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Phil Collins & Chester Thompson: The Drums of Genesis

Seconds later the singer is back behind the other trap set onstage to join Chester Thompson on a wild odd-time flight climaxed by a drum solo that combines the precision of a military group, the loose, swinging Gene Krupa bounce, the power of two steam engines, and some dynamics -- god forbid -- during actual improvised sections.

Genesis has been influencing the rock world wince 1969, when Peter Gabriel formed the band in England with schoolmates Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford. Two years later a talented drummer named Phil Collins was hired. When Gabriel left the group in 1975, Collins stepped forward to sing and the band continued to establish a standard for progressive rock, introducing finely tuned grand thematic phrases and darting from odd time signatures to odder ones.

Collins realized he needed help with the drum chores in the band when he started singing lead, and after experimenting with Bill Bruford, hired the exciting American drummer Chester Thompson. Thompson has been with Genesis for a decade now, and he complements Collins' style with the highest degree of taste, pushing his own personality through in the same forceful style as the group's other American import, guitarist Daryl Stuermer. Thompson's muscle helps make Genesis the formidable road band it is, and in recent years they've become masters of the recording studio as well. With Collins at the helm, using a combination of drum machine sounds, top engineers and effects, and revealing a truly sharp mind for placing instruments, Genesis' drum tracks have proved to be some of the hottest and classiest of the last several years, jumping all over the radio and pop charts.

Today's new breed of Genesis fan likes the group's new, more commercial, more accessible rhythmic approach. The new fan may never have been thrilled by Collins' melodic rot tom work on "Eleventh Earl of Mar," or his orchestration of shimmering bells on the smoking "Wot Gorilla" [both on _Wind and Wuthering_], cutting through the odd time signatures with a bit of soul. But the new fan might notice that a certain look comes over Collins' face when he walks back to his drum set to join Thomson in battery. The determination is etched on his mug likea bull terrier. It's time to slam some sticks into heads, and Collins has done that with some of the best of them, including Robert Fripp, Robert Plant, Tommy Bolin, Chaka Khan, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Philip Bailey, Howard Jones, and Eric Clapton, to name only a few.

"Phil has a special way of laying back, but has that fire and energy at the same time," says bassist Nathan East. "It's almost like magical things he does with the time. He can play anything from swing, bebop, fusion, to gold old rock drums." East worked with Collins on Eric Clapton's _August_ album, which Phil also produced. "He never labors over anything, and that's why his stuff always seems to sound so fresh," says the studio MVP bassist. "It's not hard work to get the tracks. And Phil's got a real working knowledge of all the machines, and programs the machines the same way he plays, with that bit of magic." Collins can compose and perform a classy funk riff on a Roland with the same authority as when he sits down behind his Premiers to bash out an alternating single- to double-paradiddle pattern with Chester Thompson.

Thompson, in his own right, gazes out calmly through his drum kit like some celestial warlord, dropping lightening bolts from either arm. The pride of Baltimore, Maryland, is confident when he's back on the percussion attack. Thompson's own recording credits include Flora Purim, Rodney Franklin, Freddie Hubbard, four or five Frank Zappa records, and soulful and happy bashing on Weather Report's _Black Market_ on which he and Alex Acuna sound like about five drummers. In spite of Genesis' heavy touring schedule last year, Thompson also found time to work on most of Santana's _Beyond Appearances_, and the Amy Grant / Peter Cetera duet, "Next Time I Fall" [_Solitude/Solitaire_].

Thompson lives in Los Angeles, when Genesis isn't on the road, with wife Rosalind and son Akil. He spends much of his time composing for a jazz group he plays with called Air Pocket, and credits Genesis with a great deal of the inspiration for the songs he writes.

Thompson was a member of one of Frank Zappa's two-drummer bands in the early '70s along with Ralph Humphrey. There have been some other notable drum duos in rock -- the Allman Brothers had two, and the Grateful Dead do -- but the consistency and dynamics that mark the work of Genesis' twosome in concert is unmatched. I'm very proud of the ten years we've had together," says the 36-year-old Collins.

At the time of the interview that follows, Genesis was on tour and it proved impossible to pin both Phil and Chester down in the same place at the same time. So we spoke to them individually, and discovered, while splicing the results, that their remarks fit together as naturally and effortlessly as do their drumming styles. Never before have the drummers of Genesis spoken in such depth about their playing.

We started by asking Phil---who is actually Genesis' *fourth* drummer---how he got the gig. He said he never met the first drummer for the band (Chris Stewart), but went to school with the second (John Silver). They had hired a new drummer to do out-of-town gigs (John Mayhew, who recorded the group's first album, Trespass). But when guitarist Anthony Phillips left in 1969, they decided to change drummers too. Auditions were advertised in Melody Maker, and held at Peter Gabriel's parents' farm in Surrey, England.

 

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