Mike Rutherford, founding member of legendary band Genesis, reflects after publishing a memoir.
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 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“I found an unpublished memoir [of my father’s] a few years ago, so this memoir is really a story of the band, my life and my father’s life,” Rutherford said from his home in England. “What surprised me was I actually learned a lot 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 [as me] like Japan, America and Canada. You find out your lives weren’t that different; you both traveled the world a lot away from home, tried 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.”
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. In addition to participating in a recent Genesis documentary and resurrecting memories for his memoir (called “The Living Years: The First Genesis Memoir“) 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 28.
It was a fleeting moment about four years ago when Rutherford was tinkering around that he realized 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 again, something sparked.
“I was writing some songs and they sounded like Mechanics’ songs, and I thought ‘what am I gonna do?'” Rutherford said. “So I went back to the Mechanics and I said, ‘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 with how well the songs went down and how good the live set was with the audience. I thought, well, we’ve toured a bit, 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 and do a sort of tryout tour.”
Mike and the Mechanics had a nice run in the 80s 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” garnered the band FM airplay and gave Rutherford a new outlet for his creativity.
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. Creating a memoir and participating in a BBC documentary provides one with ample opportunity to dig deep into the vault of one’s mind and harken back.
“Having looked back a lot more than normal in the last couple years, there are three moments that really talked to me as pretty special,” Rutherford recalls. “One was ‘Supper’s Ready’ 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’ 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 a single idea in my head, plugged the gear in and just kicked off. It worked every time, and the writing just flew out of the box.”
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 contributed to the birth of his legendary rock and roll career.
“What makes it relevant is [telling] the story of [Genesis] against this huge social and cultural change in the 60s, and the English, old traditional, country empire days with all the rules and regulations,” Rutherford said. “It was kinda due for a change. And our parents, after two world wars, were stunned, shocked and tired. So we suddenly appear with long hair, 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.”
With a new memoir, a Mechanics re-run and a treasure trove of amazing memories with Genesis, Rutherford has a lot to be thankful for. But right now he’s looking at this upcoming U.S. tour, 18 dates that will mix Mechanics tunes with a few Genesis nuggets, with a kind of excitement and nervous anticipation he hasn’t felt in a long time.
“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 that 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 28 at the Birchmere, 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA. Tickets are available here.
Steve Houk writes about local and national music luminaries for WashingtonLife.com and his own blog at midliferocker.wordpress.com. He is also lead singer for the successful Northern Virginia classic rock cover band Second Wind plus other local rock ensembles.