Supertramp founder Roger Hodgson
The Supertramp Songfacts pages have always been some of our most popular. These are songs of significant depth that make us look inside ourselves and discover who we are; songs that help us along our journey.
The Supertramp version of Lennon/McCartney is Rick Davis and Roger Hodgson, who formed the band in Engand in 1969. They wrote separately, but always credited the songs to both of them, and the writer sang lead. Rick's compositions include "Bloody Well Right," "Goodbye Stranger" and "Crime of the Century." Some of Roger's are "Give a Little Bit," "Take the Long Way Home," "The Logical Song" and "Breakfast in America" (the one that Gym Class Heroes reworked on "Cupid's Chokehold").
Roger left the band in 1983 and released two solo albums before becoming a full time parent in 1987. He put out his third solo album in 2000 and began touring again, playing those hits that are better described as "timeless" than "old" - listen to them again and you'll hear that they are more meaningful than ever today.
Some of Roger's best performances are compiled on his Classics Live collection, recorded on tour stops around the world. Not only does Roger continue to play his hits, but he relishes them - it was very refreshing to hear an artist say this: "My job is to give people the most in the two hours that I'm with them. And if that means playing songs that mean a lot to them, then that's what I will do."
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): I didn't realize that you're a California guy like me.
Roger Hodgson: Yeah. I'm an English transplant to California.
Songfacts: Breakfast in America was such a great album, had such an impact on me when I bought it back when I was in high school. It almost seemed like you had a beef with America and American culture. But since you chose to put down roots in America, you must like us after all.
Roger: [Laughs] Well, I'm still here. For a 24-year-old Englishman, coming to California for the first time was like dying and going to heaven. I just loved the openness of the people, there were no class systems, it was sunny, it was warm, there was space. There was natural beauty within an hour's drive. It was pretty unbelievable. And I just loved the openness of the people, really. Especially back in, what was it, '73, '74? I started out in Venice, California. That was a great place to land.
Songfacts: How long did you live in Venice?
Roger: I think maybe a year, year and a half, then I moved to Topanga Canyon and I bought a little house there. That was my first house that I bought. And a couple years later when I got a family, I moved to northern California.
Songfacts: Let's talk about the title cut of Breakfast in America. When you were talking about a girlfriend, were you putting yourself in character, or were you referring to somebody in particular?
Roger: I think I was putting myself in character. I'm trying to remember what kind of mood I was in that day, definitely a very whimsical one. I don't believe I had a girlfriend at that time, and if I did it wouldn't have lasted much longer after that. [laughs] The line "playing my jokes upon you," I think that kind of sums up the song. It was just mind chatter. Just writing down ideas as they came.
Songfacts: Stream of consciousness, then?
Roger: That's it, stream of consciousness. That's the word. Yes. Just had a lot of fun thoughts all strung together. And I do remember the Beatles had just gone to America, and I was pretty impressed with that. That definitely stimulated my dream of wanting to go to America. And obviously seeing all those gorgeous California girls on the TV and thinking, Wow. That's the place I want to go.
Songfacts: Did it live up to your expectations?
Roger: It did. Yes.
Songfacts: You mentioned the Beatles. Many have compared your partnership with Rick as being kind of like a Lennon/McCartney relationship. Can you elaborate on how your writing styles differ and how you worked together?
Roger: With Lennon and McCartney, except for the early days, I believe they wrote separately. As they became stronger songwriters, they started writing separately. And that was the case, really, with Rick and I. In the early days we collaborated, but then when the songwriting became more personal, it was something we did alone. And really, from Crime of the Century onwards, we were writing separately. And yet we kept the writers credit the same, probably because there was never a discussion and it would be just too uncomfortable to approach it and bother. We just kept it Davies/Hodgson, probably the same way Lennon and McCartney did. I know McCartney had some regrets later after their relationship wasn't doing too well. But for me, music has always been a very personal experience. Music was where I went to be alone to express my deepest heart and whatever I was experiencing in my life that was having an impact on me. And that was not something I could do with someone else. It was a very personal process where I could basically play an instrument and just get lost in my music. That's when magic happened, and that's when ideas popped up and often grew into a composition or a song.
In terms of Rick and I, we were very, very different as writers. I think it's good having another writer in the band, because then you have the friendly competition which helps bring out the best in each other, and I think that was the case with the two of us.
