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Guitarist Daryl Stuermer Talks 40-Year Career With Genesis, Phil Collins

Guitarist Daryl Stuermer looks back on his four-decade association with Genesis and Phil Collins Guitarist Daryl Stuermer looks back on his four-decade association with Genesis and Phil Collins Paul Natkin/Getty Images

On June 23rd, 1974, 21-year-old jazz-fusion guitarist Daryl Stuermer was watching the short-lived talk show Speakeasy when the guests for the evening included Beach Boys singer Mike Love, English guitarist John McLaughlin, jazz flutist Charles Lloyd and Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel. Stuermer had never heard of Genesis and the brief video segment showing their performance of "Supper’s Ready" did little to win him over. "Peter was wearing a flower on his head," says Stuermer. "When I saw that I thought, ‘Oh, that’s not my kind of thing. This is ridiculous."

Little could he have imagined that not only would he join the band just four years later, but the young drummer in the background — a complete unknown named Phil Collins — would become one of the biggest music acts of the next decade and that he’d bring the guitarist along for the ride. To this day, Collins has never played a solo concert without Stuermer by his side and he’s been a key part of every single album besides 1994’s Both Sides. Stuermer has also been on every Genesis tour going back to 1978 besides the short-lived 1998 tour with replacement vocalist Ray Wilson.

As he gears up for yet another leg of Collins’ ongoing Not Dead Yet! comeback tour, Stuermer phoned up Rolling Stone to chat about his long career with Phil Collins and Genesis.

Who were your guitar heroes growing up?
I started playing when I was about 11, so I started pretty much listening to guitar players seriously when I was about 12 or 13. Probably the first guitarists that I really started noticing were in the band the Ventures and then Duane Eddy and Chet Atkins. I couldn’t play Chet Atkins, but I sure admired him. That was the very, very beginning and it seemed like as I went along I started getting interested more and more in the blues guys like Mike Bloomfield and Albert King and B.B. King.

Then when I was about 15, I noticed that I was starting to get interested in jazz guitarists. What happened was Joe Pass had put out an album called The Stones Jazz where he did all Rolling Stones songs. I thought, "Oh, my God, let me check this record out." It got me interested in jazz because he was playing things that I couldn’t possibly play, notes that I had never heard in rock music. That got me involved with that and probably my favorite jazz guitarist turned out to be Wes Montgomery. And then [Jimi] Hendrix also became a big influence in the rock world.

How aware were you of Genesis in the Peter Gabriel era?
I wasn’t really aware of their music until Phil Collins became their singer and Jean-Luc Ponty, who I was working with at the time, gave me a cassette of their album A Trick of the Tail. He said to me, "You must hear this band. These guys are excellent." On one side of the tape was A Trick of the Tail and another side was Wind and Wuthering, though they both ran out around 45 minutes. But they turned me into an instant fan. That was pretty much my formal introduction to Genesis.

How did you get the audition?
Someone else that actually auditioned was a bass player who played some guitar, but what they needed was a guitarist that could play some bass. And so when that that musician didn’t get the gig with them, he actually recommended me and so that’s how that all began. So they flew me to New York and they put me up at the Plaza hotel and I went to the first audition, which was just [Genesis bassist/guitarist] Michael Rutherford at SIR [Studios]. They had sent me a cassette with five songs on it, including two from their new album …And Then There Were Three…

They had a cassette player there and they wanted me to play along to the recordings. We probably did two or three minutes of each song and then I remember him saying to me, "I think you’re the one." I was kind of surprised by that. I also remember him saying, "Well, I have four more guitar players that I’m auditioning here in New York, but I’ll call you at the Plaza at 5 p.m. and I’ll get together with you to tell you the songs that you should learn for the next tour." That’s what happened. I got back together with him after the audition.

It’s a strange setup in Genesis since when Steve Hackett was there, Mike would play guitar and bass. When he played guitar, he’d use bass pedals. That’s a pretty odd setup for a rock band, right?
Yeah. It was interesting to me. He said, "Can you play bass?" And I said, "Yeah, I dabble in bass playing. My brother was a bass player, so I had a bass guitar around my house. But my main thing is guitar." So when I first started playing with them, I played very little bass since Steve Hackett had played all these songs prior to Mike being the main guitar player. Mike would mainly just play guitar on the new songs from …And Then There Were Three… and I’d play on all the older songs where Steve used to play. But as we went along, he would play more and more guitar as we had more albums where he was the guitarist. By 1992, I was playing bass for more than half the night.

