Something Else! Interview: Roger Hodgson, formerly of Supertramp

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At the turn of the 1980s, Roger Hodgson and Supertramp were coming off a blockbuster album in Breakfast in America that had just spent 15 weeks at No. 1 in the U.S. By the end of the decade, he was out of music.

There had been an on-again, off-again solo career, begun just four years after that 1979 smash — but it had only amounted to a pair of studio efforts before this terrifying accident left the guitarist with two broken wrists, deep questions about whether he’d ever play again, and a newfound focus on constructing a family life away from stardom.

Time passed, people forgot. By the time the man who once sang a song called “The Long Way Home” finally began taking the long way back to fame in the early 2000s, he had become an apparition. Supertramp, now led by former writing partner Rick Davies, continued on without Hodgson in the interim — and many overlooked the contributions he’d once made.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Every one remembers Supertramp’s hit-making era in the late 1970s. There were other times, however, when we wanted to tell them: “goodbye, stranger.”]

Through a series of tours, first as a sideman in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr band, then on lengthening concert trips, Hodgson doggedly worked to re-establish his own name. All that was left, ironically, was to reconquer America — a place he hadn’t toured as a solo act since 1983, and a place he’d long since called home.

Hodgson joined us in the latest SER Sitdown to talk about that continuing U.S. tour, as well as key moments from his career in Supertramp — and how that devastating injury helped reshape his life, and his career …

NICK DERISO: Let’s start by talking about the new tour, a long-awaited opportunity for you to reestablish your own place in the Supertramp legend.
ROGER HODGSON: You’re right. I’m so happy to be doing a U.S. tour. I’ve toured the last eight years everywhere else, but America. My biggest challenge was, obviously, connecting the dots — because everyone knows my voice and knows my songs, but they don’t know the name. I had become less familiar to them. It’s going very well. People are very, very happy to see me. They don’t have to travel abroad to hear these songs. I’m having the time of my life. It’s great to play my home country. I’m enduring the rigors of touring because, really, I love what I’m doing — giving people what I can through these songs, and through the love that I have for them. I’ll keep going as long as I can.

NICK DERISO: Why is Supertramp so underrated? When people talk about the decade of music in the 1970s, the band doesn’t seem to get its due. Yet, the Breakfast in America album was a certified blockbuster, and the songs themselves continue to resonate.
ROGER HODGSON: I know it’s not underrated with the fans, and those who really get it on a deep level. But I never really paid attention, in Supertramp or even after, to what was in vogue or what was in fashion. I always steered the band in the way I thought it wanted to go, in the direction the songs were suggesting. In that sense, the critics never knew what to do with us. We weren’t a band that had major scandals to write about. We weren’t a band that had major problems to write about. It was really just about the music, and the artistry surrounding that music. Unfortunately, that can sometimes become boring for those in the media.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Former Supertramp frontman Roger Hodgson goes in-depth on cuts from throughout his career, including “Give a Little Bit,” “Fool’s Overture,” and “The Logical Song,” among others.]

NICK DERISO: The Wurlitzer played a central role in many of your compositions with Supertramp, including hits like “The Logical Song” and “Dreamer.” What was the appeal of the instrument for you?
ROGER HODGSON: I’ve always had a very percussive keyboard style. The action on the Wurlitzer really lends itself to being percussive and rhythmical. The Fender Rhodes is the other electric piano, and you can’t do that. So, the Wurlitzer, we were very drawn to it. There was “Dreamer,” and “The Logical Song” and, actually, many others on that instrument. It has a wonderful feel to it.

NICK DERISO: Maybe it was the timing of the track, coming as it did toward the end of your tenure with Supertramp, but it always seemed to me that “Take the Long Way Home” was a kind of indictment for fame – or at the very least, a moment to reminisce about earlier, happier times.
ROGER HODGSON: That’s one of the messages, definitely. It is very much about losing one’s way, and taking the long the way home — on different levels. There’s the domestic level, with the wife, and also it’s taking the long way home toward who we truly are, in our hearts. It’s a song with many levels to it.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Supertramp was many things in its time — art-rockish proggers, post-Beatle popsters, kinda-classical rockers, memory-defining radio monoliths. What they never were: Forgettable.]

NICK DERISO: I remember you endured a catastrophic injury just after the 1987 solo record. What did it take for you to come back from breaking both wrists? Were there times when it felt like it would be too much overcome?
ROGER HODGSON: It was a huge life change for me. It was very sobering — and enlightening, in a way — to face life where maybe I couldn’t play music again. I spent three months in casts, not knowing if that was going to be true, and then 10 months of recovery. It was a huge wake up call, on a lot of levels, for me. It stopped me taking anything for granted. But it also really instigated a huge transformation in my being: I felt like I wanted to get back to the last part of what I was here for — to share music. I wanted to do that again. It took a lot of prayer, intention and determination, and absolute commitment to making my wrists work again. It took a long time, but I was finally able to do it.

NICK DERISO: Your solo career has been marked by starts and stops — with that, of course, being one of them. But this U.S. tour seems to suggest that you’re ready to make another go of it. Can we expect new songs soon?
ROGER HODGSON: I’m taking it a year at a time. I have so much material, you wouldn’t believe it, for a new album — if and when that happens. Right now, I’m just really reconnecting with the fans and reconnecting with the public, and reestablishing myself in my own right. I feel older and wiser, and I’m singing much better. I’m definitely in the prime of my life. The live shows are really what’s pulling me, what’s feeding me. That’s what I’m feeling like I need to do. I am doing new songs and if fans want to hear them, they will hear one or two of them in the live show. But fans have such a deep relationship with the older songs, the ones they’ve been listening to for 30 years. They hold so many memories for them. I can fill a two-hour show with all of the songs that people want to hear already!

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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