Roger Hodgson, former songwriter and vocalist with the British group Supertramp, recently played to a packed Badminton Theatre in Athens. Mike Sweet spoke to him about success, his inner search, and taking the long way home.
I first saw Supertramp in 1974. For a seventeen-year-old in the UK in the mid 1970s, the band’s unique brand of philosophical musing, delivered with their powerful, distinctive sound, mesmerised me and thousands of others of my
generation. At the heart of that sound, and the majority of the most successful songs, was Roger Hodgson. His introspective lyrics, rythmic staccato piano, rich acoustic guitar and high-pitched vocal combined to produce Supertramp’s most unmistakable anthems - songs like ‘Dreamer’, ‘School’, and ‘The Logical Song’. Though the songs were deep, there was always a light touch to Supertramp which set them apart from their more earnest ‘progressive’ rock contemporaries. The album ‘Breakfast in America’ released in 1979 was the zenith of the band’s commercial success, reaching Number 1 in the United Sates, Canada and Australia. It has since sold over 18 million copies worldwide. With ‘Breakfast’, Supertramp attained superstardom, but in a few short years their best work was behind them. For Hodgson there were new priorities. In 1983 he left the band to help bring up his children and pursue a less ‘all-consuming’ solo career. 34 years after I first saw him perform, with the rapturous applause of the Athens’ audience still ringing in my ears, I sit with Hodgson backstage to talk about the extraordinary phenomena that was Supertramp, and the road he has since traveled.
A year after the release of Supertramp’s classic ‘Crime of the Century’ album in 1974, Hodgson relocated with other members of the band to Venice Beach, Los Angeles. The move would prove a watershed in his life; he has lived in
California ever since. “We didn’t intend to move to America. We just loved California” says Hodgson. “We said ‘why don’t we make an album here?’ From there we all started putting down roots. I was seeking something spiritually. I turned vegetarian and everyone in England thought I was crazy. I arrived in California and there were all these people like me. It’s great because you can be who you want to be.” The quest for some kind of elusive spiritual enlightenment has always been a hallmark of Hodgson’s wistful lyrics, and I wanted to understand more about the roots of his song
Every song he admits is absolutely autobiographical. “I’ve had these questions. What is life about? I wanted to know what God was. It certainly didn’t make any sense everything the Christian church had told me. So there was a real cry, a longing from my soul that went into my songs. I eventually found some really wonderful teachers, who had some keys, and who helped to heal me of my wounds. Leaving England was a big part of that. It allowed me to start again.” Just how deeply felt the questions are, which are asked in Hodgson’s songs, and how, outside music, he has searched for and found answers, is increasingly apparent as our conversation unfolds. “I’ve had a lot of different experiences. I’ve lived in a spiritual community for a while. I studied native American teachings and did a series of retreats that gave me clues into personal happiness. To me there are as many religions as there are people in the world. Everyone has got their own door, their own path. You’ve got to find what works for you to make you fulfilled, balanced and happy. It’s very simple. You find God, what you’re looking for, in your heart. I’ve done a lot of healing, clearing, and cleansing, to access the level of peace I’ve found now. I’ve a long way to go, but I’ve discovered enough to know. I feel I’ve found that inner compass.”
After 22 years Hodgson began touring again in 2005. Supertramp never played Athens, but the audience for his first concert here were highly knowledgeable of his repertoire, shouting out the titles of favourite tracks as the show gained momentum. Hodgson is accompanied on stage currently by Aaron Macdonald, a hugely gifted young Canadian musician who plays saxophone, harmonica and keyboards, and who Hodgson has taken under his wings to mentor. The songs are greeted warmly, like old friends who have been absent for too long. ‘Take the long way home’, ‘Hide in your shell, Sister
Moonshine, ‘Give a little bit’. They’re all played, along with of course ‘Dreamer’, the band’s biggest hit. ‘School’ and ‘It’s raining again’ close the set. The audience are on their feet, dancing, clapping the rhythm, waving, singing along. There’s a palpable feeling of euphoria, of joy and love in the air. I ask Hodgson if all the gigs are like that? “They are. I hope they’re feeling it coming off the stage too. Beyond the music that’s what I try to do.”
As the interview concludes, I feel I have to ask just one more question. These days it seems almost compulsory for major bands from the 70s and 80s to reform for a select number of shows. Will the original Supertramp ever tread the boards together again? Re-uniting Hodgson with founding Supertramp member - writer and singer Rick Davies. Re-forming the partnership that produced their extraordinary body of work would no doubt be a commercial success. Hodgson pauses and sighs reflectively. “For many years I wasn’t open to it.” There’s been so much stuff around the Supertramp story, about Rick and I. Actually Rick and I get on great. In a way it would neat to complete the circle. I don’t know if it will happen, but I’m open to it.”
It was way past midnight as I left the theatre and walked up Mesogion street, reflecting on the concert and conversation. Roger Hodgson had given a remarkable performance, sharing songs that are still so important and precious for so many fans. But he had also shared, with great humility, his experiences of a life-long journey of self-discovery, a journey that
perhaps has lessons for us all.