The World Mourns Rolling Stones Drummer Charlie Watts
Charlie Watts, Rolling Stones drummer since 1963, has died at the age of 80. He was surrounded by family in a London hospital. He and his musical legacy are adored and mourned by fans all over the world.
I was 16 when I found myself in my library’s musty back corner, on the floor where the limited selection of music filled a few drawers of a metal file cabinet. While waiting for a ride home, I shuffled through them looking for gold.
What I found was a CD, cracked all over in an unloved way, of a very early Stones album. There was no discernible cover in the case but I knew the name and, being raised on mostly ’80s hair metal and ’70s pop and disco, I was looking for my own magic–to find more of those classic sources and influences that act as puzzle pieces when we look back at generations of music and genre evolutions.
One CD-to-iTunes-to-iPod sync later, I was curled like a roly poly on my school bus bench, headphones in, when I heard “It’s All Over Now.” I was hooked.
It led to a frantic collecting of the bands discography, band biographies, heinously descriptive autobiographies, journalist tag-along tell-alls, documentaries and playful concert films. I had to have it all. I needed to know them.
And it was easy to know them. This is a band that leans way into their stardom and all its self-important ideation. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, our tragic wild child Brian Jones, they were explosive personalities to explore. Ones that felt so exciting to a teenager reaching back to a different era. They wanted to be the bad boys of pop-rock n’ roll What was it Richards said?
“The Beatles got the white hat, what was left – the black hat.”
And they made sure that black hat was for everybody else too, peers and future generations included.
But who was the stern, focused face behind the drums? The one responsible for punching Jagger in the face for daring to let his ferocious frontman ego touch him?
The best Charlie Watts story, courtesy of Keith Richards: pic.twitter.com/pEycNN9bKx
— Kyle Daly (@dalykyle) August 24, 2021
Charlie Watts. In all the Stones’ dignified debauchery, he was present and accounted for.
Without Charlie, there simply would never have been any Stones. And as we face his loss, it’s hard to imagine them moving forward without their backbone.
“Charlie’s the engine. We don’t go anywhere without the engine,” Ronnie Wood said in band documentary “Tip Of The Tongue.”
A jazz and R&B drummer from his early years, Watts tied together the exact sound they needed. Throughout their legendary run, he’s known just when to be tight and controlled and when to let loose. He was steadfast and kept it simple. There’s a lot of beauty in that.
I was lucky enough to see them play in 2014 and while Wood and Richards strutted about in their glory and Jagger let loose in his shining suits (and one jaw-dropping red feather cape conjured by “Sympathy For The Devil”), there he was, watching them like a hawk one minute, grinning like a kid on Christmas the next.
The world will miss his talent, his charisma, his style and charm. He had a passion for jazz and the blues and a patience for his bandmates. Who else will let those giants’ spastic ways roll off the shoulder with a loving eye roll? Who will lead this band?
I think we’re very lucky Watts agreed to join Brian, Stu, Keith and Mick in ’63. I think fans have a lot to be grateful for.