MIKE RUTHERFORD: THE RELIVING YEARS

(courtesy fanart.tv)

The founding member of legendary rock band Genesis looks both back and forward. 

By Steve Houk

 

Mike Rutherford was surprised. Stunned, really.

I mean, you’d think an internationally respected rock musician and founding member of Hall of Fame rock band Genesis might not get surprised by too much these days. But as he was preparing to put together his memoir, he made a truly stunning discovery. And it would be the catalyst for changing not only the way he felt about his difficult relationship with his father, but the way his incredible life story would be told.

“I found an unpublished memoir (of my father’s) a few years ago, so this memoir is really a story of the band, and my life and my father’s life,” Rutherford told me from his home in England. “What surprised me was actually I learned alot about his early life, like how much he traveled the world. His father was also in the Navy and he’d been in similar places like Japan, America and Canada, like I had. You find out your lives weren’t that different. You both traveled the world alot away from home, trying to juggle and make work come to life, and home life work in between. And then sort of working with a team, his on a large ship and me with four guys on stage. But there’s more similarities than you think.”

Mike Rutherford, 64, has nothing left to prove. Genesis is in the permanent upper pantheon of great rock bands, and his lofty place in rock history is secure. But for him, there is more to do. So in addition to participating in a recent Genesis documentary, and resurrecting memories for his memoir (called The Living Years: The First Genesis Memoir, now available here and everywhere), Rutherford is also resurrecting his “other” band Mike and the Mechanics, starting with an American tour, their first since 1989, that kicks off at the Birchmere Friday February 28th.

It was in a fleeting moment about four years ago when Rutherford was tinkering around that he realized that maybe the Mechanics still had some juice. He thought after Paul Young’s death in 2000 that it was the “end of an era,” but as he began to write some songs, he could hear the Mechanics in the tunes, and something sparked.

“I was writing some songs and I thought, they sound like Mechanics’ songs, what am I gonna do? “Rutherford said. “So I went back to the Mechanics and I said well, I’ll write some songs and record them and then see, which I did. I knew one thing this time, the Mechanics work with two singers, an R & B voice and a rock voice. We did the album and then more importantly we toured a bit (in the UK), and I was very impressed how well the songs went down and how good the live set was with the audience, because of the songs and the band. So I thought, well, we’ve toured a bit, and the last three years we’ve toured with the same band. In Europe and Africa and other places. And it’s really sort of, got a strength to it, from the first few shows to where it is now. And I just thought, well, we should come and try America, do a sort of tryout tour.”

Mike and the Mechanics 2015 (L to R: Tim Howar: vocals, Mike Rutherford, Andrew Roachford: vocals)

Mike and the Mechanics 2015 (L to R: Tim Howar: vocals, Mike Rutherford, Andrew Roachford: vocals)

Mike and the Mechanics had a nice run in the 80’s when Rutherford formed the band during a break from Genesis. They were more of an album band and rarely toured, but even without live support, songs like “All I Need is a Miracle”, “Silent Running”, “Word of Mouth” and the autobiographical “The Living Years” found the band FM airplay and gave Rutherford a new outlet for his creativity and saw him as more of a true band leader. It was also after two less than satisfying attempts at some true solo work, when Rutherford realized he does better collaborating on songwriting as he did so well with Genesis and still does with the Mechanics, than going it alone.

“I always co-write. Sometimes you know, on some days, maybe the song is three quarters done, and to finish, to get the last bit to make it really work, it needs someone else in the room. And sometimes you write from scratch too that way, and it’s great. I enjoy the process really.”

Genesis circa mid 1970's (Clockwise from bottom: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel (courtesy pixshark.com)

Genesis circa mid 1970’s (Clockwise from bottom: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel (courtesy pixshark.com)

Speaking of collaboration, as he looks forward to getting his Mechanics back in gear, Rutherford is also able to look back at his creative days with Genesis — a groundbreaking band that has sold over 130 million albums worldwide and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall in 2010  — with much fondness and appreciation. And doing a memoir and participating in an BBC documentary provides one with ample opportunity to dig deep into the vault of the mind and harken back. So what were some of his most special memories of his time with Genesis?

“Having looked back the last couple years, alot more than normal, there are three moments that really talked to me as pretty special,” Rutherford recalls. “One was ‘Supper’s Ready’ (from the 1972 album Foxtrot) which wrote itself. It was the first time we found something that really worked together like that, the first long instrumental piece with myself and Phil and Tony. The next moment was probably Trick of the Tail (released in 1976) actually. That first few days writing, we coulda gone over and coulda gone under, but the first day of writing with myself, Phil and Tony actually, it took off. And then the last two or three albums with Phil and Tony, we just wrote it with no ideas at all, walked in day one with a blank bit of paper, not single idea in my head, plugged the gear in, and just kicked off. And it just worked every time, and the writing just flew out of the box.”

book cover

Finding his father’s hidden treasure of recollections enabled Rutherford to tailor his own memoir into a look back at both family and band, and also how the tumultuous times back then contributed to the birth of his future-legendary rock and roll career.

“What makes it relevant is (telling) the story of (Genesis) against this huge social and cultural change in the 60’s, and the English, old traditional, country empire days with all the rules and regulations, it was kinda due for a change. And our parents, after two world wars, were stunned, and shocked, and tired, so we suddenly appear with long hair and guitars and drugs and it was a huge left turn and change of values in the UK. And the story of Genesis against that background is I think what is much more interesting.”

So with a new memoir, a Mechanics run and a treasure trove of amazing memories with Genesis, Mike Rutherford has alot to be thankful for. But right now, he’s looking at this upcoming US tour  —  18 dates that will mix Mechanics tunes with a few Genesis nuggets — with perhaps a kind of excitement and nervous anticipation he hasn’t felt in a good long while.

“It’s a bit like England three years ago,” Rutherford said. “When you first come out there, everyone’s keen to see you, but it’s a little slow to get it going until you go out and play somewhere, and you’re good, and they talk about it. It’s like building a band again. Ironic at my age I’m doing this again, but it’s worked over here, and it’s fun to do.”

Mike and the Mechanics perform Friday February 28th at the Birchmere, 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA 22305. For tickets, click here

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