What If… Chester Thompson and Daryl Stuermer Were Full-Time Genesis Members?

One of my many hobbies is comic book collecting, and I get a kick out of reading the What If issues that Marvel has released over the years (it has since become a Marvel TV series). The What If series would explore alternate timelines to tell tales about how one change in a character’s history would have unfolded. Some of these comics in my own collection include “What If The World Knew Daredevil Was Blind?”, “What If Spider-Man Had Never Become A Crimefighter?, and “What If Thor Threw A Shoe Instead of A Hammer?”. Okay, don’t look up that last one. It’s astonishingly rare.

There are cases like this in music as well. A certain artist may decide to pursue a different creative direction, and if they chose against it their career trajectory would be drastically different. Other decisions can equally shift a musician’s career or public reception, including the record label they decide to sign with, aligning themselves with a particular management firm, or something as seemingly straightforward as their vehicle of choice while shuttling between gigs. Any one of these aspects (not to mention the several thousands of other creative and business decisions that can be made) could mark the difference between success or failure.

My first point of focus on this idea deals with the British rock band Genesis.

Genesis began as a progressive rock band, settling on a core of five members at the time of their third album Nursery Cryme in 1971. This lineup, with vocalist Peter Gabriel, keyboardist Tony Bank, guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford, lead guitarist Steve Hackett, and drummer/vocalist Phil Collins, remained together across four studio albums. Gabriel left following 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and Hackett would leave after the Wind & Wuthering touring cycle was complete in 1977. …And Then There Were Three… (as evident in its title) marked the album where they became the trio that music fans at large may be most familiar with, and the record happened to spawn their largest hit at the time with the live staple “Follow You Follow Me”. That’s not to say that they didn’t have some help maintaining and expanding their presence on the world stage. Three people was deemed to be too few to execute their back catalog on-stage, so reinforcements were eventually brought into the fold in the form of two Americans.

The first of these two to join would occupy the drum stool. Once Phil Collins took over the front-man spot from Peter Gabriel, he could not be behind the kit full-time during concerts. Initially, Bill Bruford was brought in to act as a second drummer during the Trick Of the Tail tours (he can be seen performing with the band in their concert video Genesis: In Concert and heard on “The Cinema Show” from the live album Seconds Out). Bruford would leave after touring commitments were complete as he only pledged to stay with the group until a permanent replacement could be secured. Collins liked the idea of dual drummers in the stage show, and wanted to continue this.

Enter Chester Thompson.

While Collins admits to being a massive fan of jazz fusion band Weather Report (Chester plays on their Black Market album), it was hearing the double-drum attack that Thompson and Ralph Humphrey provided on Frank Zappa’s Roxy and Elsewhere live record (in particular the track “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?”) that inspired Collins to reach out to the fellow drummer. The band were confident enough in Collin’s choice that Thompson was brought aboard without a single audition, and he would join the group for their Wind & Wuthering touring in 1977. This interview with the drumming tandem during the group’s Seconds Out touring cycle shows them as very complimentary of one another, a mutual respect that made their union such a fruitful one in their concerts. Since Chester would go on to drive Genesis’ rhythms on a live basis for parts of four decades, it goes without saying that the band would have no regrets.

The process leading to Daryl Stuermer’s addition took a bit longer. Genesis knew that they wanted an American musician because they felt the country’s session players were superior to what was coming out of their homeland at the time. The first man they considered was Alphonso Johnson, yet another alumni of Weather Report. In fact, according to a January 1983 Modern Drummer interview, it was Alphonso who introduced Chester to the music of Genesis while they were touring with Weather Report (they were apparently Alphonso’s favourite band!). The band kind of soured on that idea after determining what they were after was a guitarist that could sub in on bass rather than a pure bassist. They’d need a player that could comfortably step in and do Hackett’s solo, as I suppose Mike Rutherford had no interest in learning them, and it may also have be outside of the comfort zone of a player like Alphonso (whose guitar playing on his solo recordings as that stage was minimal). Others were auditioned, including Elliot Randall of Steely Dan fame, but they wound up working off a recommendation of Johnson’s, Daryl Stuermer.

