There’s a reason Supertramp drummer Bob Siebenberg was quiet and unassuming when he first moved to London in 1971: He had to be.
To enter Great Britain, the American had to agree not to work. Officials didn’t want foreign musicians taking away jobs from U.K. citizens.
“It said right on my passport that I was not allowed to engage in any employment, paid or unpaid,” Siebenberg said recently. “So as I started to work a little bit around town and go to the BBC, I’d have to keep my mouth shut and not be an American.
“The band I was in before I joined Supertramp, I was Bob See, and then I was Bob Siebenberg in Supertramp. It wasn’t taxes or anything like that; it was just so I could stay in the country. They’re still strict in England about issuing work permits.”
Rock history books and Web sites fail to mention the name game. In fact, at the All Music Guide site, the Supertramp bio list of past and present group members includes Bob Siebenberg and another alias, Bob Benberg.
No matter, Siebenberg has been there through it all for Supertramp, from the quirky pop-rock group’s humble beginnings to the hugely popular “Breakfast in America” album (1979) and even in today’s revamped lineup.
“It’s really like we’ve never been away,” Siebenberg said. “We didn’t play for seven or eight years, then we did a tour in ’97 and the one we’re doing this year, and things have been great.”
The group released its 11th studio album, “Slow Motion,” in March, its first in five years. Joining Siebenberg, founder Rick Davies (vocals, keyboards), John Helliwell (saxophone) and Mark Hart (vocals, keyboards, guitars) are Cliff Hugo (bass), Siebenberg’s son Jesse (percussion), Lee Thornburg (trumpet) and Carl Verheyen (guitars). Notably missing is original member Roger Hodgson (vocals, guitar).
“We had been in the studio one day, on Sept. 10, and then of course you know what happened the next day,” Siebenberg said. “That put us out of action for a few days, then we went back into the studio in Los Angeles to finish it.”
The album is available through its Web site and in Europe via EMI.
“We really don’t have a proper record deal in North America,” Siebenberg said. “I don’t get real involved in the management thing, but I find it surprising myself that we don’t have a deal. We have a good record deal in Europe through EMI out of Paris, and the album did well in Europe. We just came off a tour of 73 cities in 13 countries through Europe, from March to the early part of August.”
Supertramp’s popularity has never faltered. Its hits remain radio staples, and last year’s Gap TV ad campaign featuring a variety of artists singing “Give A Little Bit” didn’t hurt.
“I was really floored to see Robbie Robertson doing one of those commercials,” Siebenberg saod, “because he’s been one of my all-time hero guys. I used to be in bands that played Band songs, so it was really cool to see him interpreting one of our songs.”
Additionally, Supertramp’s A&M back catalog – from “Crime to the Century” (1975) to “Free As a Bird” (1987) – was reissued on CD this summer, and a two-volume “The Very Best of Supertramp” is scheduled for release on Nov. 12.
“I know there are some things in the works down the line to do some kind of boxed thing with bonus tracks,” Siebenberg said. “We’ve got such a legacy of great material that we think really hasn’t been explored properly yet. We’re looking at several projects to get out there to the people. There’s also some old video that we’ve got laying around, like of the Paris concert and us in 1974 at Hammersmith.”
ON THE WEB: www.supertramp.com.
BWF (before we forget): The Supertramp album discography (click on titles to order) – “Supertramp” (A&M, 1970); “Indelibly Stamped” (1971); “Crime of the Century” (1974); “Crisis? What Crisis?” (1975); “Even in the Quietest Moments” (1977); “Breakfast in America” (1979); “Paris” (1980); ” … famous last words … ” (1982); “Brother Where You Bound” (1985); “Free As a Bird” (1987); “The Very Best of Supertramp” (1992); “Some Things Never Changed” (Chrysalis, 1997); “Slow Motion” (EMI, 2002).