The 7 drummers that Phil Collins said he likes
The British drummer and singer Phil Collins is one of the few musicians in history who have been able to be extremely successful both as part of a band and as a solo artist. Only Collins, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney have sold more than 100 million records worldwide as a solo act and as members of a band.
But before Collins was forced to become Genesis‘ frontman after Peter Gabriel decided to leave the group in the late 70s, his main focus was on the drums, that continued to be important to his compositions over the decades.
In an interview with David Sheff, Collins mentioned 7 drummers he likes and said that were influences. Rock and Roll Garage selected what the musician said about those artists over the years and his connection with some of them.
The 7 drummers that Phil Collins said he likes
Also known as “moon the loon”, because of his crazy behaviour out of the stage, The Who’s drummer Keith Moon is one of Phil Collins’ favorite musicians. He talked about the musician in an interview with BBC 6 Radio (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage) and said that he told Pete Townshend he would like to join The Who after Moon’s tragic death in 1978.
“I think that one of the Classic Rock tracks of all time is ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. And I remember seeing them on TV, they were televised from Charlton Football ground. I saw him with this gaffer tape around his head, with his headphones, you know. It hurts to take it off if you’re foolish enought to put it around. The way he played, there was no orthodoxy at all”.
He continued recalling the opportunities he had to see Moon face to face: “Well, one time we were in the Top of The Pops bathroom together. But that doesn’t count. Another time, I used to go to this musician’s club a lot in Wardour Street and to find out if there was any work going.”
“I was probably underage but I used to go there and Keith used to be sometimes behind the bar. I will never forget I bought a round of drinks which should have cost almost a pound, which I know it sounds ridiculous now. But it was like six or seven drinks, should definitely have cost the best part of a quid. He was giving me the drinks. He gave me eighteen sheelings change and I always tought he was lovely after that (laughs).”
Phil Collins continued:
“I’d asked (Pete Townshend) if I could join after Keith died. I was doing a session with Pete Townshend. I said ‘You know, if you’re looking after the dust settles, I would love to do it. But they already asked Kenney Jones. I would have left Genesis for that,” Phil Collins said.
In 2016, the musician had already told The Guardian that he would have “absolutely” joined The Who if they picked him at that time. But praised the band’s current drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr’s son). He plays the drums for The Who since 1996.
“Absolutely would have joined The Who. I would have left Genesis to join The Who. But they’ve got a great drummer now in Zak Starkey, he’s fantastic. Someone with the balls that Keith Moon had,” Phil Collins said.
Another drummer that Phil Collins likes and was one of his biggest influences is the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. Who died at the age of 33 just like Ketih Moon, but two years after The Who’s drummer in 1980. As he told BBC 6 Radio in 2016 (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage), he had the opportunity to see Bonham playing even before Led Zeppelin existed.
“I saw John Bonham play at the Marquee Club with Tim Rose who was a American singer and he did this hit version of “Morning Dew” and he was on tour and had this guy John Bonham on drums. I went to see Tim Rose, but when I saw Bonham I had never seen anything like it.”
“He had the best bass drum of anybody I’ve ever seen and I became a convert there and then, you know. So I started to follow him wherever he was doing rude to be playing in a band. Next time I saw him was with Led Zeppelin, when they were still called The New Yardbirds. The early Led Zeppelin was something to behold because nobody was doing that,” Phil Collins said.
Collins really considers Bonham as one of his biggest heroes and he helped Robert Plant in the early days of his solo career after Zeppelin came to an end due to Bonham’s death. As Plant recalled in an interview with Vulture in 2023, how much Bonham meant to Collins. “He came on tour with me and basically said, ‘Robert, the guy that sat behind you for all those years was my hero.’ That was it. He said, ‘Anything I can do to help you to get back into fighting shape again, I’m here.’ That was at the time when “In the Air Tonight” came out. Yet he was still mixing and working with me while kicking off a particularly impressive and successful time,” Robert Plant said.
