By 1979, Supertramp was one of the biggest rock bands in the world, with Breakfast In America spending 15 weeks at Number One on the U.S. album charts. Four years later, Roger Hodgson left the band he helped make famous. Now, after 29 years, a smiling Hodgson is kicking off his first U.S. band tour since ’83 at Pechanga Casino & Resort in Temecula, California.
Yes, it’s a world away from the stardom he would totally turn his back on when he left music in ’87 to concentrate on being a parent. But to the adoring fans who rise to their feet as Hodgson and his four-piece backing band take the stage just after 8:00 with the FM radio staple "Take The Long Way Home," it might as well be 1979 all over again.
"You the man, Roger," one very boisterous fan yells out throughout the whole two-hour show as Hodgson mixes Supertramp classics like "Dreamer," "It’s Raining Again," "School," "Give A Little Bit" and the title cut to Breakfast In America with less familiar tracks such as "Hide In The Shell," "Lovers In The Wind," "Child Of Vision," "Along Came Mary" and the closing "Fool’s Overture."
It’s a career-spanning set, one that – most importantly – Hodgson clearly thoroughly enjoys and can do on his terms. That, to him, is the most important thing, he tells us. And in a wide-ranging backstage interview after the show, Hodgson also spoke with Rolling Stone about the possibility of new studio material, how the Beatles changed his life, his decision to leave Supertramp in 1983 and why, after Supertramp’s Rick Davies rebuffed Hodgson’s last attempt to join the band for a few shows, the time for a reunion has passed.
It’s mind boggling this is your first U.S. band tour in 30 years.
Yeah, the last eight years I’ve been everywhere else but America really, except for Pechanga. I did a solo show here three years ago, came back and did two band shows last year and then two again this year. But the whole thing for me has been connecting the dots. Everyone pretty much knows my voice, they know my songs, but they don’t know my name. And I didn’t think about that when I left Supertramp. Supertramp was a kind of faceless band. Supertramp was my baby in a way and I was quite happy to be invisible in it because I put 14 years of my life in there and that’s what I believed in, never thought I’d leave it. It was a surprise for me in a way when suddenly my heart was telling me that it’s over and I need to stop and take care of my family and learn how to be a father.
It’s interesting you say that because I only recently noticed the lyrics to "Take The Long Way Home" and it does seem like in the song there is a disconnect between being on stage and the family life.
Unlike most of my songs, that one wasn’t autobiographical. [Laughs.] That one was kind of a two-level song. And when I said it’s hard going home to the wife because she treats you like part of the furniture, that wasn’t my reality then anyway. I actually wrote it just as I was getting together with my future wife, so family hadn’t really hit me then – it came later, it became truer. But it was kind of a play on words that suddenly took on a depth, too, about reaching later in life and having regrets that you didn’t do what you wanted to do.
I had a chance to interview Jackson Browne, who also started writing in his teens and one thing he said that always struck me was how many of his songs turned out to be prophetic. Did you find that to be the case for you as well?
I think without knowing it, I had a degree of wisdom anyway in my late teens. There was a lot of confusion too, but I "Give A Little Bit" came from that era. It was the Sixties, so love and peace were definitely what was in the public consciousness, if you like. So that was maybe my contribution to that, but I also believed that and I still believe that and the song really has stood the test of time. It’s basically saying you don’t need to give a lot, give a little bit and show that you care. And if there’s ever a time we need to do that, it’s now. But there are other songs, like "The Logical Song." I had a lot of questions going on. I don’t know if I can say it was wisdom, it was more the songs were true to who I was back then and I think that was why they kind of stand up. Maybe I’ve learned a bit more now and I’m a bit older and wiser, but the songs still feel very relevant, most of them. And that’s pretty amazing, considering how young I was at the time.
When you introduced "The Logical Song" tonight, you mentioned it had struck a chord with people. When you think of the music scene in 1979, which was when disco dominated, a song that asked, "Won’t you please just tell me who I am" had no business being on the radio.
It’s a good song. I/we never really paid attention to what was happening in the world of music. I know different fashions came and went, but we just did our own thing and the critics and media didn’t really know what to do with us, some liked us, most kind of discarded us because we weren’t what was in vogue. But yeah, there was a huge disco thing happening when Breakfast In America came out and yet somehow we broke through it and found a place on radio. And the great thing is these songs are still played today, which is pretty amazing.
