Supertramp are a British rock band formed in 1969 under the name Daddy before renaming themselves in early 1970. Though their music was initially categorised as crossover prog, they have since incorporated a combination of traditional rock, pop and art rock into their music. They have been characterized as a sophisticated pop band that was able to continuously turn out good songs. Supertramp's work is marked by the inventive songwriting of Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, the distinctive voice of Hodgson, and the prominent use of Wurlitzer electric piano and saxophone in their songs. While the band's early work was mainstream progressive rock, they would enjoy greater critical and commercial success when they incorporated more conventional and radio-friendly elements into their work in the mid-1970s, going on to sell more than 60 million albums. They reached their peak of commercial success with 1979's Breakfast in America, which has sold more than 20 million copies. Though their albums were generally far more successful than their singles, Supertramp did enjoy a number of major hits throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including "Bloody Well Right", "Give a Little Bit", "The Logical Song", "Goodbye Stranger", "Take the Long Way Home", "Dreamer", "Breakfast in America", "It's Raining Again" and "Cannonball". The band attained significant popularity in the United States, Canada, Europe, South Africa and Australia. Since Hodgson's departure in 1983, founder Rick Davies has led the band by himself.
1969–72: Early years
In 1969 Stanley "Sam" August Miesegaes, a Dutch millionaire offered Swindon-born keyboardist Rick Davies an opportunity to form his own band, with Miesegaes's financial backing. Davies assembled Roger Hodgson (bass and vocals), Richard Palmer (guitars), and Keith Baker (percussion) after placing an advertisement in the weekly music newspaper, Melody Maker. Davies and Hodgson had radically different backgrounds and musical inspirations: Davies was working class and fiercely devoted to blues and jazz, while Hodgson had gone straight from private school to the music business and was fond of pop and psychedelia. Despite this, they hit it off during the auditions and began writing virtually all of their songs together, with Palmer as a third writer in the mix. Since none of the other band members was willing, Palmer penned all their lyrics. The group initially dubbed themselves Daddy. Percussionist Baker was almost immediately replaced by former stage actor Robert Millar, and after several months of rehearsal at a country house in West Hythe, Kent, the band flew to Munich for a series of concerts at the P. N. Club. The rehearsals had been less than productive, and their initial repertoire consisted of only four songs, two of which were covers. To avoid confusion with the similarly named Daddy Longlegs, the band changed its name to Supertramp, a moniker inspired by The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by William Henry Davies. Supertramp were one of the first groups to be signed to the UK branch of A&M Records and their first album, Supertramp, was released on 14 July 1970 in the UK and Canada (it would not be issued in the US until late 1977). Stylistically, the album was fairly typical of progressive rock of the era and Supertramp's sound bore obvious similarity to their British prog rock predecessor Cressida. Despite receiving a good deal of critical praise, the album did not attract a large audience. Dave Winthrop (flute and saxophone) joined the group after the release of the first record and soon after Supertramp performed at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. The membership continued to change in the six months following the album's release; guitarist Palmer left the band due to personality conflicts with Davies and Hodgson, followed by percussionist Millar, who had suffered a nervous breakdown following a disastrous tour of Norway. For the next album, Indelibly Stamped, released in June 1971 in both the UK and US, Frank Farrell (bass) and Kevin Currie (percussion) replaced Palmer and Millar, while Hodgson switched to guitar and keyboardist Davies served also as a second lead singer. With Palmer's departure, Hodgson and Davies wrote the lyrics for this and the band's subsequent albums. The record sold even less than their debut. In the aftermath, all members gradually quit except Hodgson and Davies, and Miesegaes withdrew his financial support in October 1972.
1973–78: Initial success and commercial breakthrough
A search for new members brought aboard Dougie Thomson (bass), who had done stand-in gigs with the band for almost a year before auditions resumed. In 1973, auditions restarted and introduced Bob Siebenberg -initially credited as Bob C. Benberg- (drums and percussion) and John Helliwell (saxophone, other woodwinds, occasional keyboards, backing vocals), completing the line-up. Hodgson would also begin playing keyboards (particularly the Wurlitzer electric piano) in the band in addition to guitar. This lineup of Supertramp would remain in place for the next ten years. Meanwhile, the bond between Davies and Hodgson had begun weakening. Over Supertramp's history, their relationship would be amicable but increasingly distant as their lifestyles and musical inclinations saw less and less overlap. Their songwriting partnership gradually dissolved; though all of Supertramp's songs would continue to be officially credited as written by Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, most of them were written by Davies or Hodgson individually. Supertramp needed a hit record to continue working, and finally got one with Crime of the Century. Released in September 1974, it began the group's run of critical and commercial successes, hitting number 4 in Britain, number 38 in the USA, and number 1 in Canada. The album underlined its ambitiousness: Many of its songs were heavily orchestrated, and some even featured Davies and Hodgson singing in dialogue, such as the 1975 UK Top 20 single "Dreamer". US listeners preferred its B-side, "Bloody Well Right", which hit the US Top 40 in May 1975 and would be their only hit in the country for more than two years. Crime of the Century became one of the top-selling albums of 1974. Most of the band have said they feel they hit their artistic peak on this album, though their greatest commercial success would come later.
The band's switch to a more pop-oriented approach peaked with their most popular album, Breakfast in America, released in March 1979, which reached number 3 in the UK and number 1 in the US and Canada and spawned four successful singles (more than their first five albums combined): "The Logical Song" (no. 6 U.S., no. 7 U.K.), "Goodbye Stranger" (no. 15 U.S., no. 57 U.K.), "Take the Long Way Home" (no. 10 U.S.), and "Breakfast in America" (no. 9 U.K.). It was one of the greatest melodic pop/rock albums of the seventies. The album's front cover resembles an overlook of New York City through an aeroplane window. It was designed by Mike Doud and depicted the American actress Kate Murtagh, dressed as a waitress named "Libby" from a diner, as a Statue of Liberty figure holding up a glass of orange juice on a small plate in one hand (in place of the torch on the Statue), and a foldable restaurant menu in the other hand, on which "Breakfast In America" is written. The background featured a city made from a cornflake box, ashtray, cutlery (for the wharfs), eggboxes, vinegar, ketchup and mustard bottles, all spraypainted white. The twin World Trade Center towers appear as two stacks of boxes and the plate of breakfast represents Battery Park, the departure point for the Staten Island Ferry. Breakfast In America won the 1980 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package. In March 1979, the group embarked on a 10 month, 120 date tour for Breakfast that required 52 tons of gear, 10 miles of cable, $5 million worth of equipment and a 40 man crew. The tour broke all previous concert attendance records in Europe and Canada. Upon this tour's conclusion, the exhausted band members decided to take a rest from touring and recording for awhile, though the band remained ongoing. This run of successes was capped with 1980's Paris, a 2-LP live album recorded mostly at the Pavillon de Paris. It broke the top ten in both the USA and UK. The live version of "Dreamer" was released as a single in the US, where it reached no. 15, even though the studio version had failed to even chart there.
|Breakfast in America album front cover|
The logical song
|Breakfast in America single front cover|
Breakfast in America
Brother where you bound
You win, I lose
Indelibly Stamped (1971)
Crime of the Century (1974)
Crisis? What Crisis? (1975)
Even in the Quietest Moments... (1977)
Breakfast in America (1979)
Famous Last Words (1982)
Brother Where You Bound (1985)
Free as a Bird (1987)
Some Things Never Change (1997)
Slow Motion (2002)