John Bonham wasn’t happy when Phil Collins beat him in a drummer’s poll
Curiously, a few years before that, John Bonham was not happy when he lost a drummer’s poll of Melody Maker magazine to Phil Collins. As his son Jason Bonham recalled in an interview with Steve Newton back in 2010, his father made him play Collins’ drum parts of “Turn It On Again” to “prove” that even a little kid could play the songs.
“I think Phil Collins had just beaten him in the Melody Maker drummer’s poll. He came in and said, ‘Play this.’ (So) I went over it a few times. Then he said, ‘Yep, okay, that’s cool.’ I think it was probably his way of going, ‘Hey, what’s the big deal about that guy? My son can play that!’” Jason Bonham said.
The Genesis singer and drummer had the chance to perform with Led Zeppelin surviving members John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant at Live Aid in 1985, but his performance wasn’t the best, as Jimmy Page told The Times in 2021. (It was) “not very clever” (To reunite and have Phil Collins). “The drummer couldn’t get the beginning of ‘Rock and Roll’. So we were in real trouble with that,” Jimmy Page said.
The legendary Beatles drummer Ringo Starr is also one of the musicians that Phil Collins likes the most. Curiously, the Genesis member had the chance to be part the Beatles “Hard Day’s Night” (1964) movie when he was still a teenager. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2016, he recalled that story and said that the title-track of that movie/album is one of his favorites of all time.
“I got the chance to be in the audience when the Beatles filmed ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. They wanted kids that were screaming. I just sat still, which is probably why I was cut out of the film.”
“Thirty years later I was asked to narrate a documentary about the movie. I got to go through the outtakes. So I found a guy wearing a pin tie that looked just like me, sitting completely still. I remember thinking, ‘For crying out loud. Will you stop screaming? Let’s listen to the music!’” Phil Collins said.
In 2008, he was interviewed for the documentary “The Beatles: Rare and Unseen” (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage). He praised the drummer Ringo Starr and explained why he is such an influential musician.
“Ringo is a fantastic drummer, fantastic drummer. There was a period in the 70s, probably I think, where people like Buddy Rich were saying Ringo couldn’t play and everyone was thinking he was very simple. But it just wasn’t. If you listen to the drum fills in ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, ‘A Day In The Life’, ‘Rain’, it’s just staggering what he did. He didn’t ever do anything that you would normally do. It’s not the kind of thing that a drummer naturally sits down to play like that.”
Phil Collins continued:
“He would just play these very complicated tricky fills naturally. So I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a drummer. He was playing drums in regular bands. It’s not as if they found him. He was a drummer and he always said that he just wanted to play, he was a drummer. So he got very offended when people started calling his drum fills ‘silly little drum fills’, because he felt he was pretty good. He never wanted a solo, apart from that one which he was persuated to do on ‘Abbey Road’. But he does things very unconventional.”
“People like Keith Moon is another one, unconventional. Also a lot of personality so when you hear him play you kind of know it’s him. It’s like a technical point of view, they’re called drags (Imitates the drum parts from the beginning of ‘Strawberry Fields’) ‘Let me take you there…’ It’s just so out there. It’s not the kind of thing that a normal drummer would play. Being a normal drummer I can (say that),” Phil Collins said.
Rock and Roll drummers were really important to Phil Collins in the early days, but he also had a special place in his heart for Jazz. He even said in an interview with BBC 6 Radio (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage) in 2016, that the American drummer Buddy Rich was the best of all time.
“I think he is (The greatest drummer of all time). You can say what you like about Buddy. A lot of people have said bad things. I met him once. First of all, with the playing alongside The Beatles and The Who, and all the pop star, I was also listening to big-band jazz.”
Phil Collins continued:
“So Count Basie was someone on his band and Buddy Rich and I came across this West Side Story medley of Buddy Rich in 1965. Still is an incredible piece of work. If you never heard you should. He is on top form troughout the whole thing. So for me, I just wanted to do that one day. Which is why I did my big band,” Phil Collins said.
