Crime Of The Century
The band set up housekeeping together, in late 1973, in a small cottage in Southcombe, Somerset. Rick and Roger began writing the songs that would eventually embody the album Crime of the Century and the band rehearsed. Having accomplished what they had set out to do, they engaged producer Ken Scott and began the meticulous recording process that the world would come to identify as the Supertramp sound at Trident Studios in London. The album, released in 1974 became a rock classic. The combination worked, Supertramp was on its way.
Life on the road was an adventure, not without its surprises. One night on the way to the show, John, Rick and Bob were driving down the road in Finchley when suddenly Johnís car burst into flames. The boys, though not the car, were unharmed and made the performance. While on the way to a show in Oslo, Norway, the bus that transported the band, crew (that totalled 4 people at that time) and equipment was stranded half way up a mountain in a snowstorm. Some say the bus is still there. Attendance at some of the shows was sparse. In Paris only eight tickets were sold and in 1979 while playing four sold-out shows there, to 40,000 people, the promoter disclosed that he, himself, had bought six of the eight tickets !
But it worked, Crime of the Century had reached #1 on the English charts and with the European tour behind them the band decided to venture across the Atlantic to America and Canada. City after city the band won over its audience. Crime of the Century was a bona fide hit and in early 1975 Supertramp was awarded its first gold LP, what was to be the first of many.
Crisis? What Crisis?
Crisis? What Crisis? followed. Recorded at A&M Studios in Los Angeles, while the band awaited the healing of a broken arm that Roger had sustained on the Crime Tour of America, and finished at Scorpio Studios in London, Crisis was released in the fall of 1975. Once again the band planned a world tour. With a much larger stage production incorporating extensive lighting, sound and films and a crew that was affectionately dubbed the Supertramp Army, the band began an ambitious eight month tour. Supertramp was a hot item. Even the London Sun thought them important enough to place them on page 3, the spot usually reserved for revealing shots of scantly-clad girls that helped boost circulation. The girl was still in attendance but stretched across the laps of the five ĎTramps !
For two months the band toured England and then forged on to Europe. While there, Rick, who always sported a heavy beard, decided to shave it off. At the next show, frontman John Helliwell, introduced Rick to the audience as "The Turk" and the headlines charged "Turkish Piano Player is Great".
After a farewell concert, in their homeland, at the famed Royal Albert Hall, Supertramp again crossed the ocean to America. The American and Canadian tours that followed were extensive, taking the band into both major and secondary markets as well as such unusual rockí ní roll venues as Las Vegas, Nevada.
But the tour didn't end here. Deciding to spread their music even farther, their next stops were Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Even In The Quietest Moments
By the fall of 1976 the band had relocated in California, where some of them still reside today. They began work on their third album together and chose Caribou Ranch, in the snow covered mountains of Colorado, as the place to record. After a three month residence at Caribou the band returned to Los Angeles with engineers Geoff Emerick and Pete Henderson to mix the album at the Record Plant. But their crew returned to Caribou one more time, to drag a grand piano, in a snowstorm, up a mountain top to photograph the cover of the album Even In The Quietest Moments.
Once again an extensive tour was undertaken 130 cities in America, Canada, Europe and England. Their return to England was a nostalgic one, for upon arrival at Wembley Arena they found the roof bathed in spotlights that washed their now familiar trademark, the yellow umbrella. Touring was now more than hard work, it was a way of life that had its times for fun. One night, at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Dougie took the bandstand to "conduct" the dance band; John injected humor into the stage shows with ever-changing, outlandish costumes and his spider man glasses.
It seemed that Supertramp had accomplished all that it had ever dreamed of back in those days at Southcombe. But no one would have imagined what was yet to come.
Breakfast In America
To most people, little more needs to be said. Breakfast In America's release in 1979 took the world by storm. Written about the band's move to Los Angeles and being British in a sea of American culture, the album climbed to #1 in every country in the world. Gold was replaced by platinum and sales eventually hit 16 million (1980 numbers).
