“The Supertramp Story”
“Did Dougie Thompson Ever Get Laid?”
Rick Davies was on the dole on that fateful, dreary November day back in 1969 when he happened to stumble into Roger Hodgeson at the Sociable Plover Pub and Eatery in Stalybridge, England.
He’d been drinking heavily and was in no mood for company.
But Roger was in a particularly cheeky, self destructive mood that evening and, pulling up a stool next to Rick whom he‘s never met before thrusts his hand out and brazenly introduces himself.
The two struck up a conversation and found out that they had more than just hair in common: they both loved soft rock, and, in particular, the band the Nickerbockers. A stateside band that never got their due, they will forever be remembered for their sole chart-topper, “Rational Anthem (Fable Of A Fredfish And Hope You Feel OK).” The subsequent full length LP from the afore stated band was entitled “Jazz Hands and Crazy Legs” was a cult success that strongly influenced the Velvet Undergrounds White Light White Heat, and the bands unique use of the Aeolian Wind Harp and Bubble Organ were revolutionary for their time (although by 1978 every band would own at least one or the other), and was integral in the early sounds of Supertramp, then as yet unnamed.
The two started jamming (at this time, they only had organs; Roger a Lumberhorn Deluxe and Rick, a Stoessel-laute with Theremin attachment), but the fruits of these sessions were bizarre to say the least. The two would jam for hours, often simply mimicking each other’s keyboard ’riffs’ like two hairy demented mimes.
The unholy sounds emanating from the small flat did attract the attention of a young Dutch Millionaire by the name of Stanley August Miesegaes, who happened to be passing by one day. Curious, repulsed and more than a little bit turned on, he followed his ears and knocked on their door. Introducing himself as “A Dutch Millionaire” who wanted to “finance their future“, he invited himself in. He was a sight to behold, dressed in forest green pantaloons, a red and white furled ’blouse’ of sorts and polished wooden shoes, he certainly seemed an unlikely benefactor.
After the initial aesthetic shock of Mr. Miesagaes attire, the two budding musicians agreed to let him help.
Stanley had an American Jewish friend who played the drums by the name of Bob Siebenburg, who quickly changed his name to Bob C. Benberg after hearing of Roger’s ties to the Nazi youth group Mein Fruke (Little Ladies).
After auditioning approximately 2198 potential lead guitarists they settled on a lad named Richard Palmer, who also fortuitously played the Balalaika.
Their first album, Supertramp, sold a paltry 75 copies (all purchased by immediate family members); their second, Indelibly Stamped, which featured a lovely photo of Roger’s chest on the cover didn’t fare much better (137 copies to date).
After the disappointing first two albums their benefactor abandoned them. He later changed his name to Pierre Moerlen and became a member of the freak-folk band GONG!
Broke and heartbroken, Rick, Roger and Bob abruptly and impulsively fired Richard Palmer due to his inability to grow a beard. Roger pawned some of his infamous costume jewelry collection to buy a guitar, a Schecter electric hollow-body, and finance some lessons. Once Roger felt he was good enough, the trio went back to rehearsing.
These sessions would yield some of Supertramps best known ‘oeuvre’; songs such as Crime Of The Century, Dreamer, Asylum and, of course, the unreleased “Titan’s Curse” and “Percy Jackson And The Olympians”, which would later become fan favorites and concert staples. But there was something missing, their sound needed…something… but none knew what it was.
1973, FALL: ENTER ONE JOHN HELLIWELL AND ONE DOUGIE THOMPSON
Friends since they were six, John and Dougie (pronounced DOO-GIE) were currently gigging at an Acid-Jazz club called Urban Nerd in their band Bhangra Swings when Rick was fortuitously in attendance. He was so taken by Dougie’s bass “explorations” and John’s “wanderings” on the saxophone that he invited them over for a listen of the Crime Of The Century demos at his flat. The rest of the band were there and after introductions Dougie plugged in, John pursed his lips and Rick rolled the tape. IMMEDIATELY before the beginning of the track School, John improvised a sinister sounding sax lick which made everyone’s massive hair stand on end. And when Dougie’s bass slithered it’s way about 1:20 into the track they all knew this was to be their final line-up. At the conclusion of the audition, Bob C. Benberg remembers Roger exclaiming, “Man, John, you really BLOW!!”