He didn’t had the chance to perform with Buddy live, but in 1998 he played with Buddy Rich’s Big Band. The opportunity came after he praised the late drummer many times in interviews. He was then asked by Buddy’s daughter to play with her father’s big band, paying tribute to him.
In the documentary about that tribute, called “A Salute To Buddy Rich” (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage), the Genesis drummer and singer talked about how much the musician inspired him.
“I think it would be impossible for anybody, to not get something, not any drummer, to not get something out of watching Buddy. I mean, the other day when I was rehearsing for my other career, as it were, all the musicians and crew were kind of just packing up. They put the video on (and is) ‘Birdland’ and it drew everybody to the TV screen. Everybody could hear this. They (were all saying) ‘How does he do that?’”
Phil Collins continued:
“The first time I remember, probably 1966, when he bought out the ‘Swinging New Big Band’ album. I remember the day I got it. I remember looking at the picture (and saying): ‘So this is that man’. Then going back and listening to it. Of course, the ‘West-Side Story Medley’, which is still one of my favorite pieces of music.”
“When I heard that, I heard everything that I wanted to do, wrapped up in one piece of music. There was some fantastic tunes because of the Bernstein School. There was some fantastic playing. The arrangements were fantastic. One thing just sold me completely. Then I went out and bought everything that I could find,” Phil Collins said.
Curiously, Phil Collins was awarded with the Buddy Rich award in 2022 from Drumeo Awards.
The late Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts was also a big influence to Phil Collins, since he picked the musician as one of his favorites in the interview with BBC 6 Radio in 2016 (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage). In that conversation he recalled a funny story involving Watts. “When I did the big band in 98, this would have been, The Stones were playing or based in Paris, anyway. He called me and he said ‘You’re playing the big band show tonight and I’d love to come’. So I said ‘Please come’.”
“He called just before we were supposed to leave. He said ‘I can’t leave my clothes. They arrived and I have to lay everything properly’ and I said ‘Ok’. This is an interesting look on Charlie Watts, you know. Anyway, he did turned up, he was the most style I’ve seen of any drummer,” Phil Collins said.
He lamented Watts’ death
After Watts’ death in 2021 at the age of 80, Collins talked in an interview with Absolute Radio in 2021 (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage) about the view that Charlie had on life. Also about how he used to joke about what The Rolling Stones used to do.
“Oh, he was lovely, very dry, you know. I mean, his classic line was you know: ’25 years with the Stones… Well, it’s been 5 years of playing and 20 years of hanging around.’ You know, I mean, he had a lovely outlook on life in the Stones, I think. It’s a shame (he died). He is 80 or he was 80 and nothing lasts forever, you know,” Phil Collins said.
After Charlie died in 2021, the band invited Steve Jordan to become their drummer. The only classic members of the band now are Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood.
Another drummer that influenced Phil Collins is the American Tony Williams, that he mentioned as one of his inspirations in the interview with David Sheff. Williams first achieved fame as a member of Miles Davis’ “Second Great Quintet”and is also is recognized as one of the pioneers of Jazz Fusion.
Some of the other artists he worked with are Chet Baker, Ron Carter, Tommy Flanagan, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke and Stan Getz. Also some artists more linked to Rock and Roll like Ray Manzarek, Allan Holdsworth, Yoko Ono, Carlos Santana, Weather Report and Public Image Limited.
Tony Williams died back in February 26, 1997 at the age of 51 victim of a heart attack.
Besides Ringo Starr, the American drummer Steve Gadd is the only other name on Collins’ list that is still alive and working. Over more than 50 years of career, he had worked with many famous artists, playing on several classic albums. Some of them are Simon & Garfunkel, Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Kate Bush, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon and Steely Dan.
Curiously, Steve Gadd was part of “The Fugitive” (1983), the second solo album that the Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks released.