“As much as Mick’s voice and Keith’s guitar, Charlie Watts’s snare sound is The Rolling Stones. If you dig for the secret of the band’s chemistry, it’s the rhythmic tension between Keith Richards and Watts. Mick Jagger’s vocals are just the icing on the cake.”
“People sit there and go, ‘Yeah, I’m dancing along with Mick Jagger.’ No, you’re dancing along with Charlie Watts, in the same way, Mick Jagger’s dancing along to Charlie Watts’ drumming. So, Mick Jagger wouldn’t have those moves if it wasn’t for Charlie Watts’ drumming. It sort of starts and ends there.”
Lars Ulrich – drummer Metallica
“There has been no man more effortlessly elegant and more beautiful than Charlie Watts.”
-Chuck Leavell (keyboardist- Rolling Stones)
Not Fade Away
Charles Robert Watts was born on 2 June 1941 at the University College Hospital in London and was raised in Kingsbury, now part of the London Borough of Brent.
His father was a lorry driver and Watts was brought up in a prefabricated house to which the family had moved after German bombs destroyed hundreds of houses in the area.
A childhood friend once described how Watts had an early interest in jazz and recalled listening to 78s in Charlie’s bedroom by artists such as Jelly Roll Morton and Charlie Parker.
At school, he developed an interest in and a talent for art, and he went on to study at Harrow Art School before finding a job as a graphic designer with a local advertising agency.
But his love of music continued to be the dominating force in his life. His parents bought him a drum kit when he was 13 and he played along to his collection of jazz records.
He began drumming in local clubs and pubs and, in 1961 was heard by Alexis Korner, who offered him a job in his band, Blues Incorporated, an outfit that became a vital part of the development of British rock music.
Also playing with Blues Incorporated was a guitarist named Brian Jones, who introduced Watts to the fledgling Rolling Stones – whose original drummer, Tony Chapman, had quit the band.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Like so many of you, I have seen the Stones in person, and, depending on where I was seated, the experience was either out-of-body or very satisfying. To this writer, the Stones were the embodiment of the Greek God Bacchus, the Beatles were exemplified by the Greek Goddess, Aphrodite.
To me, they are always the two lodestars of life’s journey. So as not to bore you with the details of Charlie Watt’s discography, and the subtle techniques of his playing, let me give my own perspective on what made him unique.
The Stones always reminded me of a very bright, shiny, and exotic European sports car. Incredibly beautiful, and dangerously fast. But beneath that gem was a heartbeat that drove the rest of the sleek automobile to its various nefarious, magical, and always glamourous destinations. Mr Watts was the mastermind, the driving force spurring that marvellous purring engine. To think of the band without him, and really only him, is to ponder something not as unique, as original as the Rolling Stones. Charlie Watts was the polar opposite of what Mick and Keith were about and that made the whole thing work. To maintain the kind of excellence, the terrific output that makes the Stones so incredible, requires precision, a studied exemplar of perfection that made the entire ensemble shine so brightly.
That was Charlie’s gift to rock ‘n’ roll, his studied indifference to the entire Dionysian enterprise of which Mick and Keith devoted so much charismatic energy and elan into creating. The Rolling Stones and Beatles were the standard-bearers of the genre and who was more responsible for that than the dapper gentleman from London. Charles Watts.
The High Hats!
There are so many songs and favourites that one can spend a book writing about the best Charlie Watts songs. However, here is a take on Charlie’s finest moments from the Radio X website. I can’t say I disagree with their choices.
Honky Tonk Women – You want more cowbell? You got it! Sleazy masterpiece!
Sympathy For the Devil – Raucous Samba stroll.
Midnight Rambler – Mick struts and Charlie lays it all down. Perfect.
Little Queenie – From the live wonderwork Get Yer Ya Yas Out!
Our man is on the album cover which is only right. He probably never played better.
Emotional Rescue – Disco era tune that rocked because of Mr Watts.
Get Off My Cloud – ‘Nuff said.
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking – Tight, rocking band here!
Not Fade Away – I was mesmerized like everyone else by this ditty. Buddy Holly is covered with Charlie’s Bo Diddly beat.
Paint it Black – An all-time fav and rightfully so. Enduring indeed.
Charlie Watts had influence far beyond what ye mere mortals can summon up, let’s just say he was the engine that could go on and on.
Rock ‘n’ roll will never see his likes again.
No Charlie Watts
Can’t really wrap my head around that, can you?
Some guy once sang; You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Well, we got Charlie Watts. R.I.P.