Peter Brian Gabriel was born in Chobham, Surrey, England. His mother taught him to play the clarinet at an early age.
Gabriel founded Genesis in 1967 with fellow Charterhouse School pupils Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford, and drummer Chris Stewart. In 1970, he played the flute on Cat Stevens' album, Mona Bone Jakon.
Genesis attracted attention in England and other European countries, largely due to Gabriel's flamboyant stage presence, which involved numerous bizarre costume changes and comical, dreamlike stories told as the introduction to each song.
Genesis's backing vocals during Gabriel's tenure in the band were performed by bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford, keyboardist/guitarist Tony Banks, and drummer Phil Collins, who—after a long search for a replacement—eventually became Genesis's lead singer, after Gabriel left the band in 1975.
Gabriel's departure from Genesis was the result of a number of factors including tensions within the band partly due to Gabriel's burgeoning public profile.
Tensions were heightened by the ambitious album and tour of the concept work The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a Gabriel-created concept piece in which Gabriel wrote most of the lyrics. Gabriel's interest in a film project with director William Friedkin was another contributing factor in his decision to leave Genesis.
Despite the tensions, Gabriel and the other members of Genesis have stated publicly that Gabriel left the band on good terms, supported by the fact that he officially left eight months after telling the band it was time for him to move on.
Gabriel developed an interest in world music especially percussion, and for bold production, which made extensive use of recording tricks and sound effects. Gabriel's interest in music technology is the spark of his success as it inspired his third album which used the now-famous "gated drum" sound. Collins played drums on several tracks, including the opener, "Intruder," which featured the reverse-gated, cymbal-less drum kit sound which Collins would also use on his single "In the Air Tonight" and through the rest of the 1980s.
After five years of not releasing any new music, Gabriel re-emerged with OVO, a soundtrack for the live Millennium Dome Show in London in 2000, and Long Walk Home, the music from the Australian movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, early in 2002. This soundtrack also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score - Motion Picture.
In September 2002, Gabriel released Up, his first full-length studio album in a decade.Three singles from the album did not make the charts
In 2008, Gabriel contributed to the WALL-E soundtrack with several new songs with Thomas Newman, including the film's closing song, "Down to Earth," for which they received the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. The song was also nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Original Song - Motion Picture and the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
In 2010, Gabriel released Scratch My Back. The album is made up entirely of cover songs including material written by David Bowie, Lou Reed, The Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Regina Spektor, Neil Young, and more.
The classic line-up has only reformed for a live performance once before, in 1982. However, the group did work together to create a new version of the 1974 song "The Carpet Crawlers," ultimately released on the Turn It on Again: The Hits album as "The Carpet Crawlers 1999." Gabriel later met with other Genesis band members, to discuss a possible reunion tour of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. He declined participating in a reunion tour, and his former bandmates, Collins, Banks, and Rutherford chose to tour as Genesis without him.