Chester Thompson

Chester Cortez Thompson (born December 11, 1948) is an American musician. He is primarily a drummer, percussionist, session musician, producer, and teacher. Thompson is perhaps best known for working with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention from 1973 to 1975, and with the progressive rock band Genesis from 1977 to 1992, and again in 2007.[1] He is a current member of his jazz group, the Chester Thompson Trio, formed in 2011.

Chester Thompson
Thompson playing with Genesis in 2007
Thompson playing with Genesis in 2007
Background information
Birth nameChester Cortez Thompson
Born (1948-12-11) December 11, 1948 (age 71)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Years active1970–present
Associated acts
O'Donel Levy (1971–1973)

Frank Zappa / The Mothers of Invention (1973–1975)
Weather Report (1975–1976)
Genesis (1976–1992, 2007 as tour drummer)
Steve Hackett (1978, 1995)
Phil Collins (1982/83, 1985, 1990, 1999, 2004/05 as tour drummer)
Santana (1984) Bee Gees (1989 as tour drummer)
Ron Kenoly (1992–1995)
Era (1996)
Chester Thompson Trio (2011–)

Early lifeEdit

Thompson was born on December 11, 1948, in Baltimore, Maryland. He has an older brother, who played in the drum corps.[2][3] At elementary school, he learned to play the flute and read music.[4][3] At eleven, Thompson took up the drums, receiving lessons from James Harrison, a professional jazz drummer from whom he learned his rudiments.[5][4] Thompson practiced by playing along with albums by jazz musicians Miles Davis, Max Roach and Art Blakey. From there, he moved on to studying records by drummer Elvin Jones, whom Thompson cites as a major musical influence along with Tony Williams.[3][2] While attending high school, he studied privately with drummer and percussionist Tony Ames of the National Symphony Orchestra for one semester.[5] Thompson's practice focused on mastering drumming rudiments using a book published by the National Association of Rudimental Drummers.[3] He started to play his first live gigs two years later in local venues. Still underage, Thompson went as far as to draw a mustache on his upper lip using an eyebrow pencil "because the club owners were worried about me playing there".[4] He played as many as three jam sessions a week.[3]


1970–1976: Early bandsEdit

Among his first major jobs was a short tour, mainly across Canada, with jazz singer Ben E. King.[4][2] In 1970, he played with organist Jack McDuff,[2][3] followed by gigs with other local groups before returning to Baltimore in 1971 to study at the Community College of Baltimore County. Thompson studied there for two years, including the flute, and coached a basketball team at the Rec Center.[5] He played as part of the house band in a club that supported visiting soul artists.[2]

Thompson built a reputation as a session drummer. One of his first bands was Doc "Soul Stirrer" Young and The We Four Trio. Since the early 1970s, Thompson has played with the jazz rock band Air Pocket, a band with the Fowler Brothers at its core.[4]

From 1973 to 1975, Thompson toured and recorded with Frank Zappa as a member of his band, The Mothers of Invention.[3] He was a friend of their tour manager, Marty Perellis, also of Baltimore, and landed an audition in Los Angeles after learning of Zappa's wish to use two drummers in his group.[4] Thompson recalled the audition involved him jamming with the band for a solid hour without a break. "We just drifted in and out of so many different kinds of feels and grooves," he remembers. After the jam, Zappa told Thompson that he got the gig.[6] His time in Zappa's band was challenging because of the leader's "incredibly difficult music" which involved as much as 40 hours of weekly practice for four to six weeks before a tour.[2] Thompson played on several Zappa albums, including Roxy & Elsewhere (1974), One Size Fits All (1975), Studio Tan (rec. 1969, 1974–1976, rel. 1978), Sleep Dirt (rec. 1974 & 1976, rel. 1978), and You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 2 (rec. 1974, rel. 1988).

