|When we last
spoke to Chester Thompson back in 2002, it had been a decade since the
Genesis touring line up of Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutheford, Daryl
Stuermer, and Thompson had hit the road together. That being said, Chester
was anything but retired in their hiatus.
The latter part of
this decade has certainly been a memorable one for Thompson. Not only was he
honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards for his drumming from Sabian
Cymbals and at The Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in
2007, but he also reunited with his former bandmates in Genesis that year. A
world tour culminating with one of the band's biggest
performances ever - a show in front of an estimated 400,000 people at the
Circus Maximus in Rome, Italy.
In September 2009, World of Genesis.com's own David Negrin sat down with
Chester Thompson - just miles from where Chester had
performed with Genesis two years earlier, in the shadow of Giants Stadium.
Thompson was in town as part of the Slammin' Symposium, a drumming clinic in
Wayne, New Jersey.
Chester sat down to talk about his forthcoming solo album, session work, his
interest in teaching, and the newly released Genesis Live 1973-2007
box set, Genesis' 2009 nomination into the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame, and
Speaking of different shows, the Circus Maximus show in Rome had to be one
of the most memorable shows you have ever done on the tour. Do you have
particular shows that stand out to you as being among the more memorable?
For me, the Rome show was one of the most memorable, because it was probably
the worst one (laughs)! We had had three days off on the road. I mean, can
you imagineÖ Since you are a Philly guy, imagine the 76ers [basketball team]
going on the road and hitting a nice winning streak. Suddenly, theyíve got a
few days off. Then, they come back and they have to play the Lakers.
So, in a good way, it was memorable because it was such an event. I mean,
the energy of those people in the audience was amazing, but we hadnít played
together in over three days. So, it wasnít the tightest weíve ever been.
Obviously, you want it to be as good as we can get it. So, while one part of
me remembers this incredible event with hundreds of thousands of people, the
other part of me thinks, ďMan, we messed that up!Ē (laughs)!
Of Genesis: I
understand that you have a new jazz ensemble project?
Well, yes and no. I mean, Iíve been doing some stuff. Iíve actually been
invited to do some jazz festivalsÖ Iíve just done one in Tennessee with
some people that I play with. Iíve been invited to do some other stuff, but
itís an awkward time, because Iím in the middle of a semester. I teach at
Belmont University, and Iím free to come and go, but I have about 19
students right now. So, when I miss and I need to do make-up lessons, then
two [lessons] times 19 students is 38! Oh man! (Laughs)Ö Itís getting thereÖ
Itís always been a part of what Iíve done, but Iím just not fronting it. I
mean, I love arranging and doing all of that, so itís nice having that
Are you doing standards or original material?
I do some originals and some standards I guess, but I donít do
standards in a standard way. I do take some of the classic jazz tunes and
totally twist them around and do other things with them that the [original]
composers might not have appreciated (laughs)!
When you and I last spoke back in 2002Ö
Has it been that long?!
Yes! Time flies (laughs)!
Back then, you were in the studio and probably about half-way done a new
CHESTER ON THE 2007 GENESIS TOUR:
"For me, the Rome show was one of the
most memorable, because it was probably
the worst one (laughs)!"
Well, thanks to the invention of editing and some great mixing by Nick
Davis, the show appears to have come across perfectly on DVD (laughs)!
There you go (laughs)!
With the release of the new Genesis Live 1973-2007 box set next week,
have you had any input into the new stereo or surround mixes?
No, I havenít, actually. Iím not really in the loop for that sort of stuff. I
donít hear it before anybody else. I mean, if I called them up ahead of time
and asked to hear it, Iím sure I could, but my life has been really busy
and, to be honest, I didnít even know it was coming out next week until you
just told me (laughs)! ÖBut I will absolutely call [a representative from
Genesisí management company] and say, ďHey, can you send me a copy?Ē Which
they do, thankfully.
Philís talked about his physical condition recently in the press and his
inability to play drums right now. Do you think that reduces the chances
that Genesis will ever reform to tour again?
