CHESTER THOMPSON
 ...A Brief History

Born and raised in Baltimore, 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. 

  At the 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’ A Curious 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 among others. 

In the 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.”
  After 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)

 

The 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 three U.S. hit singles, "No Reply At All", "Man On The Corner" and "Abacab." 

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.

After 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 the Baltimore area, and knew of Chester’s drumming by reputation. Thompson auditioned for Frank Zappa, and quickly impressed the musical legend. Chester officially 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.
 
At the 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 in England 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.

By the mid-70s, Chester Thompson had followed The Mothers to
Los 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)

  With the 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.
By 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 career.
 
At 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 Baltimore at 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.
  Thompson 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,
Chester returned 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.  

In 1986, Thompson returned to the road with Genesis in support of the group’s Invisible Touch album. 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 England
at the end of the tour.   


Chester Thompson (far left) with Weather 
Report circa 1975

  In 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 1999. 
Walden 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 Chester was with the group.
  The 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 call to 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 individually. 
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. 

Collins 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.
 


The first part of The Way We Walk, The Shorts, which went gold in the U.S. 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.

Collins, 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 Genesis. 

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 Chester used 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 Chester had the job if he wanted it – no audition necessary.
 
After Genesis 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 Nashville, Tennessee. 
After 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 Chester would stay up until 4 o’clock each morning practicing and transcribing Phil’s drum parts!
  As a session player, Chester would 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 (center)

 
In 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. 

Shortly 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
At 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 career. 

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
Chester learned 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."

Thompson 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. 
 
In 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.
Thompson 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 left) and 
Stuermer (2nd from right)

 

In 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.

Chester
Thompson continues to be a very active session musician and still teaches music at Belmont University in
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. 

Dave Negrin
June 2004

Special 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.
 


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