Today I got word that Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts passed away at the age of 80. To say Watts was rock and roll royalty would be an understatement. He was the most appreciated and underappreciated drummer of all-time. Those who “got” Watts for what he was, the ultimate timekeeper, playing every beat for the song, accenting his fellow band members and shying away from the spotlight, consider him to be one of the all-time best. Those who didn’t consider him boring.
Watts became part of the Stones’ longtime foursome alongside singer Mick Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards and bassist Ronnie Wood, anchoring the band’s blues-rock sound from his drum kit for more than 60 years. That’s over half a century with the same band! Always a reluctant rock and roll star, his true love was jazz and it influenced his playing. There was a swing to it. His drumming gave The Rolling Stones rhythm section a unique style. He didn’t care for flashy solos or attention of any kind and knew exactly when and where to drop in a fill.
When he wasn’t playing with The Rolling Stones Watts was an acclaimed jazz bandleader. His first jazz record, the 1986 “Live at Fulham Town Hall,” was recorded by the Charlie Watts Orchestra. Others by the Charlie Watts Quintet followed, and he expanded that group into the Charlie Watts and the Tentet.
In 1989, Watts and The Rolling Stones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the July 2006 issue of Modern Drummer magazine, Watts was voted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame, joining Ringo Starr, Buddy Rich and other highly esteemed and influential drummers from the history of rock and jazz. In the estimation of music critic Robert Christgau, Watts was “rock’s greatest drummer.”
Watts was also known for his wardrobe: British newspaper The Daily Telegraph named him one of the World’s Best Dressed Men. In 2006, Vanity Fair elected Watts into the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame. It seems his influence was both on and off the stage. He will be missed.
Here’s a video of Charlie Watts doing his thing…