What Phil Collins' Former Bandmates Have Said About Him

Everyone who loves Phil Collins and Genesis knows at least a few people who hate them as it's a weirdly polarizing thing. Some music, after all, is understandably love-or-hate: Smashmouth. Nickelback. Gwar. But Phil Collins? While the music isn't exactly the sort of thing that anyone's going to get offended by, Collins was so vilified in the 1990s that The Guardian described him as "a symbol of everything that was rotten about the 1980s."

That's pretty harsh, and when they talked to Collins in 2016, he confirmed that he sort of felt the same way. When he announced his retirement following illness-related hearing loss, he said "In a way, I felt like I was a slave to the thing. ... I wanted to be written out of my own script. There were too many things stuck to me that I couldn't get out of."

When he started dating again in the 2000s, he reportedly even requested he be called "Philip," instead of the usual Phil. He wanted to distance himself from the old him, and everything that he no longer wanted to be associated with. For a musician with a slew of awards and honors, that's pretty sad stuff. Collins has worked with and collaborated with a ton of big names over the course of his career, and that brings up the question of what they remember about him? Is he just as vilified by collaborators and band members as he was by the public? It's actually just as divisive.

Andrea Bertorelli

Even the biggest stars start somewhere, and for Phil Collins, that was in a band called The Real Thing. Also in the band was his future wife, Andrea Bertorelli, and when he spoke with The Guardian in 2016, around the release and remastering of some of his old songs, he admitted that when she left him, it kick-started the musical creativity that resulted in some of his most famous songs. He reflected, "People used to say to me, 'Don't you feel embarrassed showing your dirty laundry?' And really, I didn't, because it was the only way I knew how to write songs."

Bertorelli, however, has been historically less thrilled with the arrangement, and things came to a head around the release of Collins' memoir, "Not Dead Yet." Also in 2016, she sued over the claims that were made about her and their relationship, saying (via the Irish Independent) that the book was "the final straw. The book contains a number of wholly false statements about myself and my marriage to Phil, which have not only seriously damaged my reputation, but have also caused me considerable distress."

She continued, condemning him for forcing her into the spotlight: "I have variously been portrayed as a homewrecker, a gold digger, and a bad mother. ... I wish to make clear I divorced Phil Collins on the grounds of his adultery. The grounds for divorce were not contested."

Peter Gabriel

When Peter Gabriel left Genesis — voluntarily and of his own accord, by the way — Phil Collins took over. Their relationship is at the center of one of the long-standing debates in music history, with some insisting that there was some bad blood there. There isn't. When Genesis staged their farewell tour in 2022, Gabriel was there. He told Mojo, "Phil wasn't in as great a shape as he used to be, but they did a great job. Me going was a rite of passage, really. I'd been part of the creation of Genesis, so I wanted to be there at the end."

In a conversation with the Daily Mail, Gabriel also spoke a bit about Collins and said: "He was the workaholics' workaholic." He also confirmed that the end of his time in Genesis didn't come because of any real dislike, but that everyone has sort of just agreed to go their own way.

This doesn't seem to be a modern-day, bygones-be-bygones, either. In 1988, Collins appeared on "This Is Your Life," and Gabriel sent in a recorded message (He was on tour with Amnesty International at the time of taping.) "We're very proud of you, Phil," he said (in part). "And I remember a lot of things. I remember the fiver that I lent you in 1972, and I remember that you could play the drums a lot better than I could. Anyway, I've been very pleased to see your meteoric success and how well you've done."

Chester Thompson

Saying that drummer Chester Thompson (second from left) is a legend is a bit of an understatement, and he's been on stage with everyone from Frank Zappa to the BeeGees. He was first recruited to join Genesis as a touring drummer in 1977 and later stayed with Collins when he went solo. It wasn't easy going, though, and when Rolling Stone interviewed him in 2021, he and Collins hadn't spoken in years.

Collins, he recalled, didn't even audition him — he'd heard his music and said the job was his. He called it "the biggest adjustment I've ever had to make, musically and culturally," saying that being the American in the all-British band was very, very lonely. He did, however, connect with Collins over their shared love of American jazz musicians, and "we hit it off immediately."

Thompson said that he never doubted that he was anything but Collins' backup drummer, he said that "with Phil, you're one of a cast of thousands." When any mistakes were made in live shows, he'd look to Thompson, and after an on-again, off-again relationship, Thompson joined him again in 2010. "I didn't know about the stuff that was going on in Phil's life," he explained. "I had no idea. ... One day, he got pretty frustrated with me and literally cussed me out in front of everybody. He told me that I sounded like crap and all that. The vibe just changed. It was different." Thompson added that although he'd moved on, it kicked off years of silence.

