Producer Billy Sherwood takes us inside Songs of the Century: An All-Star Tribute to Supertramp, offering new insights into this guest-packed release devoted to one of the 1970s’ most underrated hitmakers.
Find out Sherwood’s connection with Supertramp, which goes back to his earliest days of performing. Go inside the sessions for key moments with XTC’s Colin Moulding, Toto’s Steve Porcaro and Starship’s Mickey Thomas. And see just what Sherwood — a writer, producer and performer in the 1990s-era edition of Yes — learned by pulling apart the hit songs of Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson of Supertramp …
NICK DERISO: Over the years, you’ve done recordings devoted to Jeff Beck, the Beatles, Pink Floyd. How did you come to helm this new tribute to Supertramp?
BILLY SHERWOOD: I’m a producer, and that’s the work. These projects come at me, and I decide yes or no. A lot of people think I brainstorm these things, but they come from labels. It was the label’s idea to go with Supertramp. I may have suggestions along the way, as far as artists. But it’s their budget at the end of the day, so it’s their call.
NICK DERISO: Would you call yourself a Supertramp fan?
BILLY SHERWOOD: Of course. A lot of musicians who I know draw hard lines, and they won’t even look over the fence. That’s their prerogative but, me, I’m open minded to all genres of music. For me, it’s all one big thing. And I have an affinity for this band, because my first band Lodgic, we opened up for them in 1985. We played three shows with them here in LA. They were really gracious. I think I was 20 years old, and stepping out in front of thousands of people. That whole thing changed my world, and my drive for what I wanted to do. Supertramp supported us, and let us do it.
[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.”]
NICK DERISO: Let’s talk about favorite moments: There must have been a thrill involved with luring XTC’s Colin Moulding out of retirement for “It’s Raining Again” on this project.
BILLY SHERWOOD: I couldn’t resist getting in there with him and singing some myself. We ended up with an interesting little twist with the outchorus, which was kind of cool.
NICK DERISO: You’ve had a lengthy relationship with the band Toto, having appeared 1992’s Kingdom of Desire, where you co-wrote a song with David Paich (“The Other Side”), sang and played bass. That must have made for a fun reunion with Steve Porcaro on Supertramp’s “Rudy.”
BILLY SHERWOOD: Steve is a lot of fun. He’s a guy who we have to check ourselves, and we end up sitting around laughing instead of getting on with the work. Steve’s a great guy, a great player — and every humble, too. He’s an amazing player, and a super-sweet guy.
[ONE TRACK MIND: Supertramp co-founder Roger Hodgson goes in-depth on cuts from throughout his career, including “Give a Little Bit,” “Fool’s Overture,” and “The Logical Song.”]
NICK DERISO: I was struck by the way that Mickey Thomas attacked “The Logical Song,” in particular as the track closes out. People forget, I think, after so many pop hits with Starship what a visceral vocalist he is.
BILLY SHERWOOD: He’s as solid a singer as can be. I don’t really like belaboring this stuff in the studio. If you work on something too long, it loses something. It shouldn’t take that long. If you can’t get the inspiration going, something is wrong. In Mickey’s case, he comes in, you turn the mic on, he sings it and it’s over. It’s incredible. He seems to really love making music.
NICK DERISO: We’re all so familiar with these songs. But you had to get inside of them for Songs of the Century. Did these sessions force you to reexamine the music of Supertramp?
BILLY SHERWOOD: It’s funny, I have listened to this music so much. You hear these songs on the radio, and you listen to them on CDs. But you listen to them from a different perspective when you are getting ready to remake it. Through that process, you really are dissecting and understanding things that you didn’t hear before. There might be a texture there that you didn’t notice, until you really start microscoping it. You are always discovering things about these records that helps you understand why they ended up being so great. It’s an interesting process. It’s like looking behind the ride at Pirates of Caribbean and seeing all of the motorized parts. All of the sudden, the ride looks different from the outside.
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