PHIL COLLINS
... A Brief History

(Part One: 1951-1979)
 

Philip David Charles Collins was born on January 30, 1951 in Chiswick, London. Collins, who's father was a second generation insurance executive and his mother was a reputable booking agent, discovered the drums at the age of five. By the time he was 12 years old, Collins had his first proper drum kit, and passionately pursued his love of playing the instrument every chance he could.

By 1965, Collins seemed to be a natural performer and joined the Barbara Speaks Stage School. With his mother's help, Collins soon landed the role of the Artful Dodger in Lionel Bart's production of Oliver and did some modeling for mail order catalogs. While Phil enjoyed acting and modeling, his time was balanced with his love of music and drumming. Collins started a school group called The Real Thing playing Motown cover tunes and other songs from the era.
 
    It was also during this period that the band began experimenting in art rock. The group gained a major cult following in Europe and parts of North America with their powerful progressive music and elaborate stage shows. Lead singer Peter Gabriel's stage presence and flair of ornate costumes, along with the band's dedication to musical perfection in the live setting, quickly gained Genesis some much needed attention and acclaim, but the band continued to fail, commercially speaking. Despite this, the band's momentum continued to rise.

      In November 1974, Genesis released what would be their final album with this line-up, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. The conceptual double album remains one of the group's most critically heralded projects to date. The Lamb eventually earned gold certification in the U.S. for sales in excess of 500,000 copies and peaked at #41 on the U.S. albums chart.
Collins, who attended a school predominately attended by young women, became very popular for his drumming, hip 60s fashion sense, and his charismatic charm. Of course, the fact that he ended up being an extra in the concert footage of the Beatles film A Hard Day's Night certainly didn't hurt either!

In 1967, Phil Collins met Ronnie Caryl, who lived up the road from him. Collins, age 15, and Caryl, age 13, found that they had many similar interests. Caryl was in another local stage school and was a fledgling guitarist. Like Collins, Caryl had a burning desire for music. The two became close friends and enjoyed playing music together. During this period, Collins joined The Freeholdafter, being the only one to reply to their Melody Maker advertisement for a drummer. The Freehold saw Collins make his recording debut with a self-penned song called "Lying Crying Dying."

Phil Collins reached major a crossroad in his career in 1968 with the release of his first true film role in Calamley The Cow. Collins was concerned that the character he played could jeopardize his cool status with his fellow co-eds, which resulted in clashes with the director of the film. Ultimately, Collins role in the film was diminished leaving him frustrated and angry with the experience. By the time the film wrapped, Collins had made the decision to focus his time on music exclusively.

Collins and Caryl continued playing music together in various bands and ended up becoming the backing band for an R&B group called the Bloody Ages. The duo then went on to serve as a backing band for John Walker and the Walker Brothers in 1968 before they eventually formed their own band, Hickory.
 
     In May 1975, at the end of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway tour, the band received their most devastating loss yet. Vocalist Peter Gabriel had decided the leave the band for personal reasons. 

     Despite rumors to the contrary, Genesis chose to carry on. The band returned without a lead singer to the studio to begin work on a new album. After auditioning a number of potential singers, Genesis bandmate Phil Collins decided to take the job while maintaining his role as drummer. 

     Collins had sung lead on a few tracks previously and supported Gabriel on backing vocals since joining the group, so he seemed like an obvious choice to some. Others thought Collins would lack the ability to successfully carry off signature Gabriel sung tunes like "The Musical Box" which were staples of Genesis live shows at the time.  

    At this point, Genesis was still not without conflict. As democratic as Genesis was in selecting each other's songs for album inclusion, Steve Hackett started to feel that some of his compositions were being unfairly overlooked. Hackett had used the gap of time the band needed to locate a new lead singer to record his first solo album, Voyage of The Acolyte. But the artistic freedom of one solo album did not permanently relieve his dissatisfaction with Genesis. In fact, the creative control Hackett experienced during the making of that solo album only intensified his desire as a songwriter and musician.