Chester Thompson at the
Slammin' Symposium - September 2009
CT: I take him at his word that
heís done with it. Heís done. I really think he means it. Heís got those
young kids at home, and heís loved all of his kids, but I think this time he
really wants to be more involved in their lives than heís been able to be in
the past. It wouldnít surprise me if one summer he decided to go for it and
do a few shows and bring his family with him, but both of his kids are in
school now. Itís a different story and a different time. I wouldnít even
dare try and predict it.
It might happen, but I donít think it will happen in the sense that the band
is reforming, you know? There might be another small tour at some point, but
Iím certainly not holding out for it. I mean, obviously if they call, I will
be there. I think itís been a great run. Iím part of the history, but Iím
also a fan of the music, so I hope it does happen, but I take him at his
word that it probably wonít happen.
Yeah, well, funding got interrupted and all of thatÖ So, whatís ended up
happening is that Iíve recently picked it back up, which I have. I actually
decided that I didnít like very much [of the new studio material from 2002]
anymore (laughs)! So, it was back to the drawing board.
Iíve actually been
writing some new stuff, some of which I really like. I mean, I love
melodies, and people keep reminding me that anything that I put out that
people will expect to hear drums on a lot of it, you know? (laughs). Which
makes me think, ďAw, man!Ē Öbecause part of me hears these melodies from a
composerís perspective. When Iím playing stuff with somebody else, I like to
just sort of go for it! So, Iím trying to find that middle ground where I
can find the right songs and still sort of go for it. Itís taking longer
than I would have thought.
I moved, basically. I had a really nice studio in my old house. The housing
market being what it was, things really didnít go as I had planned. So, I
still havenít completed a new studio yet. Itís amazing how spoiled you get
when you just have a place where when you have an idea, you can just go down
there and do it. Iíve got a way to work, but itís just nowhere near as
convenient as what I had before.
WOG: When we spoke last, you
talked about some of your earlier influences and mentioned Jack McDuff and
Ben E. King. Iíve search what I think is every Jack McDuff and Ben E. King
album ever released and never found any recordings with you on themÖ
I never really got to record with either of them. I basically got to tour
with them. Their records had already been done. The one time I did record
with McDuff, the trumpet player in the band played pretty out of tune in
that session so they couldnít use it. Tracks werenít quite so discrete in
those days where you could actually completely isolate it and remove it. You
pretty much played live in the studio. So, those recordings never came out.
"It was just one of those things. We have
these three guys who formed this band way back when, and weíve got these two
guys who get hired on, but man when we walked into that room Ė
we were a band."
Is the jazz trio style more along the lines of what you expect to do with
your next solo project or are you trying to steer away from the drums a bit
more with that album?
No, Iím not trying to steer away from it. My problem is that Iíve done so
many styles of music, and I love so many styles of music. I mean, one of my
passions is listening to and playing Brazilian music. I love Brazilian
music! Iíve played with some Brazilian artists and really learned a lot
about it, but I still kind of do it my way. Iíve grown up playing jazz all of my
life, and I love doing that. I love slamminí and I love stadiums and just
going for it! I love all of these styles, but you canít package
all of that into one thing. Itís not marketable. Those that would have to
market it, wonít appreciate that, you know what I mean (laughs)? I
I want to do stuff people will listen to. I donít want to do stuff just for
me that nobody can get into. So, I think it will be kind of more along the
[jazz] fusion lines, but something with some serious grooves that people can
dance to. I mean, just because thatís what drums are,
they are about rhythm.
WOG: I noticed
your official website hasnít seen much in the way of change in the past
CT: No, it
there any plans to update it in the near future?
Chester Thompson live with
Genesis in 2007
Yeah, itís funny. I keep saying I need to get to that. The lady who designed
it for me is in Iraq doing stuff with the military. When sheís doing that,
she canít do anything outside of that world. I know how to do some things to
it, but basically when the Genesis Turn It on Again tour ended, I hit
the ground running. Between my other projects, my own album, teaching, and
my family life, itís getting neglected. It definitely has.
Iím talking to someone who is apparently a very astute web developer. She
has an interest in doing it, so [you should see it updated in the future].
