and raised inBaltimore, Maryland, Chester Thompson took to the drums at an early
age. James Harris, a family friend and jazz drummer, first introduced Chester to the drum kit at age 11, and by the time he
was 13, Thompson was already doing club gigs in the greater Baltimore area. Influenced by the likes of Max Roach, Art
Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams along with the popular music of the
mid-1960s, Thompson was strongly influenced by jazz and soul music. By age
15, Thompson had played many different genres of music and began joining
local jazz groups in the area.
conclusion of the 1978 ...And Then There Were Three world tour,
Genesis went their separate ways while Phil Collins dealt with personal
matters. In his absence, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks began working on
their first solo projects, with Chester appearing on Banks’ ACurious Feeling album, which was
released in 1979. During this period, Thompson also completed session work
a number of artists including appearances on Freddie Hubbard's Splash
and Love Connection albums, Flora Purim's Every Day, Every Night,
David Pritchard's Light Year, and Hermeto Pascoal's Slave's Mass
years that followed, Chester Thompson joined a house band at a local club
in Baltimore. The band backed up an
assortment of touring soul artists of the period. Eventually, Chester found himself touring with jazz organist Jack McDuff, and a number of other
artists. He also toured briefly with Ben E. King, best known for his hit
single, “Stand By Me.”
Genesis recorded their next album, 1980’s Duke, Thompson was asked to return to the band to begin rehearsals
for their next world tour. Fuelled
by the hit singles “Misunderstanding” and “Turn It On Again” the
Duke tour was the biggest and most successful Genesis tour to date.
Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of
Invention in 1974
with Chester Thompson (center row, far left)
band quickly followed up the Duke
album with Abacab in September
1981. The album peaked at #9 on the U.S. albums chart and became their first RIAA–certified platinum selling
album. By this point, each Genesis album seemed to follow the pattern of
more commercial success than its predecessors. Abacab featured
hit singles, "No Reply At All", "Man On The Corner"
Following Abacab, which had by this point sold more than two
million copies in the U.S.
(earning double-platinum status), the band released their third live
album, 1982's Three Sides Live, which peaked at #10 on the U.S.
albums chart. Three Sides Live
marked the second Genesis album featuring Chester Thompson and went on to
sell more than 500,000 copies in the U.S.earning yet another RIAA gold album certification for Genesis.
having established himself as a respectable jazz and rhythm and blues
session player, Thompson learned from Frank Zappa’s tour manager that
Zappa was seeking a second drummer to compliment Ralph Humphrey, Zappa’s
then current drummer and percussionist. Zappa was one of the first rock
musicians to decide to capitalize on the use of two drummers, a move
driven by his enthusiasm for percussion and odd time signatures. Both
Zappa and his manager were natives of theBaltimorearea, and knew of Chester’s drumming by reputation. Thompson auditioned
for Frank Zappa, and quickly impressed the musical legend. Chesterofficially joined Frank Zappa and The Mothers of
Invention in late September 1973. The Mothers had a reputation as an incredibly
tight live act, and that reputation came with a price. Thompson would
rehearse 40 hours per week for four to six weeks prior to each tour. The
rigorous schedule along with the musical complexity of Zappa’s music,
proved to be more demanding than anything Thompson had done before.
conclusion of the Abacab tour,
Phil Collins concentrated on his first solo album, Face Value, a project he had started during Genesis’ previous
hiatus. The album was a huge commercial success and featured the hit
single “In The Air Tonight,” which remains one Phil Collins’
signature tunes. Face Value was
quickly followed up with Collins’ sophomore effort, Hello,
I Must Be Going!,in 1982.
During this period, Genesis fans were treated to the brief return of Peter
Gabriel and Steve Hackett for a one-off Genesis reunion concert with
Collins, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Chester Thompson and Daryl Stuermer
on October 2, 1982.
The now legendary concert was not officially recorded, but the now
infamous and widely circulated audience recorded bootleg of the show is
probably one of the most sought after unsanctioned recordings ever made
from a Genesis concert.
the mid-70s, Chester Thompson had followed The Mothers toLos Angeles, California, but shortly thereafter, Zappa cancelled his
then up-coming tour. Thompson was new to Los Angeles at the time, and did not have contacts for new
session or touring work. Luckily, a long-time acquaintance and fellow
session player from the northeast, Alphonso Johnson, contacted him about
his band Weather Report and their need for a new drummer. Weather Report
was a jazz “supergroup” co-founded by saxophonist Wayne Shorter and
keyboardist Joe Zawinul. The band was considered by many to be one of the
most significant modern influences on jazz and jazz-fusion. Thompson went
to jam with the band and was eventually offered the drummer’s seat with
the legendary group.