Leaving Supertramp was obviously the right decision for you at the time, you see that now from how at ease you are. But would you have done anything different in terms of building the name recognition for Roger Hodgson?
Back then I was Roger Hodgson with a lot of insecurities and unsure of myself, but I did have a passion for music, so it worked for me having a name, Supertramp, other than my name to just plow every ounce of my energy, passion and excitement into. I grew up on the Beatles and the Beatles profoundly changed my life, so, for me, they were the role models. I wanted Supertramp to affect other people like the Beatles affected me. I couldn’t get behind Roger Hodgson being that name, I didn’t have the kind of ego that wanted to be a solo artist back then. So I put all my passion into [Supertramp] and it was only really when I realized it was over and my heart was telling me I had to do something else and it was time to take a break from the music industry and learn how to be a parent that it dawned on me suddenly, I didn’t have a name to continue a career. I was giving that name to Rick Davies. It was probably the most foolish business move I’ve ever done (laughs), but business was never my forte. My blessing and curse was I was an artist first, I just had to follow my heart. So with Supertramp, two things were happening. It was very hard for me to function, even as an artist, towards the end, it was falling apart. It was frustrating because I wanted to continue putting out excellent music for people and I didn’t feel like I could do it anymore through Supertramp. So that was happening at the same time two little babies were looking at me and I was saying, "Oh my god, I’ve got to stop and learn how to be a parent." That was what my heart was telling me and I don’t have any regrets today because I learned a lot from that, I stepped back from the music industry, I got a lot of things in perspective in my personal life and I’m coming back now a lot older, a lot wiser, and I feel with a lot more to give. And ironically with a lot of the same songs that haven’t aged. It’s funny, I sing these songs on stage, this is the first time I’ve sung them really for three months, and it’s like, "Wow, these songs are great."
When did you discover that you were secure enough to step out from the faceless band and be Roger Hodgson, artist?
It took a long while. Really I’m Roger Hodgson now not because I have a huge desire to have a huge career and be a huge name. I like being just under the radar, famous enough to do shows like this, have an intimate connection with an audience, play my songs and connect with people in a real kind of pure way. I don’t want to do dive into the whole star machine. When you come and see the show, it’s a man and his music.
Will we hear new studio music at any point?
Yeah, I would like to because I’ve got some really good songs burning a hole in my pocket for many years. I’ve always got a huge backlog, so I’ve got songs from even 19, 20 years onwards and I’m still writing today. I can’t say when that’ll happen. Right now I’m feeling like the connection I’m making in concert is more important, so that’s kind of taking the priority.
You’ve been steadfast for many years about not doing a reunion with Supertramp.
One of the reasons I’m a solo artist really is because I can control what happens between me and the audience. To me, it’s a very magical, chemical, energetic connection that happens on stage every night I can control. And I can’t control that in a band situation; it becomes something else. And I think Supertramp, for me, was a very good combination of musicians in the golden years. And Rick and I, that was a very interesting yin and yang polarity that really made for an interesting dynamic and often does. But that was at least 30 years ago now. Rick and I did talk, but it’s hard to reinvent what people want to see, it wouldn’t be real. It would be more imaginary, but I’m aware that there’s a real desire for a lot of fans around the world to want to see it happen. The last thing that happened was I did put out an offer when Rick went out as Supertramp to maybe join him for a few shows. And there was a negative answer, I got rebuffed, so I think that was the last opportunity really. And to tell you the truth, I’m more interested in just being true to myself and giving people something I can stand behind and be sincere about. I’d have to compromise that if it was a whole Supertramp hoopla thing. As magic as that might be, I can understand why other bands don’t do that.
As a fan, I admire the conviction because I’ve seen awful shows of bands who didn’t want to be on stage together and it was clear. Are there other artists who’ve been examples of how to hold that ground in the face of demand and money?
Anyone to me who is a true artist, you can tell. Peter Gabriel, to me, is an artist and there are others, there are a lot of great artists. It’s hard not to compromise. Sometimes you piss away a career if you don’t compromise, but at least you can sleep good at night as an artist. And, to me, with the music industry going more and more into star making and fashion, it’s been trivialized. I grew up on the Beatles and there was a lot of depth to them, they were the most progressive band ever. They broke the doors down and it feels like there aren’t that many artists doing that now. I’m certainly not breaking the doors down, but I’m trying to give something that’s real and genuine. This is my music and if I can make you feel wonderful for two hours and go home with a smile on your face, then come and see the show.