Obviously, if [my current developer] gets back from Iraq and has an
interest in doing it, would love for her to continue doing it. Iíve learned
that I donít multi-task well. I try to get that right and then move on to
the next thing. I need more RAM! LOL!
When Phil [Collins] starting doing his big band project in the late Ď90s,
knowing your roots in jazz and how the drum duets with you and Phil have
been a big part of the Genesis tours since the Ď80s, I kind of thought that
one day you two would do sort of a [Buddy] Rich versus [Max] Roach
kind of an album one day.
Itís interesting you thought of that. That never even occurred to me. Itís
funny, because that is an album that we both listened to growing up. I think
that was really just his break from doing all of the usual stuff. That was
his outlet to get out that thing heís been enamored with all of his life. I
mean, the duets were practical for Genesis obviously, and it kind of finely
spilled out to his 2004 tour last time around... I guess he did it with Ricky
(Lawson) [on the 1994/95 Both Sides Tour], but we hadnít done it
before. Itís an interesting idea. It never even occurred to me that he
would go thereÖ which he didnít (laughs)!
Before the interview, you mentioned working on a number of projects.
Obviously, teaching has become a big part of what you enjoy doingÖ
It has become so, yes.
Ö and it seems even more so in recent years. Do you get more satisfaction
out of working with young percussionists than you do going out on tour?
What are your thoughts about the recent Rock Ní Roll Hall of Fame
nomination? Have you heard about that?
Iíve not heard anything. Youíre telling me stuff!
They announced this week that Genesis has been nominated as a candidate for
the Rock Ní Roll Hall of FameÖ
Well good! They should be. Absolutely, they should be!
As a rock band that is considered a ďfanís bandĒ and a group that is
typically not loved by the media or members of the music industry for a
large part of their body of work, what does this mean to you knowing that
its voted on by members of the music industry?
Do you think Genesis would embrace this nomination? If so, do you think an
induction into the Hall of Fame would possibly entice the band into a
one-off performance at their induction ceremony if selected?
I would think that they would perform at it, yes. I mean, theyíve always
loved to play. Itís not like they donít love to play or perform. Would they
embrace the nomination? Iíd be surprised if they didnít embrace it! If
youíre in this business and youíve seen the kind of groups that get
nominated, I would think they would be quite honored.
Chester Thompson (third from
left) receives the Annual
Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC)
Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007
Back in 2000, when Tony Smith won the Peter Grant Award, Genesis performed
with Daryl Stuermer, but you werenít thereÖ
CT: I knew
nothing about it. I had no idea. Itís actually the first Iíve heard of
heard you worked on a session with Brad Cole, Daryl Stuermer, Lee Sklar and
some of the other guys from Philís solo touring band for a project with Paul
DíAdamo for his forthcoming sort of original solo project/Genesis-Collins
Yes, I did. Brad Cole asked if I would play on
some stuff he was producing, so I did. Paulís a singer who really wanted to
do some Phil stuff, but there are some originals I think heís doing for this
project as well. Iíve not heard any of it, but the tracks turned out really
good from what I have heard from Brad.
Oh no, no, no, noÖ I love teaching, but nothing comes before playing. I love
recording, but playing to an audience is my favorite. Thatís absolutely
still my favorite thing to do. I do really enjoy teaching. I mean, life is
about seasons. There is a season for one thing and then there is a season
for another. I think you kind of learn to make your peace and learn to enjoy
the season you are in. Then, you can look forward to the next season when it
comes or you
can prepare for the next season. Itís not really an either/or type of thing.
Timing works out where there is a time for this and a time for that. Iím
glad it just kind of naturally flows that way. Itís not like I have to
choose one over the other. I can do both. I feel fortunate that way.
When did you first start hearing about the plans for the 2007 Genesis
reunion tour? Were you surprised when you got the news that the band was
getting back together?
Absolutely, I was very surprised. I was shockedÖ Well, yes and no, I guess.
I still hold out that when we were on Philís last tour... I think it was 2004.
