Tuesday, November 13, 2007 9:21 AM CST
Hodgson Takes ‘Long Way’
By Scott Smith
It’s stunning that Roger Hodgson wrote most of his Supertramp hits before his 20th birthday.
“Give a Little Bit,” “Breakfast in America” and “Dreamer” all were hatched inside Hodgson’s busy brain years before sales of Supertramp’s “Crime of the Century” and “Breakfast in America” masterpiece albums pushed the British band high into the stratosphere of progressive rock.
Hodgson’s songs still ring with life, passion and relevance, as witnessed in his new concert DVD, “Roger Hodgson: Take the Long Way Home — Live at Montreal.” At 57, Hodgson and his music remain viable, and the man who is no stranger to any instrument buzzes from the adoration of the crowd that packed its way into the scenic Place Des Arts in Montreal, Canada.
“It was fun working with such creative individuals for the DVD — they were all French-Canadians with a French film director, Gerard Pullicino,” Hodgson said during a recent telephone interview. “It was such an incredible crew that came together in a hurry. All I had to do was be on, and the camera trailed me all day.
“And I got used to the camera,” he added with a laugh. “It’s always a risk, because you never know if all things will be in place and good.”
They were more than good for the taping of the DVD, which includes “Take the Long Way Home,” “Lovers in the Wind,” “Give a Little Bit,” “Hide in Your Shell,” “The Logical Song,” “Sister Moonshine,” “Breakfast in America,” “Oh Brother,” “It’s Raining Again” and “Even in the Quietest Moments,” among others.
Hodgson, who was co-lead singer, lead guitarist and pianist for Supertramp from 1969 to 1983, is in fine voice, beaming from the stage as only one musical accomplice adds subtle background vocals, saxophone and harmonica. The two-man experience, which also is available as a two-compact disc set, is an intimate performance that somehow manages to maintain the sweeping, epic feel that peppered Supertramp’s greatest work. Those who followed Hodgson’s work with his Tramp mates but didn’t keep tabs on his solo work in later years will be surprised to see and hear how well the latter-day material rests alongside the hits from the 1970s.
“I am very happy with results of the DVD,” Hodgson said before chuckling. “I’m pretty impressed, although I’m not a big fan of my own DVDs. I have to take a Valium to watch myself on TV and DVD.”
The Nevada City, Calif., resident is so shy about hearing his voice that he’s only listened to Supertramp’s 1980 live album, “Paris,” once. Fans love that double LP set and have called it one of the band’s crowning achievements, but Hodgson has kept his distance from the 27-year-old release.
“Yeah, I generally don’t listen to my own material,” he said. “I really enjoyed recording ‘Paris’ at the time, as a live album.”
When pressed to pick the song that gives him the biggest thrill live, Hodgson paused.
“I’m really enjoying all of the songs,” he said. “It’s amazing to write songs 30 years ago and they are songs that people still enjoy singing,” he said. “They’ve stood the test of time, I guess.”
Despite a band split that some outsiders have called dramatic over the years, Hodgson gives Supertramp co-founder Rick Davies credit for his former group’s success.
“Supertramp really were two writers, even though Rick and I were credited jointly, exactly like The Beatles,” Hodgson said. “When it came time to make an album, I used to spend a lot of time looking at the songs Rick had and trying to match them with songs I had written earlier. Rick was much slower at writing — Rick was and is a great writer — so I had to find songs in my collection that would really suit his songs. I looked for songs that would make the most enjoyable listening experience.”
Many artists might feel compelled to cram their best songs on the first two or three records, but not Hodgson.
“To me, making an album wasn’t just using the strongest songs,” he said. “It was like a four-course meal. You prepare the starter, then the meal. I wanted the listener to feel like they had gone somewhere after listening to the album. I wanted to make them not want to lift the needle of the record player in the middle.”
In interviews, Supertramp drummer Bob Siebenberg always picks 1974’s “Crime of the Century” album as his favorite work. Hodgson instead named the group’s “Crisis? What Crisis?” record from 1975 as one of his personal favorites.
“I like ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ as a collection of songs, even though as a recording I was disappointed with it,” Hodgson said. “I think the songs hadn’t proved their potential. I knew they could be better, especially in the mixing.”
Pressure from outside the band, in a way, plagued part of the recording sessions for “Crisis? What Crisis?”
“That record was challenging,” Hodgson said. “We had to follow ‘Crime of the Century’ and we didn’t have the time available. There was a tour looming and we had to finish the album. Even the title — the phrase came from us. We said, ‘This feels like a crisis.’ It was very stressful.”
The next album, 1977’s “Even in the Quietest Moments,” benefited from a better mixing job, he said.
“That was my album, and then we had ‘Breakfast in America,’ which I felt like we had a magical combination of songs,” Hodgson said. “The groundwork had been laid with the band. The audience was there because we had been touring for years.”
Although it eventually lost the Grammy for Album of the Year to Billy Joel’s “52nd Street,” “Breakfast In America” spawned the hits “The Logical Song,” “Goodbye Stranger,” “Breakfast in America” and the part-anthem, part-introspective piece, “Take the Long Way Home.” To date, more than 18 million copies of “Breakfast in America” can be found in fans’ musical libraries, and in early 2007, rap group Gym Class Heroes used the “girlfriend” section and other pieces from the title track for their “Cupid’s Chokehold” single.
“It’s remarkable that they say one in four Canadians owns ‘Crime of the Century,’” Hodgson said.
Hodgson’s soft-spoken voice grows softer when asked about his guitar playing. He’s almost never mentioned in the top slots of musicians’ polls, but his six-string splashes, like Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera, undeniably are unique and lasting.
“I never really did what most guitarists did,” Hodgson said with a laugh. “They’d learn the blues licks. I just developed my own primitive style. I have a melodic sense and if I work at it hard enough, I can get the sound that I want, usually.”
A dedicated fan of Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison, Hodgson makes it a habit of embracing — sometimes encouraging — questions about a Supertramp reunion.
“I would tour with them again,” he said. “I’d do it, but it’s really down to Rick Davies at this point, maybe. I do love Rick’s songs. It’s going to have to feel right.”
What does feel right at every concert is playing “Give a Little Bit,” one of Hodgson’s most popular compositions, early in the set.
“That song really has taken on a life of its own,” Hodgson said. “It’s really become more relevant than ever. The Goo Goo Dolls had a hit with it, and I get requests weekly for it. Hallmark wanted to use it for a campaign in Africa.
“Really, the beauty of it is that it’s so simple,” he added of the acoustic guitar-driven track. “Care. Just reach out and care, and give a little bit. It’s not saying give a lot. Just give a little.”
Hodgson said the most rewarding part of singing “Give a Little Bit” isn’t found in the sound system’s monitors.
“I start my concerts with ‘Give a Little Bit’ because it opens people up,” he said. “It’s really beautiful to see how they respond to that.”