A young Phil Collins rocks out on the drums
 


Genesis in 1975 (L-R): Collins, Rutherford, 
Banks, Gabriel and Hackett

Collins and Caryl would hang out in London on Tin Pan Alley Street in a café called the Giaconda. One day, while hanging out in the Giaconda, the duo met Brian Chatton, who had a contact with Ken Howard and Alan Blakely, successful producers who had successes with bands like The Herd among others. 

Chatton shared with Collins and Caryl that Howard and Blakely were looking for a group to do a concept album about the last spaceship leaving a dying planet Earth called
Ark2. As a result of that contact, Chatton, Collins, and Caryl became the band Flaming Youth and released the Ark2 album in 1969.

The album was premiered at the London Planetarium, but despite positive reviews in the press, the album was a commercial disaster. The band returned to record one follow up single called "Man, Woman and Child." When the new single failed to make any commercial impact, Flaming Youth disbanded.

     By the mid-70s, in his spare time, Phil Collins was also actively working as a session musician for artists like Brian Eno, Tommy Bolin, John Cale, Jack Lancaster, and Rod Argent. Among those various session recordings, Collins played drums on Eddie Howell's 1975 Gramaphone Record album (later renamed The Man From Manhattan). It was during these sessions that Collins met Percy Jones, John Goodsall, and Robin Lumley. The foursome formed a fusion band called Brand X and by 1976 released their debut album, Unorthodox Behavior. Collins managed to fit a few gigs in support of the album in between Genesis commitments, but returned to Genesis to release their next album.  

    Genesis' next album, 1976's Trick of The Tail, restored their underground following's faith in the group, but started to take the band in another direction musically. While the art rock style of Gabriel-era Genesis disappeared, Collins proved to be a suitable replacement as lead singer and a consummate showman.   On the 1976 Genesis tour, however, the need for Collins to get in-front of the audience as lead vocalist, forced the band to add a second drummer. Genesis enlisted progressive-rock drummer Bill Bruford, best known for his work with bands like Yes and King Crimson.  
 


Flaming Youth with Collins (front right)


     In December 1976 and January 1977, Collins returned to the studio with Brand X to record their second album, Moroccan Roll, released in April 1977. By this point, Collins' involvement with Genesis made maintaining his participation in Brand X impossible, so he quit the band.  

     Genesis' next studio album, Wind and Wuthering, was released in January 1977. While Bill Bruford provided adequate support while Collins took center stage, he was not satisfied simply supporting the band on the road and left at the conclusion of the 1976 tour. So, Genesis once again found themselves seeking a touring drummer in 1977. This time, the band hired Chester Thompson, best known for his work with Frank Zappa and The Mothers and the jazz super group Weather Report. 
Once again, Collins and Caryl were a duo looking for a band. In 1970, while hanging out in the Marquee Club in London, the two musicians ached to be a part of a band that played out regularly. Flipping through the back pages of Melody Maker Magazine, Collins noticed one band in particular that that had been playing many of the local clubs on a regular basis. The group was Genesis, a local Surrey-based band.

During one of their stints at the Marquee Club, Collins and Caryl met John Anthony, who was Genesis’ producer at the time. Anthony mentioned to the duo that Genesis was auditioning to replace guitarist Anthony Phillips and drummer John Mayhew, the band's third drummer in three years, who had both recently departed. Simultaneously, an ad was running in Melody Maker announcing Genesis' search for new talent.
     After completing the 1977 world tour, Genesis was mixing their second live album, Seconds Out, when Steve Hackett announced his departure from the band. Rather than replace Hackett, bassist Michael Rutherford decided to take on the task of guitars and bass, making Genesis a trio. Unbeknownst to the band at the time, this new line-up would remain intact for more than 15 years.   

November 1977 also saw the release of Livestock, Brand X's first live album, which featured Collins on three of it's five tracks. 