Anyway, we were in London, and they were having a little celebration for
Tony Smithís 30th anniversary as their manager. That had
literally been the first time that all five of us (Chester with Tony Banks,
Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, and Daryl Stuermer) had been in the room
together since 1992. There was something in the air. I mean, there was
something so magical about being together in that room. Honestly, I think
thatís where it started. I still believe that is where it happened. Phil
even jokingly said to Tony [Smith], ďWell, weíre all here, when is the
It was meant as a joke, but not really. I was just one of those things. We
have these three guys who formed this band way back when, and weíve got
these two guys who get hired on, but man when we walked into that room Ė we
were a band. No doubt that it was a band. Anyone who had any doubts, when we
saw each other Ö I think it was so overwhelmingly good to see each other, we
realized what a kinship there was. Thatís my take on it, anyway. I canít
speak for anybody else.
Did you have any interest in album production yourself?
Itís not something Iím particularly gifted at, actually.
In terms of working with Daryl, I understand you guys met back around 1973.
He mentioned that he felt he first connected with you musically at a place
called Sardinoís Bullring?
(Laughs) Oh, that was way back in the day! Daryl had a really great band
(Sweet Bottom). It was this local club, and they were this great, great
local act. I donít think it happens so much anymore, but back in those days,
there were certain bands and certain clubsÖ If you were on the road, you
would just sort of sit in and jam, because you knew it was a good band and a
good club for it. Sardinoís was one of those places and Daryl had one of
It actually grew to become kind of a scene as musicians would tour through
Milwaukee. That was where we first met. It was my second gig with [Frank]
Zappa. Darylís whole band was coming to see the show, and we happened to
all meet up in the drum shop, and we just started talking.
CHESTER ON GENESIS' ROCK 'N ROLL
HALL OF FAME NOMINATION:
"I would think that they would perform at it,
yes. I mean, theyíve always loved to play. Itís not like they donít love to
play or perform. Would they embrace the nomination? Iíd be surprised if they
didnít embrace it!"
Actually, on the 2007 tour poster, it was the first time I recall seeing
your name and Darylís getting sort of equal billing as ďGenesis.Ē You know,
where your names were right up there with Tony, Phil and MikeÖ
Well, thatís happened in Europe before. Not so much in the States, but there
were tour posters back in the day in Europe that featured all of us on the
posters and stuff, but more so this timeÖ Definitely it was more prominent
than ever before, absolutely.
Obviously, the personal chemistry had to click right awayÖ
Man, this past tour was the best ever! We spent all day ever day laughing.
It doesnít get any better than that!
How about musically? Did that click quickly or did it take some time to get
back in the groove with each other?
Well, thatís hard to say. Weíre talking about people that want it to sound
better than ok. Ok would not have been good enough. I think an outside
person probably would have walked in and thought things were going pretty
well. For usÖ I mean, there is a saying in music that the first show is the
best rehearsal. Thatís when you really know ďWe need to clean this up and
iron that out.Ē
I think we all enjoyed the process, and I think everybody liked working hard
to get it right, and we did. I think we reached a point in the rehearsals
where we needed an audience to get to the next level. Itís such a process
that itís hard to put a specific timeline on it.
As you may know, they are reissuing a remixed and remastered version of Tony
Banksí first solo album, A Curious Feeling.
Having already toured with Tony twice by that time for Wind and Wuthering
in 1977 and And Then There Were Three in 1978, how was it different
working with him in the studio versus working together on tour with Genesis?
Yeah, I did know about the reissue of A Curious Feeling, but Iíve not
heard it yet. For the making of that album, probably my fondest
memory... I remember hanging out at his
house. I stayed at his house to rehearse. So, you naturally see a very
different side of someone in their home. Everyone is much more relaxed at
home. It was a really good time, actually. It was a lot of fun.
In the official Genesis biography, Chapter & Verse, it records your
birthday as being in 1968 making you the tender age of nine when you first
toured with Genesis in 1977Ö
(Laughs) Yeah right, I saw that! I guess I was more of a child prodigy than
I thought (laughs)!
Typos aside, do you think Chapter & Verse was a fair and accurate
representation of the groupís history?
I think so, yeah. Itís the history as they tell it. I read through my part
of it. Whatís your take on it?
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