In 1975, he was fired by Frank Zappa just prior to their tour of Australia. Thompson joined the jazz rock band Weather Report following the departure of drummer Leon "Ndugu" Chancler and the completion of Tale Spinnin' (1975).[2] Their bassist, Alphonso Johnson, invited him to jam with them and it was a success. Thompson recalled his time in the band as a "major knock out" because he was a big fan of the group.[2] Thompson stayed with the band for Black Market (1976), after which he left.[2]

After leaving Weather Report, Thompson played recording sessions in Los Angeles and well as part of the San Francisco Broadway theatre production of The Wiz.[5][4] He was recommended for the gig by his friend Roy McCurdy, and it was there where he met his future wife who had parts in the musical.[3] He also toured as a member of the live band for The Pointer Sisters, and rehearsed with Santana after they expressed an interest in having Thompson join the band.[3]

1976–1992; 2007: GenesisEdit

Thompson performing with Genesis in 1981

Just two weeks into Santana rehearsals, Thompson was invited by Genesis drummer and singer Phil Collins to join the band as their touring drummer after their current drummer, Bill Bruford, wished to move on.[4] Collins wished to pick an American drummer, and heard Thompson's playing on Zappa's live album Roxy & Elsewhere (1974) which featured Thompson playing in tandem with drummer Ralph Humphrey.[6] Thompson had heard of Genesis's music from bassist Alphonso Johnson, and agreed to join the band for rehearsals in November 1976 for their upcoming tour supporting Wind & Wuthering (1976).[4] "The first day of rehearsal, we just started jamming as everybody was setting up gear, we were just going for it".[6] Thompson was shown the drum part to "Afterglow" and at first had difficulty in playing its straightforward beat.

From 1976–2007, Thompson played with Genesis as their touring drummer.[7] Thompson is featured on the live albums Seconds Out (1977), Three Sides Live (1982), The Way We Walk, Volume One: The Shorts (1992), The Way We Walk, Volume Two: The Longs (1993), and Live over Europe 2007 (2007).

After the 1992 tour, Thompson stepped down as their touring drummer in order to spend more time with his family.[2] He talked with Genesis bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford about the possibility of playing the drums on their final studio album, Calling All Stations (1997). However, since Collins had left the band, Thompson wanted to become a full-time member of the band, and not just a side man. However, Genesis continued without Thompson for the album and tour but he came back in 2007 for the tour called "turn it on again : the tour".[2] Thompson played an impromptu jam at Collins's wedding in 1999.[2]

1977–present: Later careerEdit

Thompson joined Phil Collins as drummer for Collins's solo concert tours, drumming on the 1982/83 Hello, I Must Be Going! tour, 1985 No Jacket Required tour, 1990 ...But Seriously tour, The Tarzan Premiere tour of 1999 and The Final Farewell tour of 2004/05. He also appears on Collins' Serious Hits... Live! (1990) live album and DVD.[8]

In 1986, Thompson played the drums on the song The Next Time I Fall. The soft rock duet between Peter Cetera and Amy Grant hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

In 1988, Thompson was invited to play the drums for former boss Frank Zappa's final concert tour before his death. Thompson declined the offer. By this time, Thompson had become a devout Christian, and said Zappa's anti-religious sentiments and lyrics conflicted with his own religious beliefs.[6]

In 1989, Thompson worked as the drummer for Bee Gees for their One for All World Tour (10.4.–7.12.1989), in support for their One (1989) album. He was later replaced by Michael Murphy in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Thompson continued to work with other members of Genesis on their solo projects. Thompson also plays on the Steve Hackett albums, Please Don't Touch (1978) and Watcher of the Skies: Genesis Revisited (1996). Later on, he played on Tony Banks' solo album A Curious Feeling (1979). He also appears on Steve Hackett's live album The Tokyo Tapes released in 1998 which also features John Wetton, Ian McDonald and Julian Colbeck.

He was also a founding member of the band Fire Merchants with Brand X guitarist John Goodsall and bassist Doug Lunn and appeared on their first eponymous recording in 1989. Thompson played drums with Santana in 1984 and is credited in the Beyond Appearances album along with Chester D. Thompson on keyboards.

In 1992, Thompson and his family relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, after liking the area when they visited to attend noted drummer Larrie Londin's funeral.[9] He has since played on sessions for various artists in the area, mainly in jazz, pop, and Christian music.[2]

In 1995, former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett invited Thompson to play on his Genesis project album Genesis Revisited. Thompson was unsure of playing on all of the tracks as initially discussed, and said "we both thought it would be too weird to do the whole album with both of us being sort of ex-Genesis people".[2] Instead, Hackett brought on additional musicians and Thompson plays on just three tracks.

