"Every time we finished a rehearsal, I felt that my brain was sweating": former Genesis/Weather Report drummer Chester Thompson on why playing with Frank Zappa was the best education he ever received

Frank Zappa, Chester Thompson
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images | Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

Having played with Genesis, Weather Report, Santana and Phil Collins, Chester Thompson has a CV that stands up against that of any contemporary drummer, but, reflecting back over his career in a new interview, the Baltimore-born drummer singles out his time playing with Frank Zappa in the Mothers Of Invention where he truly learned what the art of drumming was all about. 

In a new [paywalled] interview with The Telegraph, the 75-year-old drummer reveals that his first two years playing with Zappa in the mid '70s was an education like no other.

“People thought Zappa was some kind of freak-out hippy, but he was seriously dedicated,” Thompson tells writer Ian Winwood. “That was my first introduction to practising for 40 hours each week. It was eight hours a day and there was no time wasted. Every time we finished a rehearsal, I felt that my brain was sweating. It was really intense music, really difficult music, and I always say it was the best school I ever went to.” 

“The quickest way out of that band was to get caught taking drugs,” the drummer adds. “Zappa had no tolerance for it. And, you know, he was open about it. He said that the main reason was that drugs break bands up. People end up in jail, it gets you unwanted attention from the police, or from authorities when you’re crossing borders, and he just wanted no part of that. He was all about getting the work done. He was not a fan of it by any means. Because he was not how people think he is.”

Though he toured with Genesis for 30 years, Thompson played no part in the the band's 2022/'23 reunion tour. Asked why by The Telegraph, the drummer replies that “it would have been nice” to have been asked.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.