Out West

Phil Collins Remembers the Alamo

Phil Collins book The Alamo and Beyond

A rock music legend and the Alamo’s Davy Crockett make an unusual Western pair.

When legendary rocker Phil Collins was a kid growing up in a London suburb, he would often sit in front of the TV and watch — in glorious black and white — Fess Parker as “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier,” just like hundreds of thousands of other kids his age in America. To say he became obsessed with Crockett may not exactly be fair, but Collins not only acted out the adventures of his hero, he’d often reenact the battle of The Alamo with toy soldiers. (Well, maybe that’s a little obsessive.) And even though music came to dominate his life, his love of American history and Davy Crockett at the Alamo were always near to his heart and mind.

A rock music legend and Davy Crockett make an unusual Western pair. Phil Collins remembers the Alamo and Texas history.
Phil Collins of Genesis performs during an outdoor concert to kick off the bands first North American tour in 15 years in Toronto, September 7, 2007. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese (CANADA)

In 2014, Collins spoke with Rolling Stone magazine about his fascination with the past.

“I started drumming around the same time I came across this part of American history,” Collins says. “But there seemed to be a way forward playing drums. There didn’t seem to be a way forward being fascinated by a piece of history… I’ve bought pretty much every book ever written about the Alamo, and I talk to my friends that I’ve made over the past 15 to 20 years. It’s just a constant learning and fascinating thing for me.”

Given all that, and remembering the Alamo’s history, one might be led to think that his song “One More Night” could have been inspired by the order of the Alamo’s commander, William B. Travis, that they hold “one more night” against the army of General Santa Ana. They did, in fact, do just that — they held for 13 nights. Or that he considered that the opening lines of his huge hit, “In the Air Tonight,” might have been in the thoughts of those brave 200 men attempting to hold back an entire army, bent on their destruction:

“I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord/
And I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord/
Can you feel it coming in the air tonight?/
Oh Lord, oh Lord”

A rock music legend and Davy Crockett make an unusual Western pair. Phil Collins remembers the Alamo and Texas history.
Original plan for the presidio in San Antonio de Bexar — the center of Spanish defense in western Texas. Phil Collins Collection

Wherever the passion came from, when Collins encountered his first David Crockett autograph, he remarked, “I didn’t even know this stuff was out there, that you could own it.”

Later, he received a birthday present that would revolutionize the way he loved Texas history by turning a passion into a tangible collection. A simple receipt for a saddle and a bridle signed by an Alamo defender spurred the rock drummer to begin building a treasure trove of impressive Alamo and Texas Revolution artifacts. His book “The Alamo and Beyond: A Collector’s Journey,” a truly handsome and articulate volume, presents his extensive collection that historian Stephen L. Hardin observes in his introductory essay.

Newspaper editor Francis Moore’s Description of Texas with map from 1840. Moore would later be elected as Mayor of Houston, Texas. Phil Collins Collection

“The book is very much a portable museum exhibit,” Hardin writes.

Here are artifacts, relics and documents, along with Collins’ own words, that take the reader through the joys of a collector as he lovingly describes each piece and what it means to him. This is more than a book about items from one of the most famous military battles in our country’s history. It is a look into a journey of discovery, of one man’s passion to understand and be a part of — what he found to be — revered ground. The Alamo and what it means has been interpreted and dramatized by many. Regrettably, a number of those interpretations didn’t adhere to historical facts. And while the facts surrounding the siege of the Alamo continue to be debated, there is no doubt about what the battle has come to symbolize. People around the world still consider the Alamo a heroic struggle against impossible odds — a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

Collins has much to say about his collecting and passion for the subject.

General Sam Houston’s Bowie knife, “Star of Texas.” Phil Collins Collection

“A few years after the Disney series, John Wayne raised the bar,” Collins explains. “His Alamo film, released in 1960, captivated me. Even though now I see much of it was romanticized and liberal with the facts, I still go back and watch it. The Alamo story stuck with me, and there was no getting away from it. Playing the drums, the Alamo and Crockett filled my thoughts constantly. Unlike the fads that came and went for other young lads, my Alamo passion remained undimmed. I grew up believing the notion shared by in the Alamo movies: to ‘do the right thing,’ to be sure and to ‘go ahead.’ I was, and still am, hooked on the history of what happened there, and as I grow older, the fascination only deepens.”

A rock music legend and Davy Crockett make an unusual Western pair. Phil Collins remembers the Alamo and Texas history.

The book is a jewel filled with artifacts and writings by Collins and others. It gives a picture of a time and a place, where hard decisions were made and lives were put on the line for beliefs. The book was published in 2012, with a subsequent edition by the State House Press, Kerrville, TX, an imprint of the Texas A&M University Press, and is still available.

The West is a place of passion, ideas and vision. It is unique as the passion of one British rock musician who found kinship with the “King of the Wild Frontier.” In 2014, Collins became an honorary Texan by the House and Senate at the Capitol for the donation of his priceless collection of Alamo and Texana artifacts to the Texas General Land Office, guardian of the Alamo, on behalf of the people of Texas. Collins’ collection is on display at the Alamo Exhibit in the Ralston Family Collections Center at the Alamo.

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