Phil Collins is experiencing a bit of a resurgence of late. With a new generation finding his extraordinary work without prejudice. Collins might have become the frontman of Genesis and gone on to have a lofty solo career with a microphone in his hand, but in his heart of hearts, he remains a drummer. Like any budding percussionist, that means he has always had a few favourite sticksmen.
Collins’ favourite drummers are the crème de la crème of the instrument and feature names that make it on every list of this kind that’s worth it’s salt. Even after the former Genesis man graduated to the front of the stage from the drumkit, he remained the drummer in the studio, and Collins’ switch to becoming a singer was a happy accident.
Following Peter Gabriel’s departure from the group, Genesis could easily have faded into obscurity, but Collins became an unlikely superstar. Although the music that he’d go on to make as a solo career would veer into a soulless territory, on occasion, as Collins enjoyed the thrills that came with being one of the biggest pop stars on the planet.
Throughout everything that Collins has done throughout his career, the most comfortable place for him is still behind the drumkit, and it’s intriguing to discover the five drummers that occupy the most special place in his heart which he discussed with BBC 6 Music in 2016.
Phil Collins’ favourite drummers
The Beatles’ Ringo Starr has been on the receiving end of the cruellest rock ‘n’ roll myth, which is the idea that “Ringo Starr isn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles”. No, it wasn’t John Lennon who said that. It was comedian Jasper Carrott, but that hasn’t stopped the sentiment from spreading like wildfire.
“It’s difficult to quite explain to anybody that wasn’t actually young then. It just framed my life,” Collins said. “Those songs, the sound of those records still baffled me and impressed me. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, listen to the drum part, you know, ‘Day In Life’ listen to the drum part. I’ve been a staunch supporter of Ringo, while a lot of people have kind of haven’t seen the fuss.
“But what Ringo did, he bought drums out from the back and made people listen to them slightly. I mean, when you say ‘Oh, I love this song’, sometimes people should say ‘Listen to what’s going on behind’, like ‘All My Loving’, which is a difficult kind of song to play. It sounds like an easy shuffle but to play it properly it isn’t easy. You know, he was moving, he was really flashing around.”
The Who’s Keith Moon’s offstage antics more often than not overshadowed his onstage performances, and his reputation was very much for his wild behaviour rather than his incredible drumming. However, Moon was one of the greatest, as Collins can attest to.
“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 and 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 enough to put it around. The way he played, there was no orthodoxy at all”.
As well as being one of the pivotal figures in one of the greatest heavy rock groups of all time, Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham was also the archetypal rocker in every single way. If he’s not on somebody’s list of favourite drummers, then something is wrong.
Collins commented: “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.”
Buddy Rich was only two years old when he started drumming, and he became a legendary figure in the jazz scene. From a technical standpoint, there’s not much that Rich couldn’t do, and his superhuman talent is something that Collins is still in awe of today — even calling him “the greatest drummer of all time”.
“I think he is (the greatest drummer of all time),” Collins praised. “You can say what you like about Buddy, a lot of people have said bad things. I met him once and 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, 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 and still is an incredible piece of work. If you never heard you should. He is on top form throughout the whole thing.”
Charlie Watts has been a vital cog in The Rolling Stones’ machine for almost 60 years. He’s an underappreciated sticksmith. Despite being in one of the biggest groups of all time, Watts doesn’t get his fair share of praise, but Collins recognises his talent.
“When I did the big band in 98, this would have been, The Stones were playing or based in Paris, anyway,” Collins recollected. “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 and 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.”