One anecdote from the auditions is that when they were jamming on “Squonk”, Elliot Randall very much approached the song as an inquisitive session player might (a paraphrased quote went along the lines of “do you want it in country, or what?”). In Stuermer, the band found what they were looking for, grasping that they wanted the songs handled much more closely to what can be heard on the albums. He was apparently a very quick learner, and even helped the band work through sections of songs that they had forgotten! Prior to joining Genesis, Daryl had cut his teeth in Sweetbottom (a band he formed with his brother Duane, though he departed before their debut album), and was in a prominent position as guitarist with jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. He goes into fantastic detail about how he got his start with Genesis in this “Unfiltered” interview, so I’d recommend listening to it if you want a full picture of what was involved. To summarize, Jean-Luc Ponty had a break in touring at the time his name was put forward as being interested in audition. Despite only a relatively loose familiarity with Genesis, Daryl enjoyed the artistic rock of the likes of Procol Harum and King Crimson, but as he listened to more of their work after hearing from Chester the he had joined the band, his motivation to work with Genesis grew.

Both Thompson and Stuermer were long-time touring members of Genesis, but neither wound up being equal contributors in terms of songwriting, and never even played on the band’s studio albums (Interestingly enough, Thompson had requested full-time band member status prior to Calling All Stations, but chose to quit rather than remain a side-man). What if that did happen? The idea is not all that far-fetched. Given that Genesis were less than a decade old by the time the Gabriel-era ended, they were hardly a band that had a highly-visible, mainstream lineup to which bringing in new members would rock the boat in terms of image. They arguably didn’t even have anything close to a hit (though “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” had minor chart success in the U.K.). Two new permanent members wouldn’t have raised eyebrows.

First off, I don’t think I’d shock anyone by saying that they certainly would not have become a full-blown fusion band. Thompson’s feel on the drums would have provided a different approach to certain Genesis songs, and there’s no doubt that Stuermer would have provide colour to their sound in a similar way Hackett did, albeit more Americanized. They would also have done much for Genesis to maintain credibility as musicians because when looking at their post-Hackett albums, people tend to focus more on the compositions rather than musicianship, but I think that’s what the core trio of Genesis were going for.

Chester had taken a few questions on composing material for his own groups in that Modern Drummer interview, and at the time of the interview (late-1982) it seemed that he was just beginning to get more into writing. Would full membership in Genesis have gotten some creative juices flowing a bit quicker? That’s possible. It’s difficult to get a handle on Daryl’s writing ability from before he was with Genesis too. The Sweetbottom recordings from the ‘70s I’ve heard don’t feature him, and he didn’t contribute writing with Ponty. That leads me to believe that any contributions on the songwriting front may have been slower coming or non-existent. There could have been the possibility that one of the core trio helps to nurture an idea or give them more encouragement to write than they were otherwise given in other work scenarios. I don’t know how strongly they would have pushed ideas in writing sessions if they were in Genesis, but taking a look at some other work that these American musicians played on (and occasionally wrote) could give a glimpse at what a Genesis studio album may have been missing.

Chester may have considered joining Genesis as a cultural shock initially to play with British musicians, but the fact he was playing on Steve Hackett’s Please Don’t Touch album as well as Tony Banks’ A Curious Feeling soon after joining the group showed he could provide what they were after from a drummer in a studio context. In addition to adapting his style to fitting in with his latest bandmates’ projects, not to mention his previously-mentioned stints with Weather Report and Frank Zappa, his continuing session work also hints to what Chester could have brought to the band. Lots of R&B and jazz albums dominate Chester’s recording career in his early years with Genesis, playing on albums such as Sky Islands by Caldera, The Love Connection by Freddie Hubbard, and Unforgettable by Leroy Hutson, to pick a small sampling. Could he have brought more of this sound into Genesis?