The album cover depicted "Libby" the quintessential waitress, posed as the Statue of Liberty, holding a glass of orange juice against the Manhattan skyline. Photographer after photographer took pictures of the band with plates of their favourite repast. In fact, the platinum record awards from Holland were plexiglass-enclosed trays of each band members favorite breakfast.
The band did not expect the super stardom that they garnered. Rick Davies was so sure that Breakfast would not reach the top 5 on the American charts that he bet Bob Siebenberg $100.00 that it wouldnít a bet he happily paid off at a party after the sold out show in New York's Madison Square Garden where A&M awarded the band its first platinum album. The bet was no contest. Breakfast spent 22 weeks in the top 5 on the American charts. The Breakfast tour, that took 52 tons of gear, 10 miles of cable, $5 million worth of equipment and a 40 man crew, broke all previous concert attendance records in Europe and Canada, made front page headlines full of superlative and solidified the bandís reputation for spectacular rock shows.
Everywhere the band went honors were bestowed on them. Diamond record awards for Crime and Breakfast in Canada, the NARM cup for the most albums sold in the U.S. in 1979, walls of gold and platinum records throughout Europe, and a very special award to Rick and Roger a gold album for their first effort together, Supertramp.
After their ten month tour was finished the band looked forward to a well deserved rest. But one more project was still to be completed...
Returning home to Los Angeles, there was a little unfinished business that the group had to look after before going their separate ways to get their personal lives together.
A number of the shows on the Breakfast In America tour had been recorded with an eye to finding the magic combination of tracks to be included on the bandís planned live album.
The band had recorded their four performances in Paris. In 1980, Paris was released, reflecting the goal that Supertramp had set for itself that the live renditions of their material improve upon the already existing studio versions.
"...Famous Last Words..."
By late 1981 all was well and the priority once again turned to Supertramp. "...Famous Last Words...", rehearsed at Rick's studio and recorded mainly at Roger's, was released in the fall of 1982. Ann and Nancy Wilson, of Heart, added background vocals on two of the tracks.
The video becoming an important promotional tool in the music industry, the band went into the studio to do their first videos. Dressed in 50's apparel, beardless with slicked back hair, they produced a video for Rick's song, "My Kind Of Lady". On another video shoot, a story unfolded on film to the soundtrack of Rogerís "Itís Raining Again" in which the band played cameo roles.
Shortly after the releasing of the album, plans for another extended tour of North America and Europe were becoming very much a part of the endless number of meetings to decide on the band's future as they approached the tenth anniversary of this particular version of Supertramp.
The period following the release of "...Famous Last Words..." was a chaotic one within the group. It was obvious that Roger's decision to leave the band was irrevocable.
Roger was anxious to get on with his solo carrer which had taken very definite steps toward fruition with the recording of an album entitled In The Eye Of The Storm done at his Unicorn Studios in Nevada City.
Rick was also anxious to get on with the creative and logistical problems of giving new character and life to Supertramp in its new formation.
Before the tour, there had been some trepidation in everyone concerned with the band, that because Supertramp had been out of the public eye for such a long time that people might have forgotten them. The initial reports of tickets sales from Europe indicated that they were moving pretty slowly. The band had one of the biggest surprises of their career in store.
The European leg of the tour, 25 concerts, turned out to be an overwhelming success and when the final count was in, the figures showed that it had been the second largest tour ever to be played in Europe in terms of attendance and gate receipts. Only the Rolling Stones had managed to mount a larger tour.
All across the continent, Supertramp played the largest outdoor venues available and filled them to capacity. In London, Lady Di, the Princess of Wales, declared during a press conference that Supertramp was her favourite band. In Paris (June 24,1983), the group played in front of close to 82,000 people on the grounds of a large Chateau.
After the European tour, the band had a couple of weeks off in California before heading out on the North American leg of the tour. More 28 concerts.
This tour, reached almost 1.5 million people around the world, Supertramp's most ambitious ever.
To be continued ...