Genesis promotional tour photo
from 1991 with
Chester Thompson (second from the right)
Weather Report circa 1976 with
Chester Thompson (far right)
reunion behind him, Collins wanted to tour in support of Hello, I Must Be Going!, which meant assembling a new live band.
Since Collins played drums on the project, he once again found himself
needing a strong supporting drummer and turned to Thompson who, along with
touring Genesis guitarist/bass player Daryl Stuermer, formed part of the
backbone to Collins’ live shows throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s.
The tour was immortalized on video in 1983 with the release of Live At Perkins Palace, recorded live in Pasedena, California
on the North American
leg of Collins first solo tour.
the time Chester Thompson quit The Mothers of Invention in January 1975, he
had played on numerous recording sessions and toured extensively with
Zappa. Eventually, these sessions would appear on albums such as Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt, One
Size Fits All, Bongo Fury, Roxy &
Elsewhere, Läther, and others; some of which were actually released long
after Chester's departure. Perhaps the most heralded of these
post-departure Zappa releases are excerpts on the You Can't Do That On
Stage Anymore series, a collection of live material spanning Zappa's
the conclusion of his solo tour, Phil Collins returned to Genesis to begin
work on their next album. This break allowed Thompson the ability to
pursue other projects and spend time with his family. Once the self-titled
Genesis album was completed, Thompson was contacted to participate in the
band’s 1984 world tour. This was Genesis’ biggest tour to date, which
included several stops in North America that the band had never played before. The 1984
tour was filmed and released commercially that same year. At the
completion of the highly successful tour, Genesis went their separate ways
to work on solo projects.
Chester would spend the next year on the road with
Weather Report before the band would record their next album, 1976’s Black
Market. In December 1975, mid-way into the making of the album, the
band went their separate ways due to the Christmas holiday season. During
that period, bassist Alphonso Johnson quit Weather Report to pursue other
projects. Thompson, who was home visiting family in Baltimoreat the time, had no idea that Johnson had quit
the group. Due to the close relationship forged between Chester Thompson
and Alphonso Johnson, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul assumed that Thompson
had left the band to go work with Johnson. When Chester contacted Shorter upon his return to get the
band’s recording schedule, he learned that Alphonso Johnson had been
replaced with Jaco Pastorius. In turn, Pastorius recommended Narrada
Michael Walden to replace Chester Thompson. After the miscommunication was
addressed, Zawinul told Thompson that he was not out of the band and
Thompson returned to the studio to finish the album along with
percussionist Alex Acuña who was also added. Apparently, this situation
was not communicated to Walden, and while Thompson was not threatened by
the inclusion of an additional drummer in the recording sessions, there
was obviously some discomfort with the situation for some parties.
returned to Phil Collins’ touring band in support of Collins’ third
solo album, No Jacket Required.
The album sparked several hit singles including "Sussudio",
"Take Me Home", "Don't Lose My Number", and "One
More Night," and went on to win several Grammy Awards including Album
of The Year in 1985. As a result, Collins’ 1985 tour played to venues as
large as those Genesis had played across the world.
At the end of the tour, while Collins worked on the next Genesis project, Chesterreturned to the studio to work on Solitude/Solitaire,
a solo album by ex-Chicago vocalist Peter Cetera. Thompson played drums on
the album’s #1 hit single, “Next Time I Fall,” which was a duet with
Cetera and Amy Grant.
Thompson returned to the road with Genesis in support of the group’s Invisible Touch
Invisible Touch climbed to number one on the Billboard album
chart, and went on to sell more than six million copies in the United
States alone. The 1986/87 tour for the album was massive. The ten month
tour took the band to 111 shows, 59 cities, 16 countries, and a total of
more than three million fans. The tour recorded for video release
during the shows at Wembley Arena in Englandat the end of the
Chester Thompson (far left) with
Report circa 1975
1989 and 1990, Chester Thompson returned to the road with Phil Collins in
support of Collins' ...But Seriously solo album. The extremely
successful 1989/90 tour packed large indoor and outdoor venues across the
world. It was immortalized on the live album Serious Hits... Live! at
the conclusion of the tour.