Bill Bruford

When Rolling Stone spoke with Bill Bruford about his time with Genesis, he acknowledged that it was a bit of a challenge — while he says he loves music with an emotional connection, he also loves to improvise a bit while performing. And that? Phil Collins just was not down with that. In "Genesis: Chapter and Verse," he recalled (via Musical Brick) being told that he needed to perform on stage and sound just like Collins did in the studio, and it caused a bit of a rift. Still, when he spoke with Rock History Music about his brief time with the band, he had nothing but good things to say about Collins — starting with his talent.

"Phil's a tremendously rhythmic guy," he explained, going on to say that not only could he write and perform, but he could mimic anything he heard, and could imitate pretty much any other drummer.

Bruford went on to say that decades later, he was sad about the way things had shaped up for him. "I'm disappointed, now, that he seems to be an unhappy guy." He added that there were, however, extenuating circumstances that he understood: "Some of that's physical, though, I think that he's had a lot of physical problems." Still, Bruford also lauded Collins for something that not all musicians can boast, and it went back to those emotionally vulnerable songs: "I can't help but admire such an amazingly direct connection between performer and audience... I think it's fantastic."

Nic Collins

If there's anyone who was faced with a unique kind of pressure when they sat down to play alongside Phil Collins, it's Nic Collins: They are, after all, father and son. Nic was just 15 years old when he first took the stage alongside his father, and when Rolling Stone asked him what it was like, he explained, "All his drummers have looked up to different drummers, but I've looked up to him, so it helps with the songs since I'm doing the same thing."

Fast forward to 2022 and another Rolling Stone interview, and Nic was not only performing with his own band, but he was only shortly off the stage after playing at Genesis's last show. Ever. The then 20-year-old gave the sort of insight into Phil's life that only a son could bring, saying that although it had been difficult for him to go on stage while not physically being able to play the drums, the sting of that was lessened by the fact that it was his son taking his place. 

Beyond that, though, done was done: "I also do think that my dad is probably excited about the next step in his life. Music has given him so much, but he's also given so much to it. His career has pretty much determined his life for the past 50 years. I think for him to be able to take a step back and not have that pressure that he's had for decades, I think is going to be nice for him."

Daryl Stuermer

When Rolling Stone sat down to do a career retrospective with guitarist Daryl Stuermer, they started by mentioning a hilarious anecdote where he admits that the first time he saw Peter Gabriel perform, he was less than impressed. Fast forward a bit, though, and after joining a Phil Collins-led Genesis, Stuermer would become a key part of performances on stage and in the studio, both with Genesis and alongside Collins for his solo projects.

Adapting to their way of doing things was difficult, he said, and not only because Collins demanded things sound pretty much the same on stage as in the studio. Stuermer revealed that he learned by ear: "None of them really read music. I know that Phil and Mike don't," he explained. And even though he was never officially a member of Genesis, he doesn't seem to have any bitter feelings about that. In fact, he says he explained his role in the same way Collins once explained it to him: "They said to me, 'You're a touring member of the band.' My favorite line that Phil said about me in an interview was, 'Daryl is a permanent, part-time, temporary member.' I love that. I've actually used that line myself at times."

But Stuermer has had nothing but good things to say about working with Collins, and when he was asked about all the times Collins retired then un-retired, stopped touring, then came back for one more, he said he was always up for an encore: "I'm savoring it every time that we play."

Mike Rutherford

There's no shortage of horror stories that involve bands breaking up in high-profile ways that leave zero doubt about what would happen if members ever got within strangling distance of each other again, but that's not the case with Genesis at all. Even though Phil Collins headed off to his solo career and Mike Rutherford (center) did his thing with Mike + the Mechanics, he told Ultimate Classic Rock that he still had a lot of fun just hanging out with Collins... in 2017.

That's when his group was opening for Collins, he explained: "The focus is on him doing his thing, but you never know. We'll see. It's certainly great to see Phil out doing stuff. I think it's going to be very good for him. He's too strong of a talent to not be doing something in the world. I just know I'm going to have good fun hanging out with him."

Rutherford had also written a book relatively recently and said that it had caused him to do quite a bit of reflection. "I came away, as he did too, with a feeling of what an incredible time we've had. How lucky we've been. And more importantly, what a great friendship we've had. Obviously, all of us, but especially the three of us: myself, him, and Tony. It was quite a special relationship." When it came time to bring Genesis to an end, he acknowledged to Louder Sound, "There was some sadness, but ... It's always a joy to be onstage with Phil and Tony."

Steve Hackett

Longtime Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett shared his interesting perspective on the band's evolution with Rock and Roll Garage in 2021 when he described the transition between Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. Gabriel, he said, was a David Bowie-esque actor, performing for an audience in a very visual way. Collins, however, was very different: "... he was very, very good. I think, to be able to hold the audience in the palm of his hand. It was something that Phil had, because he had the common touch."

In an interview with The Metal Voice, Hackett was pretty honest about the fact that he was ridiculously proud of what the band had done in their so-called Peter Gabriel era, saying that getting a shout-out from John Lennon remained one of the things that he was most flattered by. But that's not saying that he didn't have love for Phil Collins, because he absolutely did.

