ROGER HODGSON INTERVIEW BY STEVE SWIFT
“When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful...” Roger Hodgson, double foil in Supertramp with Rick Davies, co-author of the mega-selling ‘Breakfast In America’ and deliverer of excellent albums like ‘Crime Of The Century’ and ‘Crisis, What Crisis?’ A man who then left, almost at the height of their success, to follow his own path, delivering a superb solo disc, ‘Eye Of The Storm’ and almost as good follow up ‘Hai Hai’ in 1987. And then... very little. Now Mr. H is back, with a second live album ready to drop and a live jaunt about to begin.
“This is my rest time, we start in four weeks. It’s a pretty amazing time in my life, to tell you the truth,” he gently intones. “I’ve written a whole bunch of songs that have stood the test of time so well and mean so much to so many people - you can’t ask for more, really. It’s a full band, a great band - I love these guys, they’re fantastic musicians, I really wanna give people the best experience possible and when you’ve had hit songs for 30 years, you like it and have a strong relationship with it, so people will hear all the songs they expect to hear like ‘Dreamer’ and ‘The Logical Song’, plus others like ‘Hide In Your Shell’ and ‘Fools Overture’.”
For some, playing the old songs every night (and Roger is heading towards 80 shows this year) would be a chicken in a basket circuit kiss of death.
“Well, if it bothers me, I’ll stop!” he cheerily replies. “It amazes me how many times have I sung the songs, my God, in the thousands, but I never get tired of it. They really have an evergreen quality; this is not work for me, it’s sheer pleasure. I have to be able to put my heart into it.
“Great material that I’ve written! Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m in this industry! This is a service industry, giving people two hours away from life’s problems - it’s a real gift to be able to do that. I think because I do love what I do, that’s infectious to people. I don’t need the acclaim anymore; I could walk away at any moment. If you go on my guest book, some of the postings are deep and touching.
“I’m at that point of being well known, but I can stay under the radar - I like that, I don’t have to deal with the hoopla. I’m not signed to any record label - I have sixty songs I want to get out, I don’t know how I’m gonna do it! I will find a way to do it my own way. “
And the upcoming album and its sibling sound sumptuous, warm and welcoming.
“We released ‘Classics Live”, and ‘Classics Live 2’ will be coming out this year. We recorded a lot of shows over the last couple of years and that’s the compilation that’s on the albums. Number two (songs) among them will be ‘Child of Vision’, ‘Soapbox Opera’, ‘In Jeopardy’, a very sweet selection. I like that word you used, it’s very warm, the band’s very warm, wonderful to me with a team of people who can’t wait till the next show! It’s amazing, I work in secret but there are enough people to fill the Albert Hall! It’s wonderful to come back to my home country and play the Albert Hall – can you imagine? I couldn’t dream of that when I was younger, plus to go back to Liverpool and then Manchester!”
The Albert and Bridgewater Halls are places which require significant selling. And for that, he surely must be thankful to that 1982 release. We have to mention it...
“My thinking at the time was let’s come up with the best songs we can. I had a backlog of songs, Rick Davies wrote for the album, so I had to wait to see what matched his songs. ‘Breakfast In America’ I’d had for 12 years! Suddenly there was a lighter and warmer feeling and that was the case with all the songs. It wasn’t about getting a hit single, I was designing a 40 minute listening experience; it just so happened there were other songs that fit the radio format and did very well. I think any artist is looking to be more successful and we were no exception to that. We realized we were poised; we worked very hard for 7 years and I realized my songwriting had come of age and so had Rick’s. I felt strong enough that we took eight months over it and at the end I was sleeping in the studio - seventeen hour days.”
But he took all that success, power and kudos and took his own name, not the band’s, to remake his musical fortune.
“I didn’t have an option,” he honestly says. “It’s very hard for me to put my heart into something I don’t believe in. The last album with Supertramp, ‘Famous Last Words’, was not a good one, not a happy experience and compromises all around. I realized that we’d gone as far as we could. I was questioning changes I was seeing in myself and the music industry and just needed a break. I had two small kids - I didn’t want a big solo career. My baby, Supertramp, had come to an end. I didn’t realize I’d be away that long, but success is a very hot fire to go through. I’m now much stronger, much wiser. I did feel I had a lot to prove to myself that I could come up with the goods. It was quite a tumultuous time; leaving Supertramp was not a popular decision, it caused a lot of anxiety. People knew, my voice and my songs, but when you say Roger Hodgson, they say ‘Who?’ I think that’s been the biggest challenge, to connect the dots. I don’t have the name Supertramp, I gave that to Rick.”
And in that solo time, something delicious arrived, something, which is an intriguing ‘might have been’...
“Trevor Rabin called me and asked if I wanted to replace Jon Anderson, which to me is a ridiculous idea, but I did enjoy meeting Trevor and we became good friends.
” Yes, he was asked to join Yes. Yes, that could have been amazing or risible. But Roger has his own strength, his own code, his own self-belief. It’s called faith and it allowed him to build his own strength.
“It’s my compass, to me the purpose of life is to get to know yourself. God is a misunderstood and abused word. It has sustained me. To me, God is love. I’m enjoying what I’m doing so much and people can feel that. When your intention is to be of service, it keeps you humble.”
It helps to work with the business too.
“You have to deal with it. It’s a daily regime of just doing your best. I love people and sharing my songs. Music really does help us through difficult times. Music is the one place you don’t have to compromise; you really can speak your truth. Artists should be the true voice of the people.”
He is right, of course. So many are beaten down, then chopped and shaped by the business, hugging the walls of their genre to produce unthreatening and ultimately unsustaining tosh. Roger is different; he produces occasional albums of unwavering quality. He is sustained by his fans and the songs he has penned. You surely will be too.
8 MAY-JUNE ISSUE 57 FIREWORKS