When it came down to arranging, I was really the main arranger in the band. I heard Rick's songs and heard what they wanted to be, so I added a lot of the colors and harmonies and textures to Rick's songs. And in the opposite way, Rick came up with some quirks on mine, so it was a relationship that worked on that level, too.
Songfacts: Do you think that "The Logical Song" is oftentimes misunderstood? And if so, in what way has it been misunderstood over the years?
Roger: I've never heard it actually being misunderstood. I think it's very easy to understand, actually.
Songfacts: Maybe another way to say it, is it over politicized, because you talk about being a liberal and some of the political elements. It seems like maybe people take that and run with it a little farther than you ever intended.
Roger: No. I think it was very relevant when I wrote it, and actually I think it's even more relevant today. It's very basically saying that what they teach us in schools is all very fine, but what about what they don't teach us in schools that creates so much confusion in our being. I mean, they don't really prepare us for life in terms of teaching us who we are on the inside. They teach us how to function on the outside and to be very intellectual, but they don't tell us how to act with our intuition or our heart or really give us a real plausible explanation of what life's about. There's a huge hole in the education. I remember leaving school at 19, I was totally confused. That song really came out of my confusion, which came down to a basic question: please tell me who I am. I felt very lost. I had to educate myself in that way, and that's why California was very good for me to kind of re-educate myself, if you like.
But it's interesting that that song, I hear it all the time, it's quoted in schools so much. I've been told it's the most-quoted song in school. That may be because it has so many words in it that people like to spell. But I think it also poses that question, and maybe stimulates something with students. I hope so.
Before speaking with Roger, we sent him this quote he made in at 1979 interview with the British music publication
"Rock 'n' roll is just touching upon what's possible with music. I think of what we're doing as being very primitive. We haven't even begun to explore. The power of music has been forgotten. The ancients knew it, and we're rediscovering it very slowly. Music has the power to heal, to hypnotise, to make people totally sad, happy, joyous. I'd like to find out how to do all those things."
Songfacts: Do you think that music and pop songs help fill in the gaps of explaining who we are and why we're here, where maybe formal education falls short?
Roger: I'm not sure about that. I think pop songs actually add to the confusion. [Laughs] You had that question I was reading, it was kind of interesting, about a quote I said in '79 or something, about the potential of music. I think that unfortunately we've really trivialized music in general. I really think that the intention of music is there's no end to it, and we're using it in a very, very trivial way. And lyrically as well. I think artists should be represented in the better part of human nature, if you like, the part that wants to explore deeper issues and deeper things within themselves. That's the job of the artist, in a way. But there aren't too many artists, to tell you the truth, who inspire me. I think we've lost that. Whereas, when I was growing up, with The Beatles and all the bands and the artists that were around then, I had so much that was inspiring me, and it's sad to see so little inspiration coming from modern day artists.
Songfacts: That leads me to my next question. The Gym Class Heroes sample your song for a big hit of theirs ("Cupid's Chokehold"). What do you think about that?
Roger: Well, initially I had words with them, because they didn't ask me. But that was a technical thing. Funny enough, normally I don't like my compositions being tampered with, but there was something just very infectious about what they did, and I actually enjoyed what they wrote juxtaposed against what I wrote.
It's interesting, though, "Breakfast in America" kind of made their career. It's amazing.
Songfacts: Yes, it did. And it's interesting, because I had a chance to talk to the drummer in the band. He said that he really liked that album and was playing it around the time they were working on their album, and they ended up incorporating it into their music. Do you feel like re-contextualizing music can be as creative as starting from scratch with a new melody and new lyrics?
Roger: Whoa. You're talking to the wrong guy. I don't know. That's a difficult question to answer. I mean, any songwriter's been influenced by everything they've ever heard. I wouldn't dream of taking someone else's song and chopping it up and using it for my own ends. That wouldn't feel right to me.
Songfacts: Okay. So you've never sampled other songs to create your own songs?
Songfacts: The song "Dreamer," makes me wonder are you a dreamer?
Roger: Well, I am, and I definitely was even more back then. I was a teenager, I had many dreams. And I feel very blessed that a lot of them came true. But that song flew out of me one day. We had just bought our first Wurlitzer piano, and it was the first time I'd been alone with a Wurlitzer piano back down in my mother's house. I set it up and I was so excited that that song just flew out of me.
