson from the Alan Bown Set, and A&M sent them to a rehearsal retreat at a seventeenth-century farm. Their next LP, Crime of the Century, was the subject of a massive advertising/promotional campaign, and went to #1 in the U.K. but didn't take off commercially in the U.S., though it did sow the seeds of a cult following.

    In 1975 the singles "Dreamer" and "Bloody Well Right" from Crime achieved some chart success in both the U.K. and the U.S. Supertramp toured the U.S. as a headliner, with A&M giving away most of the tickets. Crisis? failed to yield a hit single, but was heavily played on progressive FM radio and solidified the band's audience base, as did Even in the Quietest Moments (#16, 1977), which included "Give a Little Bit" (#15, 1977). Supertramp's breakthrough was Breakfast in America, a #1 worldwide LP, which eventually sold over 4 million copies in the U.S. and contained hit singles in "The Logical Song" (#6), "Goodbye Stranger" (#15), and "Take the Long Way Home" (#10). The Paris live double LP hit #8; and ". . . famous last words . . ." included another hit, "It's Raining Again" (#11, 1982). In early 1983 Hodgson announced he was leaving the group for a solo career. His first solo release, In the Eye of the Storm (#46, 1984), contained his only charting single to date, "Had a Dream (Sleeping With the Enemy)" (#48, 1984). His subsequent work was not as well received.

    The group's next album, Brother Where You Bound (#21, 1985), contained Supertramp's last charting single to date, "Cannonball" (#28, 1985). Late in 1985 Supertramp embarked on a six-month tour of the United States. Hodgson briefly rejoined to promote the U.K. Top 10 compilation The Autobiography of Supertramp. Free As a Bird (1987) missed the Top 100 by one and included a dance hit, "I'm Begging You." In 1997 Davies, Helliwell, and Benberg regrouped Supertramp —minus Hodgson —and, with the aid of studio players, released Some Things Never Change.

    This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).