It's a logical progression

By Russell Baillie View

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Back in 1979, Roger Hodgson could be heard all round the world contemplating his long lost youth.

"When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical ..." he sang, his reedy voice warbling above a syncopated thump of Wurlitzer electric piano.

At the time, Hodgson was a year shy of this 30th birthday. One of the two singer-songwriters in the Supertramp, his band had gone from post-Beatles art-rock beginnings to being on the top of the pop world with the multi-million-selling album Breakfast in America and hits like The Logical Song (quoted above).

It was the fifth album of a recording career which had started at the beginning of the 1970s and brought them the sort of success the band were never to experience again.

Hodgson left the band four years later and largely turned his back on music. But now he is back touring in solo shows billing him as "the voice of Supertramp".

From his home in Northern California his accent still showing traces of his Oxford roots, he laughs about how that opening line carries with it a little more resonance these days. "It was song about not knowing anything - 'please tell me who I am'. It says it all."

Supertramp had been built around the partnership of Hodgson and Rick Davies, whose writing and lower, grittier voice was behind the likes of hits Goodbye Stranger, Take the Long Way Home and Bloody Well Right.

After Hodgson's departure in 1983, Davies kept the band name and continued to tour and record until the early 2000s. Better known for his membership of Crowded House, Mark Hart took over Hodgson's singing and playing role in the band.

Though he departed the group in 1983, Hodgson is forthright about his part in the band's legacy. And while there have been moves to reunite the original lineup, there are also hints of why that has never happened.

"Um, we've had our disagreements. I don't know if there is bitterness." says Hodgson, adding that a verbal agreement that the band not play his songs after he left was soon broken. "That was the only thing I felt betrayed about." Hodgson says he parted company with the band in 1983 not to go solo but to raise a family, something he didn't think he could do if he had continued with the touring lifestyle.

"I was in Los Angeles and realised it was not a good environment to raise a family in. I realised the next phase of my life had to be being a dad and watching my children grow up, otherwise I would be looking back in 10 to 15 years' time with deep regrets.

"It took a lot of balls because it was not a popular decision with anyone to leave the band at the peak of its popularity."

Hodgson did make some solo albums, mainly because he had a home studio. But a few years after leaving Supertramp, he suffered a fall from a loft in his house which shattered both his wrists and had doctors saying he would never play again.

"It really made me do a lot of soul searching, and go, 'No - I am not going to accept that diagnosis'. I pulled myself up and did everything I could from praying to physical therapy to sheer willpower to make my wrists work again."

In the meantime, some of his songs have continued to echo through the decades. His Give A Little Bit has been used my a myriad of charities - Hodgson played it, and a few other tunes, at the Concert for Diana in 2007. Princess Di was a big Supertramp fan.

And in past years he's been out on the road, playing just by himself with one back-up musician to old fans who he says have warmed to his stripped-back arrangements.

"I think people are always blown away how complete the song sounds with me on the instrument I wrote the song on - piano or guitar or keyboard.

"The thing that amazes me about the songs is that they don't feel old. They really do have an evergreen quality. There is not [one] line that I think, 'Boy, I wish I hadn't written that', even though I have changed as a man and got older and wiser. I still really appreciate the emotions of what I was writing about back then."