How did you prepare for the first tour in 1978? There’s a lot of songs to learn and no room anywhere for spontaneity. It was a very, very precise band.
When he gave me that list of songs to learn, I really sat down and learned them. None of them really read music. I know that Phil and Mike don’t. Tony [Banks] might read music, but they never write anything out. Everything is done by ear, so I would just sit down with these albums and learn. Some of those sounds that Steve Hackett was doing were very new to me. I wasn’t sure if I was hearing a synthesizer or a guitar because of the way he played. It was so brilliant.

Did they let you know from the very beginning that you’d play on the tours, but not the albums?
Yeah. They said to me, "You’re a touring member of the band." My favorite line that Phil said about me in an interview was, "Daryl is a permanent, part-time, temporary member." I love that. I’ve actually used that line myself at times.

At the end of the 1978 tour, did you know if you’d be sticking around for future ones?
I didn’t know. But on the last leg of the tour in December of 1978 I did ask Mike when we were in Japan. I said, "Is there a plan for more touring?" And he said, "Not as of yet. We don’t usually plan that far ahead." At the time, Mike Rutherford’s wife and Tony Banks’ wife were having babies. I had a pretty good idea they weren’t going to tour in 1979. The only way I found out I was doing the 1980 tour is when they called me up and asked me to do it.

What is your first memory of hearing that Phil was going to make solo music?
It was in 1980 and Genesis was rehearsing in England at Shepperton Studios. Phil came up to me and said, "Are you going back to London?" I said that I was and he said, "Well, I’d like to play you something in the car. I’ll drive you." So we went out to his car and he put a cassette in and played the demo of "In the Air Tonight." I remember thinking, "Oh, my God." I didn’t even know that he wrote music by himself since so much of what he did in Genesis was co-written. I thought it was a great song and that it would be great on an album. I asked him what he was going to do with it and he said, "Well, I’m thinking about a solo album."

The cassette had one more song on it, which was "I Missed Again." It was very different than "In the Air Tonight." It almost went to an R&B/Motown thing. I was amazed at what I heard, but I had no reason to believe that I was going to be doing that record with him.

What are your memories of recording the finished version of "In the Air Tonight?"
We were at Village Recorder in West L.A. He already had some stuff on tape. He had the drum machine and the chords on the keyboard. He started the song and he said to me, "Why don’t you do a big power chord?" It ended up being a power chord, but it was kind of off in the distance. Then we started doing more and more songs and I thought to myself, "I wonder if this album is gonna do well. It’s so diverse." Not one song sounded like another song. You had R&B songs and rock songs and almost folky-type songs. And then the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section came in. I was a huge fan and since I lived just maybe two miles away from the studio, I came down a lot while they were tracking.

Genesis went out and toured behind Duke right in that same time period. Did you start to feel secure with your job at that point?
Yeah. I started to realize that if they did do anything else, they’d probably ask me. All of us almost started to become a family. All of our wives knew each other. It became very comfortable.

How did you hear about Duke and Abacab when you first heard them? It was a pretty big change in sound.
Yeah. Duke was actually the one that surprised me the most. They were getting more modern. They had parts on the album that sounded almost like horns and things like that. Phil became more a part of the music than he ever was before as a writer. Their stuff used to sound very English to me, but with Duke I began hearing more of an American R&B influence. I was very happy about it. To this day, my favorite albums are A Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering, but at the same time I was really happy to hear that they were progressing to a more modern American sound.

What do you remember about the 1982 reunion show with Peter Gabriel at Milton Keynes?
I remember the rain. What also stands out is that I didn’t know what was going to happen because I had to learn all these old Peter Gabriel songs. We only rehearsed once with Peter and the only actual [solo] Peter Gabriel song that we did was "Solsbury Hill." Everything else we did was Genesis, but I had never played some of the older ones like "The Knife" and "Watcher of the Skies." I had to learn them from the recordings.

The first song of the show was "Back in New York City." Peter came onto the stage in a coffin. These pallbearers brought him out and I don’t think any of us knew that was going to happen. Then they put the coffin down and it was like he came back from the dead. That’s the first thing I think of when you mentioned Milton Keynes. It was a lot of fun.