It was four years after the Invisible Touch tour before Genesis would release their next studio
album, 1991's We Can't Dance. During Genesis' touring hiatus, Chester
began work on
his own solo debut, A Joyful Noise,
which was also released in 1991. While A Joyful Noise was not a huge commercial success, selling
only 957 copies, it was very well received
critically in jazz circles. The album was reissued many years
later on Steve Hackett's Camino Records with new album artwork in
only ended up appearing on one and a half tracks, but by the time the Black
Market album was completed, the damage to the relationship between
Thompson and Zawinul and Shorter was done. These issues combined with the
frustration of the musical and personal clashes between Thompson and
Pastorius, ultimately led to the mutual decision that Chester quit the band.
Ironically, Black Market peaked
at #2 on the Billboard Jazz
Chart and #42 on the Pop Chart and is to this day considered by many to be
one of the best albums Weather Report ever recorded in their 15 year
existence. Although Thompson never returned to Weather Report, in 2002,
the now defunct band released Live
and Unreleased, which spanned the group’s career with rare
recordings, including five tracks recorded on tour while Chesterwas with the group.
We Can't Dance album was another record breaker
for Genesis featuring five hit singles including "No Son of
Mine", "Jesus He Knows Me", "Hold On My Heart",
and "I Can't Dance", and eventually earned
multi-platinum status, selling in excess of four million copies in the U.S.alone. The band prepared for a major world-wide
tour in support of the project, and once again, Chester Thompson got the
return to Genesis.
Like their previous tour, the 1992 concert tour
generated the highest average gross per venue of any act that year. At
this point in the band's career, Genesis was a musical juggernaut and
arguably had become one of the most successful acts in existence, if not
music history. At
the conclusion of the Genesis tour, the band released their fourth live
album, The Way We Walk. The collection features two volumes sold
Chester continued working as a session player and, by
this point, was a well-respected drummer on the strength of his work with
Frank Zappa and Weather Report alone. In the summer of 1976, while staying
in San Francisco playing drums for the Broadway show The
Wiz, Thompson got a call from Phil Collins. Collins had tracked
Thompson down through a mutual acquaintance, Alphonso Johnson.
sought out Thompson after hearing his playing on the Frank Zappa live
album Roxy & Elsewhere and
seeing Thompson play drums at a Weather Report concert in London, which, as fate would have it, happened to be Chester’s last gig with the group.
first part of The Way We Walk, The Shorts, which went gold
selling more than 500,000 copies, focused on the group's more
pop-orientated songs. Believe it or not, The Shorts also marked the
first time the band ever put their faces on the front of one of their
albums (including Chester Thompson and Daryl Stuermer).
The second volume, The Longs, sold only 260,351 copies in the U.S., and included some of the band's more epic material and, perhaps most
interesting to Thompson fans, a drum duet between Phil Collins and Chester.
who was searching for a touring drummer to replace Bill Bruford for his
band Genesis’ up-coming Wind and
Wuthering tour, was impressed by Chester’s drumming. He was looking for a versatile
drummer who could play effectively with second drummer, since Phil was not
willing to give up the drum kit completely as the new lead singer of
This was a role that Chester Thompson was more than capable of
fulfilling, having played with Frank Zappa as part of a dual drummer
set-up and having the experience of playing everything from jazz, soul,
and funk, to straight-ahead pop music.
Chester was only familiar with Collins’ work through
the Trick of The Tail album,
which had been played heavily by Alphonso Johnson at one point when Chesterused to work with him. The two drummers found
that they clicked both musically and personally. When Collins spoke with
Thompson, he said that based upon the Weather Report gig he saw and his
work on the Roxy & Elsewhere
album which Rutherford, Hackett and Banks were equally impressed with,
that Chesterhad the job if he wanted it – no audition
went on hiatus, Chester Thompson decided to take a break and spend more
time off the road and with his family. His son was passing into adulthood,
and he recalled how he, himself, was affected by not having a father
figure at home. Thompson discussed the situation with Phil Collins who was
already preparing for another solo tour. As a result of that meeting,
mutual decision was made for Collins to carry on touring without Thompson.
