Backed by a Dutch millionaire named Stanley August Miesegaes, vocalist and pianist Rick Davies used newspaper advertising to recruit an early version of the band in 1969, an effort which brought aboard vocalist/guitarist and keyboardist Roger Hodgson. Other members of this embryonic Supertramp included Frank Farrell (bass), Kevin Currie (percussion) and Dave Winthrop (flute and saxophone). This line-up released two albums, Supertramp and Indelibly Stamped, both commercial disappointments, before losing the support of Miesegaes and breaking up.
An extensive search for replacements brought aboard Dougie Thomson (Bass), Bob Siebenberg (Drums), and John A Helliwell (saxophone, other woodwinds, occasional keyboards, backing vocals), joining original members Davies and Hodgson, completing a line-up that would create the group’s defining albums.
Crime of the Century, released in 1974, began the group’s run of critical and commercial successes, hitting number one in England, supported by the Top-Ten single “Dreamer”. Its B-side “Bloody Well Right” hit the U.S. Top 40. Siebenberg would later note that he thought the band hit its artistic peak on this, their third album, though their greatest commercial success would come later.
The band continued its run with Crisis? What Crisis? (1975) and Even in the Quietest Moments (1977). During this period the band moved steadily from the progressive styles of their early albums towards a more song-oriented, pop sound. This trend reached its zenith on their most popular album, Breakfast in America (1979), which spawned four successful singles, “The Logical Song”, “Take the Long Way Home”, “Goodbye Stranger”, and “Breakfast in America”.
The run of successes was capped with 1980’s Paris, a double-LP live album, in which the band stated its goal of improving on the studio versions of their songs. Interestingly, instead of focusing on songs from the hugely successful Breakfast in America, it included nearly every song from Crime of the Century, another testament to the importance of that album in the group’s development.
Hodgson and Davies’ differing singing and song-writing styles provided these albums with an interesting counterpoint, contrasting Davies’ determined blues-rockers and songs of broken relationships (“Another Man’s Woman”, “From Now On”, “Goodbye Stranger”) with Hodgson’s wistful introspection (“Dreamer”, “School”, “Fool’s Overture”, “The Logical Song”). But Hodgson felt constrained by the arrangement and left the band after the tour for their next album, . . . Famous Last Words . . . (1982) which contained the Top 20 hit “It’s Raining Again” and the Top 40 hit “My Kind of Lady”. Hodgson immediately began a solo career after leaving the band in 1983, with his biggest hit being “Had A Dream (Sleeping With the Enemy)” from his first solo effort In the Eye of the Storm, in 1984.
The Davies-led Supertramp soldiered on, releasing Brother Where You Bound the same year. This included a Top 30 hit single, “Cannonball”, along with the title track, a 16-minute anti-McCarthyist diatribe highlighted by guitar solos by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and the album reached Number 21 on the U.S. charts. Free As a Bird (1987) included more straightforward Davies rockers, including “I’m Begging You”, which reached Number One on US dance charts, a curious accomplishment for an “art rock” band.
Supertramp and Hodgson releases have been smaller and less frequent in the 1990s and beyond. Perhaps the most prominent release in that time was the band’s Some Things Never Change, a polished effort which echoed the earlier Supertramp sound, featuring Davies, Helliwell, Siebenberg, and Crowded House’s Mark Hart as an ersatz Hodgson.
Early 2002 saw the release of another album, Slow Motion.