INTERVIEW WITH BOB SIEBENBERG
By SYLVAIN DICAIRE
Posted at “CASUAL CONVERSATIONS”
QUESTION: Do you ever listen to Supertramp albums?
BOB: I rarely listen to supertramp CDs. Every once in a while I will sit down and listen to something but it's very rare. I went back and listened to some things before the last tour as a refresher course, but not as a sit down to dig the music kind of thing.
QUESTION: What are your favourite Supertramp songs and albums?
BOB: I think my favorite supertramp records are “Crime Of The Century” and “Crisis? What Crisis?”. They remind me of an era in my life that was all brand new. The band was really cranking creatively. When I listen to or think of these records it reminds of the time in my life that we were working on them and the experience of making them. It was a blast. I think “If Everyone Was Listening" is my favorite song. I think it has great atmosphere and is classic Supertramp in it's instrumentation. I like its sentiment and emotion. By the way, it was the first Supertramp song I ever heard on the radio. Roger, Dougie, myself, our wives, girlfriends and Ken Allardyce were all living together in a house in the country in England around the time we finally finished “Crime”. The house was about a hundred yards from a junk yard. My wife and I were cruising the junk yard looking for (and bought) an old brass bed and as we were standing in this little shed, a woman passed by pushing a baby carriage. Hanging over one handle of the carriage was a small transistor radio. We heard the tune get closer, realized what it was, and listened to it fade away as she passed. A milestone day.
QUESTION: Who else do you listen to?
BOB: At home I listen to pretty much the same records I always have. The brown album by The Band is a regular. Traffic's second album. Procol Harum's “Grand Hotel” and mostly their first one. Some old Ray Charles, Taj Mahal's “Natch'l Blues”... These old records have a great vibe and is something I can have in the house. In the car I listen to the oldies station.
QUESTION: Supertramp has always had some jazz influences… Do you like jazz? Do you listen to jazz drummers such as Art Blakey, Max Roach or Tony Williams?
BOB: I like some jazz, but was never that tuned in. My jazz education has really come from John and Rick. I really like Art Blakey and Max Roach. I can't say I'm that familiar with Tony Williams. I've seen Max and Art play several times while on the road, and Art Blakey killed me. I like Jimmy Smith and the Hammond organ thing. Growing up I was aware of guys like Shelley Manne and listened when I could, but there was so much going on that was closer to what I wanted to do. When we were making “Crime”, we would drive in from the country to go to the studio and pick up John on the way in. He would always have something on the turntable to turn me on to. It's where I first heard Weather Report and a bunch of other stuff. When we first started travelling I would go along with John and Rick to see all these guys they knew about and I had never heard of. That was a real education. Seeing these guys doing it up close and not off a record for the first time.
QUESTION: Do you have regular contact with the rest of the band?
BOB: I can't say that I have regular contact with the guys in the band, but I speak with or e-mail everyone, well not everyone, fairly regular. Rick keeps me posted on what's going on and John and I stay in touch. Of the new guys, I stay in touch with Cliff. We play golf together and have similar interests that we like to talk about. Surfing and surf music, stuff like that. We come from the same part of Los Angeles and have lots in common. I stay in touch with Dougie and speak with him all the time. Of course my son Jesse is around frequently, but he lives in Santa Barbara and works pretty steady. I keep an open friendship with Roger and correspond fairly regular by e-mail. He doesn't live that far from me and he has visited here and I have gone to see him at his place. It's tough to socialize in person because John lives in England, Dougie's in Chicago, and Rick is either in Los Angeles or New York.
QUESTION: Without taking anything away from Mark, Cliff and the others, do you sometimes miss playing with Roger and Dougie?
BOB: Yes, of course I miss playing with Roger and Dougie. They're the real guys. I believe in the magic of a group. Chemistry. I don't think it will hurt anyone's feelings to say that.
QUESTION: What was you reaction the first time you heard about making a new Supertramp album after 10 years?
BOB: Well my reaction to the news was "really?" There'd been so much speculation for so long that I had pretty much put it out of my head and was quite happy to do so. I was of two minds really. I had a few questions. Who was going to be involved? When can I hear the demos? Are the tunes up to scratch? What's the motivation? Things like this and that.
QUESTION: How did you first hear about it?
BOB: If I remember correctly, I had heard through the grapevine something was cooking. I called Rich Frankel (Supertramp manager) to see what was going on and Rick called me a couple days later to lay it all out. I drove to Los Angeles and sat with him and went through the plan and got the info I needed. Then had some soul searching to do and some calls to make.
QUESTION: Do you get a say in what songs will end up on an album or be played at concerts?
BOB: To a degree yes. The way the songs were introduced to the band, which was pretty much 'it goes like this' and off we went, it became fairly obvious quickly what was working and what wasn't. If someone really didn't dig it after giving it a fair shot, then you could lay it out there with respect. As to live concerts, we all worked on it together. We played our tunes, with confidence, knowing they worked.