Chester used that freedom to balance quality time with his family around a fairly rigorous
session work schedule in the thriving local music scene in
accepting the opportunity with Genesis, Chester had only ten days to
learn all of the drum parts for Genesis’ up-coming 1977 tour. The band
ended up only taking nine of the ten days to rehearse for the tour since Chester adapted so well to the
band’s material. What they did not know was that Chesterwould stay up until each morning
practicing and transcribing Phil’s drum parts!
session player, Chesterwould go on to work with countless pop, rock, adult contemporary,
jazz, rhythm and blues, and religious performers over the next several
years including Neil Diamond, Ron Kenoly, Duane Eddy, John Fogerty, George
Duke, Michael McDonald, Steve Hackett, Kirk Whalum, Andy Williams, Denny Jiosa, Donna Summer, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Andrew Oh, and others.
Genesis in 1977 with Chester Thompson
1993, Genesis reunited to perform at a charity concert co-organized by
Michael Rutherford in England. For this charity event, Genesis performed along
side of the equally legendary rock group, Pink Floyd. Unbeknownst to the
band or the audience, it would be the last time Phil Collins, Chester
Thompson, and Daryl Stuermer would be performing live with Genesis in
front of a public audience.
after the charity concert in 1993, Phil Collins informed Tony Banks and
Michael Rutherford that his personal life, solo career, and other outside
projects had become to difficult to manage around the band's schedule and
tendered his resignation as drummer and front-man. This news would remain
a well-guarded secret only shared with the closest members of the Genesis
camp. Tony Banks informed Phil Collins that the band would carry on
without him. Collins departure was announced to the public on March 29, 1996.
the conclusion of the Genesis Wind
and Wuthering tour during the mixing of the band’s second live
album, Seconds Out, guitarist
Steve Hackett announced his departure from the band to pursue his own solo
During the hiatus between Genesis tours, Steve Hackett enlisted Thompson
for some drumming chores on his second solo effort, Please
Don’t Touch. As history would later prove, this would not be the
last time Thompson would work with Steve Hackett.
In the mid-90s, when Chesterlearned that Collins
quit Genesis, Thompson contacted Michael Rutherford and Tony Banks about
permanently taking over the drummer's chair for the band. However, the
Rutherford and Banks opted not to add any additional permanent members to the group on drums, splitting chores between two other session players,
Nick D'Virgilio and Nir Zidkyahu. The only new member added was Ray Wilson,
a lead singer best known for his work with with the rock band Stiltskin
and their European hit single, "Inside."
returned to Genesis to tour in support of the 1978 …And Then There Were Three album.With Hackett’s departure from the band, Genesis guitarist/bassist
Mike Rutherford selected Daryl Stuermer, an accomplished jazz fusion
guitarist and bass player to join the band for touring purposes. Like
Thompson, Stuermer was referred to Genesis by Alphonso Johnson, who was
also considered for the touring guitarist/bass player role.
December 1996, Thompson returned to the road briefly with King Crimson’s
Ian McDonald and John Wetton in support of Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited album in Japan. The tour was captured
live and released on audio and video as The
Tokyo Tapes in 1998. In 1999, Chester Thompson returned to Phil
Collins’ touring band. Collins was planning a promotional tour in
support of his Tarzan soundtrack
for Walt Disney, and tapped Thompson to rejoin the band.
and Stuermer were already acquainted having met each other in 1973 when
Stuermer was in Chicago, Illinois, to see a Frank Zappa
and The Mothers of Invention concert. A
chance meeting between Stuermer and Thompson in a music store resulted in
Chester inviting Daryl backstage to meet The Mothers. When
The Mothers passed through Stuermer’s hometown, Thompson sat in on the
drums with Stuermer’s band, Sweetbottom, on one of the group’s regular
gigs at the club, The Bull Ring, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With the addition of
Stuermer, this new Genesis touring line-up would remain intact for the
next 14 years.
Chester Thompson Live In 2003
Genesis in 1978 with Thompson (far
Stuermer (2nd from right)
2001, Chester Thompson began work on his second solo outing which has yet
to be released. In 2004, Thompson once again hit the road with Phil
Collins for his “First Final Farewell Tour,” a major world tour that
is said by Collins to be his last.
2004 also saw the release of On
The Fly, an instructional DVD showcasing Chester's drumming abilities.
ChesterThompson continues to be a very active session musician
and still teaches music at BelmontUniversityin Nashville. To this day, Thompson
is highly regarded for his abilities as a versatile drummer and
percussionist, which is why so many legendary performers continually seek
out his talent.
Thanks to Chester Thompson, Charles Ulrich, "Metal Bob", Allan
Hirt, and anyone else who either
directly or indirectly assisted in the gathering of data for this
biography. Soundscan numbers used were culled in June 2004.