When it comes to the money game, Phil Collins did what any good
drummer would do: He beat it.
As a kid, he starred as the Artful Dodger in the London
production of "Oliver!" As a teen, he answered a classified ad for
a drummer and joined the art-rock band Genesis. Five years later,
when Genesis lead singer Peter Gabriel went solo, Collins stepped
to stage center to replace him in what was then a money-losing
band. Five years after that, he unleashed his songwriting skills on
his multiplatinum solo debut, "Face Value," which included his
breakout hit, "In the Air Tonight."
From then on, Collins was never far from the charts, producing a
string of seven No. 1 hits that includes "One More Night,"
"Sussudio" and "Another Day in Paradise." Collins even successfully
combined his two stage careers, starring in the film "Buster,"
writing "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)," his first No. 1
single, for the 1984 Jeff Bridges film, and receiving an Academy
Award for Best Original Song for "You'll Be In My Heart" from the
Disney film "Tarzan."
At age 61, Collins just unveiled another surprise: "The Alamo
and Beyond: A Collector's Journey," a sumptuous coffee table book
that reveals for the first time his lifelong, in-depth study of the
pivotal 1836 battle for Texas independence.
Collins' studious book, which showcases his extensive collection
of Alamo artifacts that includes Davy Crockett's rifle, Jim Bowie's
knife and Sam Houston's snuff box, earned him yet another accolade:
an honorary doctoral degree in history from McMurry
University in Abilene, Texas
May we now refer to you as Dr. Collins?
Doctor or admiral; I was also made an honorary admiral of the Texas
fleet while I was there. You can call me anything you want.
Here in the U.S., a whole generation grew up singing the Davy
Crockett theme song.
Yeah, and I thought it was my secret at 5 or 6 years old.
Did you have the requisite coonskin cap?
Well, my grandmother cut up a fur coat! She had an old fur coat --
old, obviously -- that she cut up and made into a hat. There's a
picture of me wearing it in the book. England at that point was way
behind the States in terms of the availability to toys. A Disney
friend of mine here in the States tells how his father had bought
him a 6-foot constructible Alamo. That was unheard of where I
Rock stars tend to collect vintage instruments.
Or Aston Martins or Ferraris. Yeah, I never really shared it with
anybody. It was a very personal thing that I just slowly pecked
away at. My collection's in my basement in Switzerland; I had
cabinets built for it and it's all labeled, should someone ... but
no one does. There are probably 20 people outside my family who've
seen it, apart from what's there in the book. There's no one I know
who is interested in this stuff.
Do you remember your first historical find?
That first Davy Crockett letter that I saw in a shop in Georgetown,
I guess I could have bought it but my upbringing told me that it
was too expensive. I don't know why. My mum always kind of taught
me to save for the rainy day. And now, at 61, the rainy days are
kind of fleeting. So that's become my passion. I still don't buy
everything I'm offered; far from it. And I still, on the odd
occasion, will pay more than I think is decent for something that I
think I should have. I just bought (Mexican General) Santa Anna's
sword for an extraordinary amount of money, but that seemed right;
the provenance was good.
So you buy it now and kick yourself later.
Yeah, I'll kind of eat bread and cheese for the next couple of
months. It's weird; I've got the money, but I still think like I
haven't got the money. That's the way I was brought up. So if
something comes along and it's too expensive, I just say well
forget it, someone else can buy it.
It must be rewarding to finally share your collection with the
I do think there is something strange -- maybe I should keep
looking behind me -- because the last album I did was "Going Back,"
which is the Motown covers album; it's like a rounding off of a
career. And my fascination with the Alamo started around the same
time. So both things have come full circle at the same time. I
don't know what to do next, to be honest.
Unlike some rockers of the era, you didn't come from dire
(Laughs) "I was born a poor black child," as Steve Martin used to
say. No, I had a great childhood. My mum and dad let me do my
thing. I'm the youngest of three. My brother is still a working
cartoonist for magazines and newspapers, been doing that all his
life, and we shared a room when we were young. My sister was an ice
skater for Disney on Ice, an accomplished ice skater. And my father
pleaded, "Give me one normal child!" because the three of us were
really looking like we were going in a direction that wasn't as
solid as his, which was working in the city of London at an
insurance company. But we were all able to do our own things.
You fairly quickly hired on with a successful rock band in Genesis.
Do you remember a moment when you felt the financial burden leave
Um, I never had that moment. Genesis lost money. Like probably a
few other bands of that era, we were looking as if we were doing
very, very well but spending an awful lot on the production. It
took a lot of money to get the Genesis machine rolling; the
physical shows were expensive to put on. And we had the one
catastrophic year in the early '70s when our road manager, who was
supposed to keep all the receipts, didn't keep anything, so we owed
all this money back since we had no proof that we'd spent it.
That's when Tony Smith, who has been our manager ever since, said,
"Someone's got to take care of you guys because you're going to end
up in prison or something."
You didn't spend like a rock star?
No. For me, I can fully put my hand on my heart and say I always
thought the bubble was going to burst. This saving for a rainy day
thing has always been hanging around me.
Even when your first solo album, "Face Value," went
Yeah, but then ... it depends on the kind of person you are. I
would have started worrying about my second album; what am I going
to do now? Other people would have enjoyed the moment and I rarely
enjoyed the moment, if I'm being totally honest. I've been married
three times and there has always been something chomping at my
heels, it seems. But I think that's my problem. I had every reason
to be very, very happy and thinking that the best was yet to come,
but I kind of was always a little wary that OK, well, you've had a
lucky break for your first album. What are you going to do for your
second album? It was a little bit cautious.
So it was never about the money.
It was never about the money, that's for sure. I never really
thought about it. That isn't because I came from a background that
had a lot of money; I just figured that all you've got to do is
have enough to live. And that's all I ever wanted to do, make a
living playing the drums.
How did you keep your runaway success from going to your head?
Certainly once my solo career started ... well, there was no
getting away from Genesis. Tony (Banks) and Mike (Rutherford) would
never let me forget that I only used three chords on those songs!
And we do it to this day. We would never allow ourselves to get too
full of ourselves, not in that band.
You dislocated a vertebra on the 2007 Genesis reunion tour. Can you
Not like I used to, so I don't do it. I've decided to just stop. It
was a year ago last November at a Prince's Trust concert with Eric
and some of us got together and he played "Crossroads" and I played
drums, and as soon as I started I knew that I couldn't really be
the same guy anymore with various nerve injuries. It took a toll
with me. Some of it may be having played since I was 5. That's a
lot of air miles.
What's been the highlight of your career?
The highlight for me was playing in Eric Clapton's band, playing
drums behind Eric. Nothing to do with Genesis or my own solo
The London Times ranks you at 19th on its list of the 50 Richest
People in Music, right behind Eric Clapton and tied with Rod
Stewart with a net worth of roughly $184 million. How does that
Wow. I should enjoy it more.
Last question: have you officially retired?
Oh, I have retired. I mean, my manager doesn't like hearing me say
it but I've retired. I've stopped. I've got two young boys, 7 and
11, and I've earned the right to do nothing, you know what I mean?
That's not to say I wouldn't write another book; my kids are
desperate for me to start writing because they love listening to
the songs, so one part of me says maybe. We'll see. We'll see.
Congratulations on your latest milestone, Dr. Collins.
Admiral! You can call me admiral!