QUESTION: What are your favourite Supertramp songs to play? Are there songs you didn't play on the last tour and would like to play again?
BOB: I have a lot of favorite Supertramp songs to play. I like "Asylum" and being able to project that power to the seats out there. "Cannonball" for it's simplicity and the discipline of the groove. "The Logical Song" for it's movement, "If Everyone Was Listening" for the atmosphere… I could probably tell you something about each tune that I like.
QUESTION: What are your favourite Bob Siebenberg songs?
BOB: There a couple that I like. I like "Token Jest" because it came out the way I wanted it to. I like "Don't ever let go" I guess because it's the closest to where I'm at. It took me about 20 minutes to write it. I think "Eventide" is a cool song. It's much harder to talk about my own tunes, so I'll stop.
QUESTION: Both your solo albums have very beautiful covers. How did you come up with them, select them? Any particular reason for both the covers and the titles?
BOB: I'm glad you like the covers, I like them too. The photo on the “Giants In Our Own Room” cover was taken by Jayme Odgers, a photographer who was known for his work with certain perspectives. I was introduced to him by the art director at A&M records. That is his foot as he looks upside down into the camera. What looks like a mountain in the background is actually only about three feet tall. To us it represented the idea that the first instrument was the human body jumping up and down on the earth. As a drummer it worked for me. “The Long Shot” was slightly different. I walked into a shop near where I live and saw this poster on the wall. I was nearing completion of the record and art work was on my mind. I got the agents name from the shopkeeper and contacted the artist's agent. I put my request in writing and sent it to the artist, a distinguished cowboy artist named Howard Terpning. He graciously allowed me to use the artwork as the cover. The title of his painting was “The Long Shot”. So is success in the music biz. A perfect title. My daughter, Victoria redesigned both albums. I like what she did. She has a great eye.
QUESTION: Both of your albums feature many different singers, is there a reason why you chose to use different singers for different songs?
BOB: I choose different singers for a couple of reasons. I write with different people, and sometimes they are the best person to sing the song. Sometimes, I am the best person to sing the song. Sometimes I look for someone else to sing the song as you would cast the part to someone in a play. I look for interpretation and believability. On “Giants”, it was me and Baxter Robertson. On “The Long Shot” I bowed out to Dennis O'Donnell and Reno Wilde. On my new stuff, it's mostly me at the moment, one by Reno, a couple by Baxter, one by Dennis, and maybe one by my son Jesse.
QUESTION: Who are "Good Man Down" (“Giants”) and "The Man Can Sing" (“The Long Shot”) about? Are there any stories behind the songs?
BOB: Well, "Good Man Down" was written for someone who is very close to me and doesn't know it was written about him, so I can't say. And as you guessed in another correspondence, "The Man Can Sing" is about Richard Manuel. The only story behind it is what a drag about Richard Manuel. I love The Band and in the early eighties I used to go to this club near where I lived in Los Angeles to see Rick Danko's band. In this band were Richard Manuel, Blondie Chaplain (The Beach Boys) and for a time Denny Siewell. Some other guys used to float but Richard was always there. Richard was just tremendous. Looked good and sang great. This was a great time for me being able to hang out with these guys and get to know them a little.
QUESTION: The back cover of “The Long Shot” says "To be listened to in the spirit in which it was made"... What spirit was it made in?
BOB: The phrase “To be listened to in the spirit in which it was made” is a tip of the hat to Procol Harum. This phrase was on the back of their first album. I'm not sure what it means, but it just feels good. It means something to me that I can't put my finger on.
QUESTION: How is the next solo album coming along?
BOB: It's coming along really well. I have all the tunes written and a good start on recording several of them. The same people will be involved. Baxter and Dennis and Reno. My son Jesse is playing a larger part this time around, because he's finally old enough! He's a very good bass player as well as Hammond organ. Derek Beauchemin will play a little again. I've had to dig him out of retirement. No rest for the wicked. He's a good old pal and his head is still in the right place. Scott Gorham is back on the hook again. I'll con him into coming over to play some golf and then get him in the studio. He still lives in London, England, but we stay in touch regularly.
QUESTION: What do you think of the different Supertramp websites?
BOB: To be honest, I don't really keep track of the other sites that much. I'll browse through them occassionally, but not often. I think it's great that they're out there though. It's amazing what some people know and it's tremendous that people seem to care as much as they do. I think it's a meaningful thing. I relate to it because I am a Procol Harum fan. When I found their page (actually I was contacted by them) I was blown away to find so much info about a band that I like so much. I participate in the page, and check it out regularly for something new. So, I identify.
QUESTION: What is your involvment in your own website? Do you write the texts and choose what is going to be there?
BOB: On my page I write all the text and am very specific about what goes where. I keep it updated as often as possible and answer every e-mail personally. I really do enjoy it. It's a great way to communicate with people in the great out there.
QUESTION: Thanks for all the time you took and the honesty with which you answered all these questions. It really means a lot to me...
BOB: I've enjoyed the whole process. Stay in touch, and all the best.