Genesis - Biography

By Scott Feemster


            Though there have been gaps of inactivity and numerous line-up changes, Genesis has lasted as a band for, incredibly, almost forty years. They are often cited as one of the main architects of what came to be known as progressive rock, and their early albums are still held up by core fans as some of the finest examples of the genre. Their later, more mainstream success brought their music to a whole new audience and made a star of their singer/drummer Phil Collins. Their albums continue to sell and they continue to be a major concert draw up to the present day.


            The story of Genesis begins at the Charterhouse School in Godalming, England in the mid-1960's. Charterhouse is a boarding school where mostly middle and upper class male students complete their middle and high school educations. Music was a popular pastime among some of the Charterhouse students, and some students even formed bands that played at the school. One of the bands was the Garden Wall, featuring two fifteen year olds, a keyboardist named Tony Banks and a former drummer-turned-singer named Peter Gabriel. Another group at the school was called Anon, and included guitarist/bassist Michael Rutherford and guitarist Anthony Phillips. When the older students that made up the rest of both bands graduated, the four members of both bands decided to merge together and form the band New Anon, with the addition of drummer Chris Stewart. Though they initially came together as something of a songwriting partnership with no real plans to play live, they did play a few gigs and eventually put together a six-song demo, with most of the material being written by Phillips and Rutherford. After a gig at the school, their demo got into the hands of a member of the audience, former Charterhouse alumnus, producer and recording artist Jonathan King, and he made arrangements where the band could continue to rehearse and develop their sound. King was the person who renamed the band Genesis, liking the name because it signified 'a new sound and a new feeling'. King signed the newly christened Genesis to a recording contract, and set them to work on recording their first single, “The Silent Sun”, released in early 1968. The single was light psychedelic fare in keeping with what was popular at the time, and was pretty much ignored by the public. Regardless, King had the band record a second single, “A Winter's Tale”, after which drummer Stewart quit the band. The group replaced him with John Silver, and spent their summer vacation of 1968 recording their debut album. From Genesis To Revelation (Decca) was released in 1969, and, very much like their first two singles, was not much of a success. The style of the album was very much in keeping with some of the popular bands of the day, veering close to the sound of the Bee Gees and the Moody Blues, but also starting to show some signs of what they would become in the next few years, with shifting time signatures and florid instrumental detail. King gave the album an even more grandiose touch when he added orchestral accompaniment to some of the tracks. Though the band managed to gig some, they weren't setting the music business on fire, and when their contract with King and Decca expired in 1969, the band briefly went on hiatus.


Rutherford had already graduated from Charterhouse and was attending a technical college, Banks was studying physics at Essex University, and the slightly younger Phillips and Gabriel where about to graduate from Charterhouse. Though they were pointed in the direction of 'respectable' careers, the members of Genesis still felt strongly about their potential together, and decided to give the band another shot. Silver decided not to continue with the band, and was replaced by drummer John Mayhew. They spent the next few months developing new material and playing the occasional gig, and soon came to the attention of Tony Stratton-Smith, a producer who was just in the process of starting his own label, Charisma Records. The band was now developing their sound to take in longer, more complex arrangements, with Gabriel's lyrics taking on more obtuse subject manner. Gabriel, too, was becoming the focus of their live performances, as he started utilizing costumes and props both as a means of getting further meaning across to an audience, but also to offer some visual excitement to an other wise visually boring band. Trespass (Charisma/MCA), issued in 1970, was their second try at recording an album, and ended up setting a template for what the band would sound like through most of the 70’s. The album was a mix of the long-form, intricate songs the band would become known for mixed with shorter songs that sometimes showed a humorous touch. Though Trespass didn’t sell very well, either, the band got a feeling for what they wanted to do with their music and the possibilities inherent in staying together as a group. After the album was completed, Genesis lost two of it’s members, guitarist Anthony Phillips and drummer John Mayhew. The group wasn’t overly happy with Mayhew’s playing, and he left to be replaced by former child actor Phil Collins. Phillips suffered from severe stage fright, and quit on advice of his doctor. (Phillips went on to a long solo career, and maintains a cult following). His departure, as he was one of the founding members of the band, was especially hard on the other members of the group, and they briefly considered breaking up, but decided to carry on for a while as a four-piece band, with Banks playing some of Phillip’s parts in their songs on keyboards. Just before starting work on a follow-up album to Trespass, the band asked former Quiet World guitarist Steve Hackett to join their ranks. The group’s next album, Nursery Cryme (Charisma/Atco), expanded the scope of the bands sound and grasp, and came across as a peculiar progressive rock version of twisted English whimsy, very much in the tradition of predecessors like Lewis Caroll and Syd Barrett. The album was uneven, but did boast the first of many prog-rock classics in the song “The Music Box”. The band were now building up a following of mostly young college students and intellectuals who were also buying Yes and King Crimson records, though they already had an edge on many of the other prog bands of the day in Peter Gabriel’s wild stage costumes and their increasingly elaborate light show. Genesis followed up Nursery Cryme with the similarly-themed Foxtrot (Charisma/Atco) in 1972. Foxtrot contained the side-long epic “Supper’s Ready”, and the group seemed to be hitting their stride both as players and as songwriters. Their touring and growing live reputation was rewarded when Foxtrot became their first album to chart on the British album charts, climbing as high as #12.


