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Hodgson's Tramping About Again

New LP Ends Hiatus for Ex-Supertramp Singer-Songwriter

April 11, 1998|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you've been wondering whatever happened to Roger Hodgson, you're probably not alone.

Although he's hardly a household name, Hodgson wrote and sang many of Supertramp's most recognizable songs. His contributions, including such radio-friendly songs as "Dreamer," "Give a Little Bit," "The Logical Song," "Take the Long Way Home," "Breakfast in America" and "It's Raining Again," helped propel the British band to stardom during the '70s.

Creative tensions, however, led to Hodgson's departure after the group's 1982 release, "Famous Last Words." His solo debut ("In the Eye of the Storm") went platinum two years later. But when his second solo LP, "Hai Hai," bombed in 1987, the singer-songwriter-guitarist virtually disappeared.

But now Hodgson has resurfaced with his third solo LP, "Rites of Passage" (Unichord Productions), and supporting Solo Tramp tour, with a stopover tonight at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana. Those missing years are a story of disillusionment, soul-searching and recovery.

The upheaval started just days after the release of "Hai Hai," an admittedly weak album Hodgson describes as "one I made for everyone but myself." When he broke both wrists in a tumble from a sleeping loft, he couldn't perform for two years. Physically and emotionally shaken, he entered an extended period of insecurity.

"I had put so much of my life into Supertramp that I didn't truly understand what my own identity was," Hodgson, 48, said in a recent phone interview during a tour stop in Seattle.

"I left the group because we became stagnant, and I personally just couldn't grow anymore. But at the same time, I didn't really have the ego, drive or self-confidence to be a solo artist. . . .

"My self-confidence had deteriorated after [making] 'Hai Hai.' That project lasted 16 months, and it didn't turn out at all well. I was miserable and confused. But the wrist injuries did allow me to step back and spend time with my family for really the first time. I learned some valuable lessons."

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Hodgson's family played a pivotal role in his transition. "Rites of Passage" was conceived, funded and produced by Karuna, Hodgson's wife of 19 years.

"The album was really her brainchild," said Hodgson, a native of Portsmouth, England. "I'd been trying to make another album for years, and every time something [bad] would happen, I'd fall apart. . . . I was really scared to try anything new, to go forward.

"But she took the risk and was courageous enough to say, 'Roger, all you have to do is show up and play. I'll handle everything else.' And with me sometimes kicking and screaming, that's just what she did."

Only disaster struck once again. While visiting an Ecuadorean rain forest in 1995, Hodgson's immune system was attacked, resulting in post-infectious arthritis; he lost 40 pounds and spent six weeks in a wheelchair. Soon thereafter, his sister Caroline was found to have cancer; she died as Hodgson was about to record the new album.

Emotionally drained but resolute, Hodgson managed to complete "Rites of Passage," recorded live at a club in Nevada City, Calif., where he lives. The project has a loose, playful vibe and features spirited renditions of several Supertramp numbers and six new tunes.

The new material ranges from the hummable pop-rock of "Every Trick in the Book" and the socially conscious "Showdown," to the moody "Melancholic" and hypnotic drone of the Eastern-flavored "Time Waits for No One."

"I call myself a recovering perfectionist," Hodgson said. "With [Supertramp's third release] 'Crime of the Century,' we were touted as this high-fidelity type of band. Suddenly, we had something to live up to, and I fell headfirst right into that trap. Now I appreciate how music is about sheer passion."

Another key player in Hodgson's creative rebirth is his son, Andrew. The younger Hodgson not only played drums and sang on "Rites of Passage," but his presence rekindled his father's love of music for its simpler virtues.

"In a way, he reawakened the teenager in myself," Hodgson said. "Before music and life got so complicated, I was just like him . . . living to play music and dream. Sometimes as you get older, you get bogged down with the pressures to produce. Andrew's been a real inspiration by making me remember that you play music for the fun of it."

Even though Hodgson says his frame of mind is now upbeat, his mood soured when talk turned to Rick Davies, who co-founded Supertramp with him in 1969. Hodgson contends that when he left, the two agreed that Hodgson would give up the rights to the Supertramp name if Davies wouldn't sing any of Hodgson's songs while performing as Supertramp.

A reunited Supertramp toured last year in support of its latest album, "Some Things Never Change" (Oxygen Records). Only Davies hired another singer, Mark Hart, to cover Hodgson staples, including "Take the Long Way Home" and "The Logical Song."

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