Actually, they were already dead. Even dead as a doornail. After two albums that sold as well as soap-flavoured chocolate and, according to guitarist/singer Roger Hodgson, didn't sound much better, the chapter Supertramp seemed to be over in 1971 - because everything really went wrong. The band, which at that time consisted of Kevin Currie, Frank Farrell, Dave Winthrop, Rick Davies and Hodgson, fell apart after a disastrous Scandinavian tour. Their financier, a Dutch multimillionaire named Stanley August Miesegaes, retired from the music business and the latest album "Indelibly Stamped" lay like lead on the shelves. Not least because of a creepy artwork that showed a tattooed female breast and Hodgson is still embarrassing today. "I don't know what we were thinking," says the man who now lives near Sacramento, in northern California, and is the only one still holding up the Supertramp flag. "It had nothing to do with the music, it wasn't very aesthetic, and it clearly showed that we just had no idea what we were doing back then."
Hodgson has a healthy relationship to his own early work, he still makes his living with royalties from the back catalogue and stylish nostalgia tours. "After 'Indelibly Stamped' I was really close to quitting and going to India," he continues. "That was something I had been meaning to do for a long time. And the moment seemed perfect. Because as a band we obviously had no future. We had no money, we had to fire the drummer and the saxophonist, and Rick and I didn't know where to go. Of course we already had songs like 'Dreamer', 'School' and 'Bloody Well Right' at that time, but they weren't completely arranged. And if Rick hadn't talked me into giving us another chance, it would have been."
Fortunately, Hodgson and Davies, six years older, proved a lucky hand in choosing their new riders: Scottish Dougie Thomson was a talented bassist who skilfully held the opposing creative poles of the band together. John Anthony Helliwell was a good friend of Dougie's; he had previously played the saxophone on The Alan Bown Set, and at Supertramp he also played the clarinet and occasionally sat down on the keyboard. And at the concerts he was now a clownesque conferencier: "I always had a relaxed saying ready, and no matter how tense the atmosphere, everyone had to laugh about it", Helliwell recalls, who had earned his living in various London strip clubs in the meantime: "A hard school. You had to play all night and look at all those breasts and buttocks - but what was well paid," laughs the 69-year-old, who today leads the smooth-jazz band Créme Anglaise. Through his mediation the contact to the drummer Robert Layne "Bob" Siebenberg was established in 1973. A US-American who made it in British bands as Bob C. Benberg and whose sister was married to a certain Scott Gorham. Bob later lured his guitar-playing brother-in-law from Los Angeles to London, hired him for backing vocals on "Crime Of The Century" and finally sent him to audition for Thin Lizzy - with success.
The Rock Commune
So the new five-piece formation, which for months worked on old and new Hodgson/Davies compositions, made demos and then gathered all their courage to make an appointment in the London office of A&M Records - the legendary label of Herb Alpert, where Supertramp was signed but secretly also on the hit list. "They actually thought we were coming to close our deal and had already prepared the relevant documents," says Helliwell. "But we wanted to start over, and we played them these demos they were very fond of." Hodgson has to laugh instinctively when he remembers this moment that was supposed to change their lives forever: "Basically, they didn't even know who we were. We knocked on her door and said, 'We're Supertramp. Can we talk?' And the answer was: 'Super- who?' We first had to make it clear to them that we were under contract with them, which was quite bizarre."