From a more compositional standpoint, Chester didn’t have any solo material of his own until 1991 with A Joyful Noise. The only track I’ve stumbled across at this stage (“A Tropical Sunday”) is a keyboard and horn-driven piece of pop-jazz, and I’ll have to assume the rest is similar. There’s not much else listed under his name from Genesis’ peak commercial period from the ‘80s through early-’90s aside from an obscure Europe-released trio album with Johnny Lytle and Albert Dailey. All compositions on this recording were written by Lytle, so this combined with the low output of solo material at that point of his career makes it harder to gauge how he would have wrote for the band had he been an equal member.

R&B and soul music became a larger influence in Collins’ solo albums instead of Genesis, but perhaps it could have integrated its way into the Genesis sound even more than it did. In that event, maybe it would have altered what Collins was exploring as a solo artist too. In this alternate universe, perhaps “Easy Lover” could work to fit into a Genesis album, allowing for Phil to use his own records to try his hand at country music, thrash metal, trip-hop, or who knows what else! On the jazz end regarding Chester, Phil often brings up Weather Report as an inspiration (see the interview DVD from their Wind & Wuthering reissue), and the band would even dabble in that territory on songs like “Wot Gorilla?” and “Los Endos”. Chester would clearly be at home in those sorts of songs, which may have had a ripple effect in Phil’s involvement with Brand X could he continue to keep these influences in his main project.

Could a duet have worked its way onto an album? A composition built from the drums up? Phil Collins will always be the drummer of Genesis, but bringing a duality to the studio is not something that’s out of the question. Some songs Chester could play, some both, others he could play additional percussion in support. He may not have shook up the compositional aspect, but another feel would have altered things slightly. The chemistry these two were capable of through a few of their live routines was quite the show. Check out a sampling of their performances through the years, from 1984, 1987, 1992, or even a 2004 Phil Collins solo tour, where they brought a third man in with Luis Conte. Phil can’t stop smiling during these moments!

From most of what I’ve heard from Daryl Stuermer’s band Sweetbottom (here’s a track from a live reunion recording that he played on), their sound was more of the smooth jazz side of the fusion spectrum. As much of jazz and fusion was heading into more accessible sounds towards the end of the ‘70’s and into the ‘80’s, so did progressive rock. The metamorphosis to a poppier Genesis, I think, would have been inevitable. You can hear on the last Jean-Luc Ponty album Daryl plays on (Civilized Evil) evidence of how jazz-fusion was getting a bit more pop-oriented in style and structure. You could practically hear a guy like Stevie Wonder sing on a track like “Happy Robots”. Even some of the Ponty that Stuermer played on in the pre-Genesis years is rather accessible at moments (see “New Country”), though instrumental music is not everybody’s cup of tea. Regardless, there’s as much evidence out there of Daryl being able to reign in his playing for the sake of the song as there is in his ability to let ‘er rip.

What else can we hear with Daryl in terms of what he could have brought Genesis in the studio? We do get a hint of collaboration potential since Daryl did contribute quite extensively to Phil Collins’ solo career. Daryl co-wrote “Something Happened On The Way To Heaven” and three songs off No Jacket Required (“Only You Know And I Know”, “I Don’t Wanna Know”, and “Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore?”). Maybe if Daryl was entrenched in Genesis’ recording sessions, we would have seen a shift where Collins might have looked elsewhere to fill out his solo bands and collaborators.

Stuermer’s first solo album Steppin’ Out came out while he was deep into his stewardship with Genesis in 1986. While it appears to be solely instrumental, there are the bones of great compositions here. Slide some vocals on these songs and one could have caught on with the vocal-preferring public. There is undoubtedly strong pop influence in it from my exposure, with a song like “Venturing Out” having a rather catchy and bright-sounding Police-like rhythm, or even with the toe-tapping guitar melody of album opener “Kyoto Rose”. Then you got songs like “20th Century Lady” where his fluid style recalls what he contributed to Ponty and can show on-stage with Genesis. I can even listen to “Night Flyer”, which has got some great, atmospheric percussion with some interesting synth melodies that could have lent itself well to Phil’s voice and drumming. These sensibilities would have slotted in nicely on a Genesis record, though the context of his ideas would take a different turn after being churned through the Genesis machine. And speaking on more of his songwriting ideas, it turns out that Stuermer’s 2007 album Go! contains several tracks that date back to his Sweetbottom days too. Genesis’ penchant for having an instrumental on every album wound up fading, but Daryl was capable of providing enough spark to keep the streak alive. After all, Genesis had briefly discussed being an instrumental four-piece back when Peter Gabriel left.