Because Genesis concerts were quickly becoming almost legendary in rock circles, their record label Charisma thought it would be important to release a live album documenting how the band sounded live. Taken from a couple of shows recorded in England originally for broadcast on American radio, Genesis Live (Charisma/Atco) showed the band at the peak of their live powers and showcased many of the longer-form songs from their previous three albums. After touring successfully in the U.S. and Europe, Genesis returned to the U.K. and recorded their next album, Selling England By The Pound (Charisma/Atco), which was another success for the band, and even had a charting single in the song “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”. Even though many of Genesis’ songs were built around concepts usually based on literary sources, they had not yet tried to tackle the idea of a concept album, that is, an album where all the songs are based around a single, unifying theme. Borrowing concepts from Greek mythology and the poems of Keats, Peter Gabriel came up with the idea of a basing an entire album around the story he came up with of a young Puerto Rican boy named Rael, and his spiritual quest to establish his sense of identity. The group worked on the album through most of 1974, and released the double-album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (Charisma/Atco) in November of that year. The group embarked on a massive world tour, where they performed the album in its entirety, with Gabriel as the narrator and focal point of the entire story as it unfolded. The band also pioneered an impressive custom-made laser light show during the tour, which Gabriel could control during the performance with a hand-held device. Because the album had been constructed with Gabriel coming up with the concepts and lyrics and the band adding the music, it caused Gabriel to become withdrawn from the other band members and caused strain amongst them. The grueling schedule of the tour only added to the tensions in the band, and Gabriel was having troubles at the same time with his marriage and the difficult birth of his first child. During the course of The Lamb..tour, Gabriel announced that he would leave the band at the tour’s conclusion. Gabriel has, of course, gone on to a highly eclectic and successful career in his own right.


After the dust settled from Gabriel’s departure, Genesis found itself as a four-piece without a singer. The band auditioned some singers, but found they prefered the vocals of Phil Collins, their drummer. Collins had sung a couple of Genesis songs on previous albums, but had never really considered himself a good enough singer to carry an entire band. Regardless, the other members wanted him to sing, so the four-piece Genesis returned to the studio and recorded their next album, 1976’s Trick Of The Tail. Trick Of The Tail was an extension of the band’s work pre- Lamb Lays Down..., though they did scale back some of the longer instrumental interludes they had indulged in earlier. Collins’ singing voice sounded remarkably similar to Gabriel’s, and the band scored their biggest success yet when the album charted as high as #3 in the U.K. and #31 in the U.S. When it came time to tour in support of the album, the band recruited Yes and King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford to fill in and play drums on the songs Collins sang on. Due to his other commitments, Bruford couldn’t stay on, and the band returned to it’s four-piece set up when they returned to record their next album, Wind & Wuthering (Charisma/Atco), released at the end of 1976. While still basically a progressive rock album, Wind & Wuthering started to show signs of a more pop sensibility shining through. This slow move towards a more pop-influenced sound didn't sit well with all of the members of the band. Steve Hackett had started to feel confined in his role in Genesis, and after releasing a solo album, (Voyage Of The Acolyte, released through Charisma in 1975 and featuring Rutherford and Collins), he felt he needed to leave the band and concentrate on his own work. After the group issued an EP in 1977, (Spot The Pigeon), Hackett left the band. When he made the announcement, the group were in the middle of mixing another live album taken from their last tour, released as Seconds Out (Charisma/Atlantic)(1977). The album marked the end of their heavily progressive rock period, and also featured the debut of former Weather Report and Frank Zappa drummer Chester Thompson as their live drummer.


