Roger Hodgson delivers unabashed art rock nostalgia

05:00 AM, Jun 23, 2013

Supertramp's catalog includes the hugely successful 1979 album Breakfast in America, which has sold 26 million copies. (Matt Roberts//Getty Images)/


Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic

Roger Hodgson

The former Supertramp frontman doesn’t own the Supertramp name, but he wrote most of the band’s hits and will perform them at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Eastman Theatre. Tickets are $70 to $125.

Roger Hodgson wants to start off with you understanding just one thing about Wednesday’s concert. It is a Supertramp show.

I wrote most of the hits, and so many of the songs in general,” he says. “People who maybe saw Supertramp in the past come to the shows now and say, ‘Wow, I felt a lot of the same spirit from the first time around.’ A lot of younger people come around, just getting a taste of what it was like.”

True, it’s not quite like it was the first time around. Hodgson is the first of two once-huge ’70s arena rockers at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. On Friday, Peter Frampton also plays Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theatre. The Frampton’s Guitar Circus tour has seen Frampton acquiesce to change, pairing up with B.B. King, Roger McGuinn, Sonny Landreth, Larry Carlton and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Here, he’ll have Robert Cray and one-time Eagle Don Felder with him.

Hodgson’s approach to the 21st century is quite different. He’s unabashedly offering nostalgia: “Give a Little Bit,” “The Logical Song,” “Take the Long Way Home,” “Dreamer,” “Breakfast in America,” “It’s Raining Again.” All drawn from Supertramp’s catalog of progressive art rock and huge albums such as Breakfast in America, which has sold 26 million copies.

Hodgson faces the same problems of many ’70s-era rockers who don’t own their identity. “My biggest challenge is not having the name,” he says.

Hodgson thinks he’ll appeal to the new generation because he was a man ahead of his time. A vegetarian, living off the grid, who home-schooled his kids and spent his time searching for who he wanted to be.

Born 63 years ago in Portsmouth, England, for a few years of his life Hodgson was your standard-issue English child. “My parents were Church of England, but that never made sense to me,” he says. “I spent 10 years in English boarding school with all boys. A lot of things that weren’t adding up in my being. That’s where ‘The Logical Song’ comes from.”

An English rock star from Los Angeles

I came to California when I was 23,” he says. “I felt like I’d found my true country, if you like. There were a lot of people there who were searching for alternatives, answers. There was sun, which for an Englishman was unusual. And they were eating healthy. I was a vegetarian in England, and everyone just thought I was weird. Nowadays it’s commonplace; back then it was considered weird. But in California, there were health food stores on every corner, people were into yoga and meditation. It was a way of life. It was where I belonged, pushing boundaries.”

That was 1972, just three years after Supertramp had been forged in the most unusual of foundaries: a British rock band bankrolled by a Dutch millionaire. Stanley August Miesegaes offered to bankroll a band created by Rick Davies, who quickly called Hodgson to be a part of it. That was the start of a euphoric and tumultuous ride that goes on to this day on classic-rock stations. Over the years, about 20 different musicians have played in Supertramp, but Davies and Hodgson are the constants in the story.

As Hodgson tells it, the story — his life, really — seems to be one long series of seeking and finding.

Supertramp created Hodgson as much as Hodgson and Davies created it. “I was shy, introverted,” Hodgson says. “I needed the band around me, to get my self-confidence.” The band broke through commercially on its third album, 1974’s Crime of the Century. But the cracks were already showing. Davies and Hodgson were two very different people, from different backgrounds. Davies was blue collar, Hodgson an artsy free spirit whose many California discoveries, amid the health food stores and yoga classes, included LSD.

I don’t think I was lost, but I was definitely confused, and looking for who I was,” Hodgson says. There again is “The Logical Song” and its theme of Who I Am. By 1983, Hodgson had left the band.

When I left to be a solo artist, no one in the band shared my beliefs,” Hodgson says. He was excited by spiritual pursuits: “The songs,” he says, “were very deep.”

The band had run its course. It had really been my baby for 14 years. Everything — my whole passion and lifeblood — had been in the band. I grew up on The Beatles, they affected me and my life and our ability to change the world. That was my inspiration from the start. At the end of 14 years it became very difficult to do that.”

After Supertramp

So, being true to his heart, he moved on, he says.

For years, Supertramp has been touring in two directions, twin sons of different fathers. One led by Davies, the guy who owns the name, another by Hodgson, the guy who’s the recognizable voice. As band divorces go, it wasn’t exactly Paul McCartney-Heather Mills, but the tension is pretty much what you’d find in the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Getting wealth and fame did not give me the inner reward that I was expecting,” Hodgson admits. He did send a letter to Davies in 2010. “I was on my own tour, and did offer to join them. Rick Davies, who owned the name, he didn’t want to share it, basically. And didn’t feel he needed to. My offer was rejected.”

Finding his way

So Hodgson’s story of eternal seeking and finding is also one of loss. But he has other words for this conflict and evolution. The music may be familiar, but the tune has changed.

Hodgson never released his first solo album, and the ones that followed received spotty attention. He dodges along the old rocker career path of touring with Ringo Starr and appearing on Canadian Idol. He has never let go of Supertramp; it does not let go of him.

I did 85 shows last year, I’ll do the same this year,” he says. “I try to keep my life together at home, get out to nature when I can. Walk, recharge my batteries, because touring is grueling. But I’m older, wiser, able to connect with the audience in a way that I didn’t when I was with the band.”

The years of seeking and finding, Hodgson says, has led him to this: “Taking down barriers between artists and performers, unifying. Me being myself and not being a huge ego onstage. Having fun, enjoying the heck out of myself. If I can get the audience up on its feet singing ‘Give a Little Bit,’ I can go home with a smile on my face.”