     The three remaining members, Collins, Banks, and Rutherford, returned to the studio to record their eleventh (and aptly named) album, 1978's ...And Then There Were Three... Although beyond their comprehension at the time, this album served as the catalyst for Genesis' explosion into the mainstream.
The prospect of regular gigs appealed to both musicians even though neither of them were familiar with Genesis' music. That, combined with the fact that Genesis paid a whopping 10 uk pounds per week, twice what Collins and Caryl made in Flaming Youth, was enough to ensure their interest. Soon after, Collins called Genesis front man Peter Gabriel to request an audition. 

The two musicians auditioned at Peter Gabriel's parent's house in late July of that year. Caryl auditioned with Genesis bassist Mike Rutherford poolside, while Collins, waiting for his turn to audition behind the drums, was offered to swim in the family swimming pool. While swimming, Collins listened carefully to the other drumming auditions and by the time his turn came, was able to breeze through the audition. "Just the way he sat down on the stool, I knew that he was going to be good" recollected Gabriel about Collins' confidence in a 2002 interview with the BBC. 
 The ...And Then There Were Three... album effectively bridged the transition from progressive rock to radio-orientated pop, earning the band's first RIAA-certified gold record for 500,000 plus copies sold in the States and yielded their first big U.S. hit, "Follow You Follow Me," which reached #23 on the singles chart. 

Years later, ...And Then There Were Three... would go on to earn platinum certification for more than one million copies sold and peak at #14 on the albums chart in the United States.

     With the departure of Steve Hackett from Genesis, another guitarist was needed for touring purposes. For this reason, the band chose Daryl Stuermer who was best known for his work with jazz greats like George Duke and Jean-Luc Ponty. 


Genesis in the early 1970s (L-R): Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins,
Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett and Tony Banks

 

On August 4, 1970, Collins received the news that he had gotten the job as Genesis' new drummer. Unfortunately for Caryl, he did not secure the guitarist's seat in the band. Despite being given a second chance at Collins' request, the duo of Collins and Caryl had ended with Collins' union with Genesis.


Brand X with Phil Collins (second from left)

     As Genesis began to evolve musically, some fans felt that the group's departure from the progressive sound of the early to mid 1970s was a form of selling out, commercially speaking. Despite this, the band continued to follow their artistic vision and eventually gained public acclaim (although, critical acclaim typically alluded the band throughout most of their career).


     By the end of August, Collins was rehearsing with Genesis and their second album, Trespass, recorded prior to Collins' arrival, is released in October 1970 in Europe. 

     While trying to identify a new bandmate to replace Anthony Phillips, Genesis' then recently departed guitarist, the band temporarily enlisted the help of Mick Barnard. Mick performed with the band live, but ultimately his role with Genesis was short lived.

     By the end of 1970, Genesis identified guitarist Steve Hackett to permanently fill the guitarist's spot and Genesis' line-up was complete. This newly revamped Genesis line-up would remain intact for five years. During this period, Genesis released four studio albums (Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, Selling England By The Pound and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway), one live album, and toured almost non-stop. 
     At the end of the 1978 world tour, Phil Collins announced to Genesis members Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford that he needed to either take a hiatus from the band or quit the group. Collins felt that he needed to leave for Vancouver, Canada to attempt to repair his marriage, which had fallen pray to Collins' rigorous schedule of recording sessions and touring. Rather than carry on without him, Banks and Rutherford decided to focus on solo projects, allowing Collins to remain in Genesis while still tending to the needs of his personal life.

     By 1979, Collins determined that his marriage was not repairable, and returned to active session work. Among these projects was a brief return to Brand X for the Product album, as well as session work with Robert Fripp, David Greenslade, and the progressive rock band Camel among others. Collins had also started writing some songs of his own for his first solo album. Some of these songs, unbeknownst to Collins, would later surface on the next Genesis album, Duke

- Click here to return to the Biographies Index
- Click here to go to part two of the Phil Collins Biography (1980-2006)

 


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