By SEAN DALY
Times Pop Music Critic
There was nothing "logical" about Supertramp, of course. Even the band's chief braintrust, Roger Hodgson, will tell you that. Forty-four years after the British pop/rock/prog/jazz/klezmer/you-name-it band started confounding fans and this music critic alike, the group remains a head-scratcher to categorize, a merger of found sounds, kazoo zings and incongruous (but still pretty awesome) sax solos.
Were the boys trying to be difficult? Was the chaos planned?
"It was not by design, I can tell you that," laughs Hodgson, the 63-year-old composer of The Logical Song, Take the Long Way Home and Give a Little Bit. "Even though I've been influenced by many musicians over the years, I never tried to make music to fit into any category. When I lose myself in the sound, when I get my mind out of the way, that's when the music happens, that's when inspiration happens."
Hodgson bolted Supertramp 30 years ago; the creative, often incendiary spark with co-founder Rick Davies that drove the band to success also led to its fracture. But Hodgson adores his cuts with the old crew, and he'll play many of them — while robustly backed by a rock symphony — at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Friday. About the live solo show, he says rather confidently: "It will be a highlight in people's concertgoing lives."
In a loose phone chat that opened with us comparing birthdays (Roger's is today; mine's tomorrow), Hodgson also discussed — in his trademark high, crystalline voice — the making of 1979's Breakfast in America, the genesis of It's Raining Again and the odds of a Supertramp reunion (hint: not good).
You're calling this the "Breakfast in America Tour," but you're not performing the whole album, right? The title is more of a reminder?
People know the name Supertramp, but the name Roger Hodgson is not as well known here. So by calling it the Breakfast in America Tour, that sort of connects the dots for people in the States. And of course it reminds people of easier times. It's an endless-summer album.
Rumor has it the album Breakfast in America was originally going to be about your complex relationship with Davies. But instead it turned into a relatively lighter, catchier LP — and a multiplatinum classic at that. What was the mood like in the studio? Was it tense?
I don't remember there being much friction in the studio. There was a lot of hard work going on. It took eight months to make. I was working 17-hour days just to finish it. Rick and I have always been polar opposites, which is why the chemistry in the band was always so special. But yes, I guess it was starting to get a little difficult.
Take the Long Way Home has meant different things to me during different stages of my life. In my 20s, wondering what's out there. In my 30s, being a terrified parent in dreary suburbia. And now, in my 40s, finding a certain peace with career, kids, home. What was your frame of mind when you wrote the song?
I had a lot of the same questions you did. My search for what you call "home" has been a long one, since I was a teenager. In Take the Long Way Home, I was reflecting on my own search for meaning in my life. Ironically, I didn't have a wife to go back to. But within that song, there are some very powerful questions, aren't there? That last verse, about what life could have been.
I've never been one to analyze my own songs. I leave that to you. You're better at analyzing. But I'd say Take the Long Way Home very much reflects my own quest for a place of belonging, my place of peace. And I absolutely believe that place is in our hearts.
I'm a fan of the song It's Raining Again, but the structure seems too ordinary for a Roger Hodgson song; it unveils like a nursery rhyme.
I love that description: a nursery rhyme. It's so fitting. I'm going to use that onstage! It's Raining Again had been written many, many years prior to (1982 album ...Famous Last Words..., Hodgson's last record with Supertramp). I was in England at the time, and I had just lost a friend, and it was raining. I was playing on a pump organ, and there it was. That album was heavily judged; we took a lot of flack for that, mainly because it was hot on the heels of Breakfast in America. The band was not in healthy shape then, and that album was full of compromises.
Last question. I feel kind of guilty asking it, but I'll be lambasted by fans if I don't. So: What are the chances of a Supertramp reunion?
I don't see it, to tell you the truth. That time has passed. But the good thing is that the people who come to this show — and maybe who saw us before — feel like they're getting a Supertramp concert. The spirit and the feeling is what you would expect if you went to a Supertramp concert. Those songs were very orchestrated to begin with. And now with the symphony? It works so well I get goosebumps.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.