Charlie Watts’ 2 and 4

In keeping with our recent theme of legendary British drummers, I wanted to briefly discuss the unusual style of the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts. For many years I had watched him intently and the recurring pattern that I noticed again and again was that he rarely hit the hi-hat and snare at the same time. I never could figure out why he did it although I guessed that he was projecting the snare over the 2 and 4. It always looked odd to me. In fact, this is how new drummers who are struggling to learn 3-way independence play before they can synchronize their limbs.  In a February 1990 issue of Modern Drummer it was explained like this:

One thing [Jim] Keltner pointed out to Charlie was his habit of coming off the hi-hat with his right hand whenever he would hit a backbeat with his left. “I was never conscious of it until Jim mentioned it,” Charlie comments. “But I do it a lot. I’ve noticed it on videos, and it actually annoys me to see myself doing it. It really comes, I think, from coming down heavy on the backbeat. I don’t use that [matched] grip that Ringo uses. I did for a few years, because I thought it was popular. But then I was told to go back to the other way by Ian Stewart, who used to set up my drums. He virtually ordered me to go back to what he called ‘the proper way of playing'” Charlie laughs. “So I went back to the military grip, and I really do prefer it, but because of the amount you ride on the hi-hat, I suppose I got into the habit of pulling the other stick out of the way to get a louder sound. “I’ve never consciously done it, but a lot of times when we make a record I am consciously _not_ doing it, because sometimes you hear the beat go ‘di-dit, di-dit'” Charlie says, tapping out notes that are slightly squeezed together. “That works on some things, but other times you need it perfectly even because the mic records everything in such a nit-picky way”.

Like most of my favorite drummers, Watts has a solid groove and plays with a minimalistic attitude that always serves the song. His timekeeping in second to none and his unusual style of play seems to suite him well. Like Ringo I only started to realize the contribution of Watts in recent years and I can’t see the Rolling Stones with anybody else behind the kit. His sound is that signature to the band’s sound. Here’s a live video that clearly shows Watts’ separated snare and hi-hat


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