In the late 1990s, Thompson began touring with jazz guitarist Denny Jiosa.[2] In 1999, he released his first solo album, A Joyful Noise. In 2001, Thompson toured Korea with singer and worship leader Ron Kenoly.[2] In January 2002, Thompson performed at the debut charity gig by Collins's Little Dreams Foundation.[2]

Thompson has taught drums at Belmont University in Nashville since 1998,[2] and has also taken classes at the university in composition and arranging. In 2008, he was "two classes away" from earning a degree.[6] He is an adjunct instructor at its school of music.

In 2008, Thompson was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 32nd Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC).[10]

In 2011, Thompson formed his jazz group, the Chester Thompson Trio, with pianist Joe Davidian and bassist Mike Rinne. They had initially played together as part of the rhythm section of the Nashville Trombone Festival which was followed by a weekly residency at the Commodore Lounge for over a year. They have released two albums: Approved (2013) and Simpler Times (2015).[11]


Thompson has endorsed Ludwig Drums (1970-March, 1977), Pearl Drums (April, 1977 - July, 1987), Sonor Drums (1990–1999) and Paiste cymbals (1970–90); he has endorsed DW Drums since 2000 and Sabian cymbals since 1990. He uses Remo drumheads, Meinl Percussion, Gibraltar racks and has his own Regaltip Chester Thompson signature drumstick.

Private lifeEdit

In 1980, Thompson became a Christian. He married his wife who he first met during his time playing in The Wiz in 1976.[3] They have one son.[12]

Selected discographyEdit


  • A Joyful Noise (1991)
  • Steppin' (2019)

Chester Thompson TrioEdit

  • Approved (2013)
  • Simpler Times (2015)

Appears onEdit

With O'Donel Levy

With Frank Zappa / Beefheart / Mothers of Invention

With Air Pocket

  • Fly On (1975)
  • Hunter (1985)
  • Breakfast for Dinosaurs (1988)

With Alphonso Johnson

  • Yesterday's Dreams (1976)

With Weather Report

With Caldera

With Genesis

With Flora Purim

  • Everyday, Everynight (1978)

With Steve Hackett

With Tony Banks

With Linda Clifford

With Freddie Hubbard

With Leroy Hutson

With David Pritchard

  • City Dreams (1979)

With Brenda Holloway

  • Brand New! (1980)

With Ahmad Jamal

With Hidehiko Matsumoto

  • Prediction (1980)

With High Inergy

  • High Inergy (1981)

With Bingo Miki & His Inner Galaxy Orchestra of America

  • Mystic Solar Dance (1981)

With Johnny Lytle/Albert Dailey/Chester Thompson

  • I Giganti Del Jazz Vol. 93 (1982)

With Stefano Sabatini

  • Sabatini (1982)

With Michel Colombier

  • Old Fool Back on Earth (1983)

With Santana

With Cosmos & Their L.A. Friends

  • Session V (1985)

With Fire Merchants

  • Fire Merchants (1989)

With Phil Collins

With Chris Catena

  • Freak Out (2004)


  1. ^ "Home". 2011-10-25. Archived from the original on 2018-09-16. Retrieved 2017-03-24.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Negrin, Dave (10 February 2002). "Chester Thompson 2002 interview". World of Genesis. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j King, Bill (25 June 2015). "Chester Thompson - From the Zappa to Genesis". Cashbox Magazine Canada. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Alexander, Sue (December 1986). "The Chester Thompson interview". Rhythm. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d Hall, Stanley (January 1983). "Up for the challenge". Modern Drummer. Vol. 7 no. 1. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e Mover, Jonathan (January 2008). "Phil Collins & Chester Thompson turning it on again". Drum Head. pp. 26, 30, 32. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  7. ^ Kelman, John. "Genesis: The Movie Box 1981-2007". All About Jazz. Archived from the original on 2012-10-23. Retrieved 2010-06-01.
  8. ^ Phil Collins. Not Dead Yet. London, England: Century Books. pp. 151/2, 203/4, 225, & 336. ISBN 978-1-780-89513-0.
  9. ^ Malkin, Rick (21 November 2009). "Studio Tour: At Home With Chester Thompson". Drum!. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  10. ^ "Sabian honors three percussion icons at PASIC". Music Trades. 1 January 2008. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018 – via Highbeam Research.
  11. ^ "Chester Thompson Trio bio" (PDF). January 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  12. ^ Rimmer, Mike (1 April 2000). "Chester Thompson: A man making a joyful noise". Cross Rhythms. Retrieved 9 June 2018.

External linksEdit