The album Crime of The Century was a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Fans loved the heady mix of piano driven prog (or PEE-PROG, as it has come to be known) and abstract yet somehow totally accessible fantasy based lyrics. The album sold over 1,000,000 copies and is considered by many fans to be their masterpiece. They toured for an exhausting 6 weeks before getting back in the studio to record the follow-up to the Billboard chart behemoth that was Crime Of The Century.
Crisis? What Crisis? was largely panned by the critical elite but adored by the fans, and it begat a bewitching single for the masses in the form of Lady. On the surface, it’s lyrics seemed pretty straightforward, but the band knew better. Roger and Rick had begun fighting over control of the group, and in particular the musical direction. A sample from the song:
“Mister, you better get a move on/ You better get a fix on/ Mmm-you better walk straight.
I said Lady, oh take me if you want me/ oh, take me as you find me/ Oh, I'm needing your love so bad”
Some saw this as a plea from Roger to Rick to ‘work it out’, Rick being the “lady”, in this instance. Others saw it as a blunt ultimatum to Rick, as evidenced by the line “Mmm-you better walk straight.”
The growing discord in the group is well documented within the grooves of their next album, Even In The Quietest Moments. The song, Fools Overture, has been described by it’s scribe thusly: “The lyrics for (Fools) are a metaphor for the growing chaos we were experiencing at the time. Most of our fans have taken them literally as the fall of Atlantis and the inhabitants eventual morphing back into their alien forms (their true self), escaping earth and fleeing back to their home planet of Overture…but it’s really about Rick and Dougie becoming more and more tyrannical during that phase in the bands history.”
History recalls how great the fall can be/ While everybody's sleeping, the boats put out to sea/ Borne on the wings of time/
It seemed the answers were so easy to find/ "Too late," the prophets cry/ The island's sinking, let's take to the sky
Even though the band was in a terrible state of mind, they once more put their differences aside and recorded yet another album. Featuring Rick’s younger brother on the cover ￼, Breakfast In America would be the bands biggest success, selling over 15,000,000 copies worldwide, with over 14,000,000 being sold in France alone! But success affects people in different ways, and not always in a positive way. Roger, always the frugal one, put his royalties in Guinness stock while Rick pissed his away on male enhancement medications and elephant steroids, ending up alone in a hotel near a Taco Bell on the Hollywood strip, as evidenced by the lyrics to his masterful song Just Another Nervous Wreck:
“I'm feeling so alone now/ They cut the telephone uh huh/ Yeah my life is just a mess…I threw it all away now/ I could have made a fortune/ I lost the craving for success”. and, “Don't, give a damn, Fight, while you can, Kill, shoot 'em up, They'll run amuck, Shout, Judas, Loud, they'll hear us, Soldier, sailor, New York Tailor, They'll run for cover when they discover, I’m a freakin’ nervous wreck now!!”
In the summer of 1980, Rick tried to rob a travel agency on Wilshire Blvd in LA, not aware until it was too late that the business didn’t conduct many cash transactions. He was arrested at the scene and released on $30,000 bail the following evening.
After Rick’s trial and eventual release from prison (he received only 6 months due to a ‘stupidity’ clause his lawyer leveraged), the band, exhausted and bitter, plodded back into the studio to make yet another album. Famous Last Words was to be their epitaph, at least for the classic line-up. Yielding the uplifting “It’s Raining Again” as it’s only hit, the band soon went its different ways.
Roger became a successful solo artist in his own right and joined Ringo Star’s All Star Band for a stint in the late 1990’s and is still performing to this day. He was also asked to mentor Canadian Idol’s Top 7 contestants, alongside Dennis De Young, a founding member of the group STYX, which he promptly declined.
Rick carried on along with the rest of the original lineup for two more albums, Free As A Bird (a NOT so obscure dig at Roger), and Brother Where You Bound?, Rolling Stone giving them ½ star apiece.
The famed critic David Fricke wrote a simple, five word review for Brother Where You Bound?, that said:
“The bargain bin, that‘s where.”
Dougie left the band soon after and eventually won an Oscar for his portrayal of Augustine Bastard in the critically acclaimed BBC production of “Carry On: Other Analogous Documents Preserved in the Public Record Office” and eventually married Jane Seymour, of which they have 7 children.
Bob C Benberg went on to become a public servant in his home town of Weakerthin, Alabama (pop. 234), becoming Mayor for 4 years before being forced out and sent to the Formosa Nervous Hospital where he remains to this day.
John Helliwell is currently the stand-in for Clarence Clemens of E Street Band fame and is waiting for his next “Big Break”.
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