Did you know that Steve Hackett was going to come out for the encores?
I didn’t know that, but I knew he was there. It’s funny. A lot of times I’m reading YouTube comments and people always pit me and Steve against each other. They’ll say, "I think Steve is better" or they’ll say "I think that Daryl is better." What’s funny is that I get along with Steve really well. I think he’s an excellent guitar player. It’s funny that people are trying to make out that we’re enemies.

But that concert is the only time you actually shared a stage, right?
Yes. The only time.

It’s like seeing the two Darrins from Bewitched together at the same time.
[Laughs] Yeah, I’m the second one, [Dick Sargent]. That’s so funny. When we were at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Steve and I sat next to each other and had a great conversation.

When Phil started to land all these solo songs on the charts, did you think that Genesis was done?
Yeah, I did for a minute. But I never asked him. That’s because it’s one of those things you don’t want to know the answer to since it might not be the answer that you want. Every time we did a [solo] album I thought, "Oh, I wonder if he’s going to not have time for Genesis now." It’s amazing that he lasted as long as he did doing both. I never felt conflicted though. It was good for me because I was in both groups in a sense. I would do whatever tour that he did. It was a usually a year with one and then a year with the other.

Was it hard on your personal life to basically always be on tour?
In the beginning, yeah .What’s amazing is that my wife and I are still together after all this time. It was 40 years on December 11th. We always joke that it’s only been 20 years since I was on the road for the first 20 years. What’s funny is that Mike and Tony both are in marriages that also lasted. They’ve been with their wives even longer than I have been with mine. It does get difficult in the beginning, but as long as you have good communication and you’re still making each other laugh, that holds you together. I have two daughters and now one of my daughters has two daughters, so now I’m a grandparent.

I saw a photo of you guys in the White House once near Ronald Reagan. What was that day like?
We didn’t actually meet Reagan, but there is that photo of us standing there when he just came off one of the helicopters. He walked by with Nancy and waved to us. Genesis had just done that "Land of Confusion" video [featuring a vicious parody of Reagan], so there may have been political reasons why they didn’t want us to meet him. But being in the White House was great. I’d never been there. The people who were taking us around were very nice, though the Secret Service didn’t really have much sense of humor.

When the We Can’t Dance tour was happening, did you have a sense that it was going to be the last one?
Yeah. Well, I shouldn’t say that I thought it was the end. What happened is that two years later I was on tour with Phil on the Both Sides tour. He was talking to his manager one day and I heard him say, "Oh, you know, I’m not doing Genesis anymore." And I was like, "Shit." I had no idea he was going to stop. That’s how I found out.

But the band carried on without you guys. Was there any talk of you doing that tour with Ray Wilson?
I remember thinking, "How are they going to do an album without Phil?" But then they got Ray Wilson to sing and Anthony Drennan to play guitar. He’s a great guitar player. But I thought, "Well, that’s kind of odd." Honestly, I was wondering if that was going to work. And, well, it sort of didn’t. There was one album and then they were done. It was really like the Rolling Stones going out without Mick Jagger. Besides being an excellent musician, Phil is an entertainer. And maybe since they didn’t have Chester [Thompson] on drums, they wanted to make a change so it was totally different. But at least I was still doing the Phil thing, which was nice.

What was it like playing halftime at the Super Bowl?
That was interesting because I had no idea how much prep went into all that. We spent three days doing it over and over. We had to get the timing exactly right. Then we recorded the music without the vocal so that even though we did a live performance, Phil is singing to a track. But he did sing live.

How did you feel around the time of the First Final Farewell tour in 2004–05? Did you worry you’d soon be out of a job?
Yeah. I did think he was serious. At the same time, part of me thought, "Really?" I mean, I can’t imaging retiring ever. Retiring from what? It’s kind of a nice thing to have a job where you get paid very well to make music and you’re in front of people who love you before you even come out. Why retire from that? It’s a great job. It’s a great career. I’ve never had a job other than being a guitar player in bands. I thought to myself, "He’s going to get bored." And he did [laughs].