Songfacts: Is it rare that a song comes that easily?
Roger: Yeah, but they came pretty common back then. They still come, but I think with the excitement of youth and the passion of youth, they came thick and fast back then. My late teens, early 20s were very, very prime to me as a songwriter.
Songfacts: You started very young writing songs. It's really rare that I talk to people that start as young as you did. Did you feel a little unusual that here you were, 16 years old, and you're writing complete songs?
Roger: It was just very natural. I was actually 12 when I started. The moment I laid hands on my first guitar, which was my dad's guitar, my parents actually got divorced and he left his guitar behind. I'd like to think it was on purpose for me. But anyway, it took it to boarding school and that became my lifeline, my best friend, and that's where I went. Every break I had I went to a quiet place where I could just play and play and play. And I started writing songs almost straightaway, so I was quite the introvert boy. That was where I was able to express what was going on inside.
Songfacts: I was looking at a set list from your show the other night in Temecula. And you encored with "Give a Little Bit" and "It's Raining Again." So let's start with "Give a Little Bit." What makes that song special for you?
Roger: I think it's a great song. I didn't realize it was when I first wrote it. It actually took me six years before I even brought it to the band. But I wrote it I think around 1970. That time, the late '60s, early '70s, was a very idealistic time, one of hope, a lot of peace and love and the dream of the '60s was still very alive and maturing, if you like. The Beatles had put out "All You Need is Love" a year prior to that. I believed in love - it was always for love - and just felt that was the most important thing in life.
That song has really taken on a life of its own, and I think it's even more relevant today than when I wrote it. Because we really are needing to value love in a much deeper way, and also we're needing to care. The song is basically saying: just show you care. You know, reach out and show you care. So in concert it's the perfect show closer, because what I try to do in my show over two hours is unify the audience and unify all of us. So that at the end, when everyone stands up for "Give A Little Bit," they're open and ready to open their hearts and sing at the top of their lungs and go away with a smile on their face. And that song really does, it has a very pure energy. The moment I start, people just start smiling. It's amazing.
Songfacts: That's got to make you feel good that your music can have that kind of effect on people.
Roger: It does. That's really why I'm doing it. It's not because I'm needing a huge career anymore. It's really because that's the way I can give a little bit, literally, in my life - just by giving people a little hope and joy for two hours, and hopefully helping them with their life. Because life is not easy for a lot of people right now.
Songfacts: Does it frustrate you at all that you're remembered for songs that are quite a bit older, and that maybe some of your fans just want to relive some of those older songs?
Roger: No, it doesn't. It really doesn't. I just feel very fortunate and blessed to have songs that mean so much to so many people. There are the fans who would say, "We need new material," and I try to play them a new song or two in the shows. In America now, because this is my first US tour, I need to connect the dots on this one. That's why the set list is very much my best-known songs.
Songfacts: So you make that connection so people can know where you came from and ease into where you are now?
Roger: Yes. Connecting the dots has been my manager's and my most difficult task. Because everyone knows my voice and everyone knows my songs, but they associate them with the band I was in, Supertramp, and not my own name. So even finding a way to tour in America has been very, very difficult. And one of the reasons I'm calling this the Breakfast in America Tour is because it helps to connect the dots. I play some of the hits from Breakfast in America and it was a great album, a great time, and it takes people back to that time in their lives, when maybe life was more simple.
But I'm not one of the artists who has to say, Okay, you have to listen to my new stuff now. I'm in the service industry, and my job is to give people the most in the two hours that I'm with them. And if that means playing songs that mean a lot to them, then that's what I will do. And luckily the songs that I've written, they're not for me, they're not old, and this is pure joy for me singing them, because they have not aged. They sound incredibly fresh and very relevant and current today. It's interesting that I've written songs that have just simply not aged. Well, there are a few that have.
Songfacts: You were blessed with great songs. When I was in high school I listened to Breakfast in America almost every day for probably a month. So it's been a real treat to hear you talk about your songs. And I hope that you do connect those dots.
Roger: Well, thank you, Dan. Keep going with the website, by the way. It's a wonderful Web site.
We spoke with Roger Hodgson on March 1, 2012. Get tour dates and more info on his Classics Live album at rogerhodgson.com.
To post comments & read article: Click here