Now paired down to a trio in the studio of Banks, Rutherford and Collins, Rutherford took on all of the guitar duties as well as the bass parts. Their next appropriately titled release, ...And Then There Were Three (Charisma/Atlantic), was a definite turn away from their longer-form progressive rock style towards a more radio-friendly commercial style. The album was a strong seller around the world, bolstered by the strength of the single “Follow You, Follow Me”, which became a Top Ten hit in the U.K. and also became their first hit single in America. The group toured in support of the album, bolstered live by the addition of former Jean-Luc Ponty guitarist Daryl Stuermer. After Genesis had toured the world again, including their first dates in Japan, it was decided that the members of the group would take some time off. Collins needed time to try and save his crumbling marriage, and the other members wanted to try and work on some solo material. After his attempt at saving his marriage ended in divorce, Collins found himself in an empty house with instruments around him and time on his hands. He started recording home demos, which eventually turned into his first solo album, 1981's Face Value (Virgin/Atlantic), as well as other ideas he would use on the next Genesis album. He also rejoined the progressive/fusion band Brand X as their drummer for a 1979 tour and subsequent album. During the hiatus, both Rutherford and Banks had been busy, too. Banks released the album A Curious Feeling (Charisma)(1979), while Rutherford released  Smallcreep's Day (Charisma/Passport)(1980), which featured former Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips on keyboards. When Genesis reconvened and recorded their next album, 1980's Duke (Charisma/Atlantic), it marked further movement away from their progressive rock roots towards mainstream rock, though there was still the long suite-type song “Duke's Travels”, and one of the breakout hits from the album, “Turn It On Again”, had a baffling time signature of 13/8. The group also scored a big hit with the Collins-penned “Misunderstanding”, and the album went on to be the band's first #1 in the U.K. and rose as high as #11 in the U.S. Duke was followed quickly with Abacab (Charisma/Atlantic)(1981), the album that pretty much completed Genesis' transition from progressive rock to commercial rock. Using the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section on a few songs, (Collins had also used them on his solo albums), the new songs had a much more polished and punchy feeling than their previous albums. ( A component of their punchier sound was Collins and producer Hugh Padgham's liberal use of gated drums, a concept that they had both helped develop when working on Peter Gabriel's “Melty Face” (3) solo album and on Collins' first solo album). In addition to scoring a hit single with the title song from the album, Genesis also scored three more hit singles with the songs “Man On The Corner”, “No Reply At All”, and “Keep It Dark”. The album was another massive hit in both America and in Europe and the U.K. The group followed up the album with another massive worldwide tour, and documented some of it with the live 1982 album Three Sides Live (Charisma/Atlantic). The album was curious in that it was released in two different versions, the British version containing three sides of material taken from their 1981 tour, the fourth side consisting of more live material taken from earlier tours. The American version contained the same three sides of live 1981 material, but instead, on the fourth side, studio tracks taken from the British-only 1982 EP 3X3 and two outtakes from the Duke sessions. One of the tracks of off 3X3, “Paperlate”, became both a hit single in the U.K. and the U.S. The “classic” Genesis line-up of Gabriel, Hackett, Collins, Banks and Rutherford reunited briefly for one show at the end of 1982 at the Milton Keynes Bowl in England, in support of WOMAD, an international organization started by Peter Gabriel to support world music artists.


