Backtracks: Supertramp – Crime of the Century

The Adventures of a Super-Tramp

In Swindon, England, Richard Davies gravitated towards music at an early age. When he was eight his parents presented him with a radiogram, a combination radio and record player, which included records from drumming legend Gene Krupa. Soon Davies was an aspiring drummer, listening to military marching songs to develop a technique. In due course Richard began taking drumming lessons and messing around with all types of keyboards.

Supertramp1971 in black and white group photo.
Supertramp 1971

At fifteen he began playing with Vince and the Vigilantes and in 1962, while studying in the art department at Swindon College, he formed his own band, call the act Rick’s Blues. His instrument of choice became the electric piano.

After a brief break from music to attend to his ailing father, Davies became the organist for The Lonely Ones, soon to be known as The Joint. While working on soundtracks for German films he bluffed his way through the entire project, later admitting that he couldn’t actually play the organ at the time. In Munich, Davies met and was befriended by Dutch millionaire Stanley August Miesegaes, who offered to fund him if he started a new band from the ground up.

"In 1969, London had a population of about 8 million, and at least a quarter of these were guitarists." -- Richard Palmer

In August of 1969 Davies held audition for the new band at The Cabin, a tiny one-room rehearsal and demo studio near Shepherd’s Bush Common. Davies assembled Roger Hodgson as bassist and vocalist, Richard Palmer as guitarist and vocalist, and Keith Baker on drums. The gig was scheduled after placing an ad in Melody Maker, the weekly music newspaper.

With everyone in place, the outfit immediately set out to establish a two-hour stage show. While living together at Botolph’s Bridge House in Romney Marsh, Kent, one day the guys let a hedgehog into the living room and the result was everyone had fleas for a week.

Olympiapark in Munich

For five weeks in the fall of 1969, at the PN Club on Munich’s Leopoldstrasse, the group jammed incessantly, playing five half-hour sets every night and seven sets on weekends, yielding Mondays to German rock and progressive bands. The group had a set list comprised of just four songs, and two of those were covers. Originally billed as Daddy, the group entered Trident Studios in October of 1969 to record their first single, a forgettable pair of songs produced by Gary Wright (of Spooky Tooth).

Paul Wakefield created his first album artwork for the cover of Crime of the Century. With the album title decided, Wakefield imagined “what an appropriate sentence could be for ‘the crime of the century'” and combined it with “when they haunt me and taunt me in my cage”, a line from the song “Asylum”. 

In January of 1970 Daddy became Supertrampadapted from the William Davies (no relation to Rick) novel The Adventures of a Super-Tramp. The super group then tramped into history despite having begun their trek on the wrong foot.

When it came to recording the tracks that would make up their debut album, superstitions became an issue and the members believed that there was some “magic” associated with recording at night. The tapes were rolling during assorted night sessions that took place between midnight and six in the morning. Apparently Davies and his mates had heard that Traffic and Spooky Tooth recorded at late hours, so, perhaps fate would also smile upon them.

Wrong answer.

The band signed a record deal with the newly formed U.K. branch of A&M Records, and in July of 1970 they released Supertramp, which garnered varying degrees of critical praise, however it performed poorly when it came to sales. About a year later the second studio effort, Indelibly Stamped, was mostly a flop and sold less that the debut disc. The Dutch millionaire withdrew his financial support and the band fell apart, leaving just Hodgson and Davies to pick up the pieces. A talent search brought in new member Dougie Thomson on bass, and in 1973 another recruiting effort located drummer Bob Siebenberg and John Helliwell, who took on saxaphone and woodwinds and made various keyboard contributions. Hodgson began writing music that featured the Wurlitzer electric piano with accompanying guitars, and the band finally became a musical force.

When 1974 rolled around the band released the third album, Crime of the Century. The floodgates of fame began to open as the record rose to Number Four in Canada and Britain, and rose to Number 38 in the United States. It sold more than 20 million copies, delivering the hits “Bloody Well Right” and “Dreamer”, and the band broke into stateside popularity. The album lived in the Canadian Top 100 listing for three consecutive years, ending in 1976. “Dreamer”, the U.K. Top 20 single written by Hodgson became the first Supertramp hit single and helped propel the album to the top of the charts. Crime of the Century was a Top 40 album in eight different countries, and it has sold over a million copies in Canada. In 1987 Canadian Broadcasting Company critic Geoff Edwards ranked the album as the 10th greatest album of all time.

as seen on TV at Argos

2 responses to “Backtracks: Supertramp – Crime of the Century”

  1. Hal says:

    I always loved Supertramp. Their songs always take turns getting stuck in my head for days at a time. I must admit, however, that “Breakfast In America” is my favorite Supertramp album. That said, Bloody Well Right, the best known track on this disc is one of my all-time favorite songs of any band. Thanks for this site. I can tell you really love the classic rockers!

    • Dewey says:

      Hi Hal! Thank you for taking the time to visit and let us know what you’re thinking.

      Supertramp is certainly the cream of the crop — as I like to say, ‘can’t call your stuff a music collection without ’em’… I’ve not checked it out, but I don’t think that they did very many tours, mostly studio work I think. My favorite album is a toss-up between this one and ‘Even in the Quietest Moments’, it’s super mellow and I really like the writing. For some reason I view “Breakfast” as slightly commercial, not sure why.

      Please feel free to suggest topics, ideas, or anything else you’d like to see here at Rock, Stock, and Barrel. Cheers!

      Dewey

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