Tales from Charlie Watts’ life as Rolling Stones drummer

Charlie Watts was the rock of the Rolling Stones.

The Stones skinsman — who died  “peacefully” at 80 in a London hospital on Tuesday — was the foundation of the British band that was the foundation of rock and roll as we know it today.

“The heartbeat — both literally and figuratively — of that band came outwards from Charlie Watts,” Alan Light, co-host of SiriusXM Volume’s “Debatable” show, told The Post.

“And I think you could see it when you would see them play live. It was when Keith [Richards, the Stones’ guitarist] would turn around, sometimes put his foot up on the drum riser, and he and Charlie would lock in. That was where the groove of that band could be found.”

That groove was the very heart of the Stones from 1963 until Watts’ death. “That’s what allowed Mick to go and do whatever he was gonna do, to become the frontman that he became,” said Light. 

Watts once joked that teaming up with Jagger led to “decades of seeing Mick’s bum running around in front of me.”

The Rolling Stones in 1963. Left to right: Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Brian Jones (1942-1969), Bill Wyman and Keith Richards.
Popperfoto via Getty Images

The steadiness of Watts keeping the Stones in the pocket came from a jazz sensibility that always made the band swing as well as rock.

“I have a picture of Charlie with a saxophone around his neck with his orchestra, with his jazz band,” legendary rock photographer Bob Gruen told The Post, noting that Watts even played the Blue Note.

The Rolling Stones during a rehearsal at the Wembley studios of London Weekend Television in preparation for their appearance David Frost's ''Frost on Saturday'' from the left is Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, drummer Charlie Watts, Keith Richards and Bill Wyman.
The Rolling Stones during a late ’60s rehearsal at the Wembley studios of London Weekend Television in preparation for their appearance David Frost’s ”Frost on Saturday.” From left: Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, drummer Charlie Watts, Keith Richards and Bill Wyman.
ZUMAPRESS.com

“He always perceived himself as a jazz drummer,” added Light. “That was always his thing: ‘Those boys can be a rock and roll band. What I’m doing here comes out of listening to big-band records and Duke Ellington records and learning about the power and the nuance of rhythm.’ ”

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, right, performs behind singer Mick Jagger during their concert at the Rose Bowl.
Watts, right, performs behind Jagger during their Rolling Stones concert at the 2019 Rose Bowl.
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

It was Watts’ ability to not simply pound away that made him have the impact that he had as a drummer.

“He wasn’t a big, flashy player,” said Light. “He wasn’t the thunder of [Led Zeppelin’s] John Bonham, he wasn’t the sort of wild anarchy of [The Who’s] Keith Moon, but he kept the swing in that band in everything that he did.”

Watts’ unflashy, understated style extended beyond the music to his very manner. He reportedly kept more than 200 suits in his London apartment.

“I always thought of Charlie as a very classy guy and the perfect English gentleman,” said Gruen. 

Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger
Jagger and Watts share a laugh. Watts once joked that teaming up with Jagger led to “decades of seeing Mick’s bum running around in front of me.”
BACKGRID

Gruen recalls Watts being the epitome of class in 1997 when the band was at a Chicago hotel opening a tour.

“The security man came out, and then Mick Jagger walked out, and there was another security man behind him. And a few minutes later, when everything was back to normal and there was no commotion at all, Charlie Watts strolled out with his wife, looking absolutely elegant, and strolled out the hotel to go for a walk with no hoopla,” said Gruen.

English drummer Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones, during rehearsals for an episode of the Friday night TV pop/rock show 'Ready Steady Go!' in London in 1965.
Watts rehearsing for an episode of the Friday night UK TV pop/rock show “Ready Steady Go!” in 1965.
Getty Images

Still, he did have a period of life in which he struggled with drink and drugs, including heroin, which he reportedly quit cold turkey after a two-year stint in the mid-’80s. “It got so bad,” he later joked, “that even Keith Richards, bless him, told me to get it together.”

And Watts was famously pushed to his limits once by Jagger. In his autobiography “Life,” Richards wrote about an incident where a drunken Jagger antagonized Watts on the phone, going “Where’s my drummer?”

According to the book, Watts, who was in a hotel room just down the hall from Jagger, then proceeded to shave, put on one of his Savile Row suits and spray on some cologne before knocking on the door of his bandmate.

Then Watts walked past Richards, grabbed Jagger, gave him a right hook and said, “Never call me your drummer again.”

Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones and his wife Shirley at the graveside of Brian Jones. former guitarist with the group, whose funeral took place in Cheltenham., Gloucestershire.
Watts and his wife Shirley at the graveside of Brian Jones. former guitarist with The Rolling Stones, whose funeral took place in Cheltenham., Gloucestershire.
© PA Wire via ZUMA Press

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