By 1983, Genesis were a bona-fide platinum selling pop band. They followed up their success with Abacab with the self-titled Genesis (Charisma/Atlantic) album. The album was one of their biggest successes to date, and became their third consecutive #1 album in the U.K., spurred on by the singles “That's All” and “Mama”. Their success was also helped by the fact that their singer, Phil Collins, also had a wildly successful solo career going while he was still in Genesis. Beyond his first solo album, he scored two more hit albums with Hello, I Must Be Going (Atlantic)(1982) and No Jacket Required (Atlantic)(1985). (Rutherford also found success with his side project with singer Paul Carrack, Mike & The Mechanics). After Collins' commitments with his solo career were met in 1985, he returned back to Genesis and group recorded and released their most successful album yet, 1986's Invisible Touch (Virgin/Atlantic). The album was a smash all over the world, and yielded no less than 5 Top Ten U.S. singles, including the #1 title track, (Genesis first and only #1 song in America), “In Too Deep”, “Throwing It All Away”, “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” and “Land Of Confusion”. The video to “Land Of Confusion” used the then-popular Spitting Image puppet caricatures of the band miming to the song, along with other images including a puppet of Ronald Reagan in a Superman outfit. The song and video were written as an ironic commentary on the Cold War. The video was popular enough that it was nominated for the MTV Video Of The Year award, but in another bit of irony, the group lost out to the “Sledgehammer” video by their former lead singer, Peter Gabriel. After mounting another massive worldwide tour in support of Invisible Touch, Genesis went on hiatus again so the members could pursue other projects, in particular, Collins' solo career. Genesis didn't release another album for five years, and when they did return with the 1991 release We Can't Dance (Virgin/Atlantic), it was announced that that would be the last album with Phil Collins. The record was another success for the band, though not quite to the level of Invisible Touch, and included such hit singles as “Hold On My Heart”, “No Son Of Mine”, “I Can't Dance” and “Jesus He Knows Me”. The band returned to the road one last time with the live line-up of Collins, Rutherford, Banks, Stuermer and Thompson, and, after the tour was over, the group released two live albums of material recorded during its course. The Way We Walk, Volume One: The Shorts (Virgin/Atlantic)(1992) highlighted live versions of many of Genesis' pop hits, while The Way We Walk, Volume Two: The Longs (Virgin/Atlantic)(1993) highlighted many of their longer album pieces, including a set of some of their old progressive rock suites. After Collins left the band, it was announced that both Stuermer and Thompson would also be leaving the band, leaving just Banks and Rutherford.


It would have been perfectly logical to end Genesis after Collins' departure, but Banks and Rutherford still enjoyed playing and creating music together, and decided to press on with the band. The pair recruited ex-Stiltskin singer Ray Wilson to take over as the vocalist, and used two drummers, Israeli session drummer Nir Zidkyahu, and Nick D'Virgilio from the progressive rock band Spock's Beard, to fill in the drum chair for the recording sessions that would become Genesis' next album, Calling All Stations (Virgin/Atlantic)(1997). Calling All Stations was notable in that Rutherford and Banks seemed to want to bring back some of the band's progressive rock roots back into the band, and the album was darker and more cerebral than their albums had been in quite some time. Though the album did moderately well in the U.K. and Europe, it didn't sell well at all in the U.S. at all. The band hit the road again in support of the album, with Rutherford, Banks, and Wilson backed up by Zidkyahu on drums and Anthony Drennan taking over Stuermer's old role in the band of trading off bass and guitar duties with Rutherford. The group played a series of dates in Europe, but because of poor sales and lack of interest, the North America leg of the tour had to be cancelled. Disappointed with the band's poor reception, Banks and Rutherford finally decided to pull the plug on the band, and though they didn't say they had broken up, they did announce that they would be on an extended hiatus. In 1999, the Banks/Gabriel/Collins/Hackett/Rutherford line-up got together in the studio to record a new version of their old track “The Carpet Crawlers” for inclusion on the Turn It On Again: The Hits (Virgin/Atlantic) compilation. Collins, Banks and Rutherford also got together again on one occasion in 2000 to perform acoustic versions of some of their hits in honor of their manager Tony Smith. The members of Genesis also were all involved in the compilation of material for the Archive series, a series of boxsets that highlighted live performances and rare material from each of the band's eras.


In the early 2000's, rumors were heard about the “classic” line-up of Gabriel, Hackett, Rutherford, Banks and Collins reuniting for a tour, but Gabriel wasn't able to commit to a time, and though Hackett was willing to play without Gabriel, the three remaining members thought it would be good to hit the road again with Stuermer and Thompson back in the band. The band returned to the road in the summer of 2007 with their Turn It On Again: The Tour, and played to sold-out crowds across Europe and North America. To coincide with the tour and renewed interest in the band, most of their back catalog was remastered and re-released, and a new live album, Live Over Europe 2007(Atlantic) was  issued. Though Collins has said that the possibility of a new album from the reunited band is unlikely, Banks has expressed his enthusiasm for it. It seems the last chapter in the Genesis saga is yet to be written.


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