When he sat down for a chat with Ultimate Classic Rock, they asked him about something that Collins alleged in his memoir. He wrote that Hackett hadn't been incredibly straightforward with him when he was getting ready to leave the band, and Hackett acknowledged the truth of it. "I loved Phil and I didn't want him to talk me out of it, because I suspect that he and I would have continued working on for many years to come."

Jimmy Page

John Bonham's 1980 death saw Led Zeppelin going on hiatus, and it wasn't until 1985 that they returned to the stage to perform a 20-minute set for Live Aid. An honorable enough return, certainly, but it apparently didn't earn them any good karma. As FarOut explains, they needed a drummer and chose Phil Collins... but it wasn't that straightforward. Collins had never even sat down with them for a rehearsal before he found himself playing a London show, then hopping on a jet, traveling across the Atlantic, and joining them for their Philadelphia show the same day.

If it sounds absolutely grueling, it was — and Collins would later say that he didn't even know he was going to be performing with Led Zeppelin that night. (He thought it was just going to be some of the individual members and their solo stuff.) His prep consisted of listening to "Stairway to Heaven" on the flight, and what Page has said about him in the aftermath hasn't been kind.

At the time, he condemned Collins to MTV: Page didn't even mention him by name when he derided the "One drummer [who] was halfway across the Atlantic and didn't know the stuff." Time didn't heal those wounds, either, and in 2021, Page was still bitter about it. He told the Sunday Times (via FarOut) that the whole thing was "not very clever," and added: "The drummer couldn't get the beginning of 'Rock and Roll.' So we were in real trouble with that."

Tony Banks

Of the three main members of Genesis, it's Tony Banks who hasn't had the solo career that could compare to either Phil Collins or Mike Rutherford. When Music without Borders Innerviews asked him about it, he said that of course Collins had been successful, but added, "The salt was kind of rubbed in the wound by the success of Mike + the Mechanics." He also admitted that he was always more than happy to just sort of go along with things: "Because Phil and Mike seemed to know what they were doing next. So, I went forward with that."

Banks stops well short of saying much of anything against the former Genesis frontman, but when he sat down with Vulture in 2023, he did say that there were a few things he wished Collins had done differently. Specifically? "In the Air Tonight." That was, of course, a massive hit for Collins, and according to Banks, Collins always claimed that he'd originally played it and pitched it as a Genesis song. Banks says that's not the case, but added, "If Genesis had done it, I'd have probably screwed it up. ... That's one of my favorite songs of his and always has been."

He also confirmed that yes, fans had definitely seen the end of Genesis, but it wasn't arguments or conflict that had put an end to the whole thing. "I don't think there's anything else left. The well is dry. We can't tour anymore because of Phil's state, so that's the end of that."

Marilyn Martin

By the time Marilyn Martin joined Phil Collins for the hit "Separate Lives," she'd already been featured on albums with acts like Joe Walsh and Stevie Nicks. In 2013, she was interviewed for the blog Kickin' It Old School and said (via Rediscover the '80s) that while she had actually had no idea how she had gotten the job, she did know that she had nothing but fond memories of the song and all she'd done with Collins — including first meeting him at a dinner party that also included Eric Clapton.

"Phil is perfection," she said. "I was around him for a long period of time when we filmed the video and he was very kind and extremely focused. When I began work on my album, he sent me a cassette of some songs that he thought I might like to record. So thoughtful!"

She added that even though she had a sore throat when they were recording, she gave it her all — and was still incredibly flattered to have been chosen for the duet. Meant for the soundtrack of the movie "White Nights," she said she never really thought it was going to be a major success outside of the movie. When she heard it on the radio, though, she was shocked: "I felt incredibly humbled. ... it felt so strange, like a dream... It almost didn't register that that was me."

Leland Sklar

In 2019, Leland Sklar sat in on an interview with Phil Collins, and he reflected on seeing the younger generations in the crowd, singing the songs, and said that one of his proudest moments was seeing Nic Collins step up to play the drums in a way that was very, very similar to his father. "It's a real special group of people," he said, saying that they were way beyond just friends.

A few years prior, Sklar was interviewed by the German Genesis Fanclub, and by that time, he had already been touring and performing with Collins for about three decades. It hadn't always been easy, though, and he acknowledged the fact that there were about 10 years that contact with Collins had gotten iffy. There was no falling out, but it was only when Collins came out with his autobiography that he realized what he'd been struggling with. "It used to be with Phil, like if you sent him an email you would get a response within a few minutes. And now, you could send him emails and you might not get a response for six months. So he became very private and introverted through this period, and so none of us were really aware."

He continued, "I was writing to him on a pretty regular basis, just saying that I don't care if we ever play music again, I just care about you as a friend, and I hope you're ok. I mean, that's the ultimate thing. This transcends business, this is all friendships."