Back in 2005, there was a meeting with Peter about the possibility of doing The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway on a reunion tour. Were you aware at the time that was being discussed?
Yeah. I think we were in Glasgow. I was sitting in the lobby having a club sandwich at the restaurant bar and they told me they were having this meeting. I thought to myself, "Well, I guess they’re gonna get the five back together again." And then Mike and Tony come out of the elevator and say to me, "We’re thinking about doing a tour with you and Chester if you’re into it." And I thought to myself, "Sure I’m into it!" That’s how I found out. I wasn’t at that meeting and I don’t know what they talked about, but I guess that they decided not to do it and then they decided to do it just the three of them.

What were rehearsals for that tour like?
It was interesting because we hadn’t played together in 14 years. I remember sitting down for breakfast with Mike at the Peninsula Hotel [in New York] and it was $150 for the two of us. And even Mike who is pretty well off said, "$75 for breakfast?" Anyway, we went to the rehearsal and after about five or six songs I saw Mike and Tony go speak with the manager. I believe they were saying, "Hey, this is working." We weren’t actually rehearsing for the tour yet. We were just going to get together for the week. It was like a pre-rehearsal to see if it was even a possibility. And all the chemistry was there. If felt like it had been 14 months, not 14 years.

Did it surprise you that after all these years, you were still playing at places like Giants Stadium?
I think it surprised everybody. I remember talking to a German promoter and I said, "It’s amazing we’re here at this place for three nights." He said to me, "Actually, you could have done another five." It was one of my favorite tours. You know when you do something and then you look back and say, "You know, I really should have savored those moments a little more." So on that tour I made sure that I always felt great about wherever we were and I thought to myself, "This is amazing because it’s probably the last time we’ll ever be together."

Once that ended did you think that part of your life was over and you’d never be back in front of big crowds?
I did think to myself, "Well, I guess this is it." But as I said, I don’t know any musician that retired and then never did it again. Every once in a while, I’d get a phone call to go down to Florida where [Phil] lives and we’d play a Little Dreams Foundation event. For the longest time I thought that was going to be it, but then I started to get a hint that he was thinking about doing something again.

You obviously knew Phil’s son Nic as a little boy. It must be surreal to have him in the band now and doing such a great job.
Right. On the 2004–05 tour, there always used to be a little drum kit for little kids set up in a room backstage. He must have been four and he’d be imitating the groove on "Something Happened on the Way to Heaven." I used to sit there and think, "Man, he’s really good for four. I wonder if he’ll become a drummer?" Well, of course he did. And he’s just an incredible musician.

Did you worry that the show might suffer if Phil couldn’t stand up?
Oh, yeah, we were all worried about that. We thought, "How is he going to do that?" But it works because even though he’s sitting there almost all the night, there’s so much activity going on around him. And people love the songs and they don’t mind hearing them whether or not he’s jumping around.

You just did a short tour of America last year. Do you think you’ll come back?
Oh, yeah. I think we only did 15. He wanted to see, "Does this really work?" But he noticed that it worked really, really well and the audiences were really accepting of the show. We’ll all very happy. I’m sure we’re gonna go and do some more things.

Do you think there’s any chance that Genesis will play again? Phil could sing and Nic could play drums.
Boy, that’s a good question. If I knew I couldn’t tell you, but I don’t know [laughs]. I really don’t know that answer. I’ve seen Phil in interviews say that he could do it if Nic was on drums and I thought, "Well, that opens the door for sure." But who knows? I haven’t asked him if that’s going to happen, but I surely would be open to the idea. Nic is showing that he can handle it.

Yes is able to tour with Steve Howe and a bunch of other people and they draw big crowds. Why not do a tour with you, Chester, Mike, Tony and Steve. Maybe Ray Wilson could sing or some other guest.
Well, I’d feel funny about that if Phil wasn’t there. I don’t think they’d want to do that, not after their experience of trying to do that with Ray.

But they called that "Genesis." This could be "The Genesis Project" or something. You’d still be more authentic than most bands from that time period these days.
Yeah, especially if you have Mike and Tony and then Chester and I, who are secondary. You’re thinking like an agent. Why not? If Mike and Tony called me up and were like, "Do you want to do that?" I’d be like, "Of course!" But it’s not up to me. It’s up to them.

In the meantime, you get to be on this amazing tour with Phil, which is something not a lot of people thought would ever happen again.
Absolutely. I feel the same way as I did about the last Genesis tour in 2007. I’m savoring it every time that we play.

© RollingStone, by Andy Greene

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