If the band couldn’t grasp his brand of songwriting, how else could he have contributed? Perhaps some interlude tracks to bridge their compositions, giving albums (in a way) a more live feel, could have been possible. An extended chance to stretch out like this, and one might wonder if he could have had his very own “Firth of Fifth” moment on an album. This would fit naturally into what his role was as a live performer already. A September 1984 Guitar Player interview had Daryl discussing how he added something that he felt was missing near the end of “It’s Gonna Get Better” as they played it on-stage. Here’s a live version of the track for comparison from the Mama tour, where you can see Daryl and Mike Rutherford both playing guitar to fill out the sound rather than one of them on bass. Daryl handles the strummed rhythms for the bulk of the song, and it appears Mike plays the bass role on guitar if I’m not mistaken, and Daryl puts his own twist at the end that plays well as the track wraps up.

Here’s a bit of a disclaimer I have to add in my evaluation of the band. I honestly had never given Genesis’ post-Duke albums much deep inspection since I’ve never owned them, but am familiar with many of the biggest tracks on them through radio play. It turns out that an instrumental track, to my surprise, still appeared within these albums in the form of Invisible Touch’s closer “The Brazilian”. Other tracks and suites go on to stretch ten minutes like “Home By The Sea / Second Home By The Sea” and “Domino”, in spite of not having the frantic intrigue of early works like “The Knife” or the progressive rock credibility of “The Musical Box”. They may not get enough credit for keeping the practice going. I rarely see it mentioned, anyway.

At the end of the day, while I believe both Chester and Daryl could have added to fill out extended portions of their songs and albums, I don’t believe the Genesis sound would have been altered drastically (by which I mean to the point where it wouldn’t be recognizable) by incorporating the American duo into the fold as full-time recording members. Granted, this is mostly a gut feeling that I have that can’t really be proved or disproved. The point would be that Banks, Rutherford, and Collins found it more liberating to have fewer songwriting forces within the Genesis ranks that pretty much no matter what musicians they brought into join the group, they wouldn’t be looking for more songs. Sure, a handing off of studio responsibilities in terms of performance would have be a possibility, but that (with maybe the inclusion of a few co-writing credits) may have represented the full scope of how the arrangement would have worked itself out. Would this have been enough to keep Chester and Daryl with the band over a long-term, or would a potential rejection of ideas have pushed either man to seek studio work elsewhere like they already experienced in this timeline? Or could this have simply meant there would be better odds that former mentors like Joe Zawinul or Jean-Luc Ponty would guest on a Genesis track like members of Earth, Wind & Fire did on “No Reply At All”? I can’t really say.

I may enjoy “Watcher of the Skies”, but I’m not The Watcher. Take my speculations lightly.

If you have any thoughts about how this Americanized lineup would work in the studio, I’d love to hear them. Would it lead to Chester warming up to doing backing vocals, and then eventually replacing Phil Collins as frontman, just as Phil had done for Peter? Would Daryl have gained more recognition as a guitarist, perhaps so much so that he would break out on his own on a shred ascendance rivalling Steve Vai or Joe Satriani in the late-’80s (with perhaps bigger hair and tighter spandex than the lot of them)? Any theories are welcome! This was a fun exercise to consider, and I look forward to writing others “what if” explorations in the future. For more on the history of Genesis, I highly recommend their official book Genesis: Chapter & Verse (edited by Philip Dodd), which is where much of the unsourced information above was extracted and paraphrased.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.