Charlie Watts, The Rolling Stones drummer, who was often referred to as the ‘heartbeat of the band,’ passed away in London on 24 August 2021.
The Rolling Stones, known for their entertaining spectacle and sex appeal, lost one of their most valuable members.
At 80 years old it marked an immensely sad day for Rock n’ Roll.
“I’m the most important person in the Stones. Sure, Mick and the others can get people to clap and sing and that’s ok. But for me? I make people dance.”Charlie Watts
According to The New York Times, he was content to be one of the finest rock drummers of his generation, playing with a jazz-inflected swing that made the band’s success possible.
Before joining the band in 1963, the newly formed Rolling Stones band desperately sought out Watts to make him the new drummer. At the time Watts was part of a jazz group called Blues Incorporated, which was already giving him a regular running salary. But according to Keith Richards, Watts wasn’t an easy man to win over.
“We starved ourselves to pay for him! Literally. We went shoplifting to get Charlie Watts.”Mr Richards
In the end, the band members consisted of; lead singer Mick Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards and founder Brian Jones, the bassist Bill Wyman and the pianist Ian Stewart.
Besides The Beatles, together they formed one of the biggest bands in British History during the 1960s.
His character and charm completely contrasted the stereotypical Rock and Roll drummers persona of the time. Often we would expect players to be aggressively flailing around their beats and going wild.
But there, in the centre of it all, was Charlie Watts. Still, calm and relaxed, looking out into the screaming crowds beneath him, keeping the tempo.
Watts was a part of the Rolling Stones for 58 years and was known for his reserved personality and dapper image. Instead of being in the spotlight, he preferred staying in the background and often got involved with designing the band’s stage sets, merchandise and even their album covers.
“I loved playing with Keith and the band — I still do — but I wasn’t interested in being a pop idol sitting there with girls screaming. It’s not the world I come from. It’s not what I wanted to be, and I still think it’s silly.”Charlie Watts
He truly was a Rolling Stones gentleman. His dry humour and reserved nature belied a style that took tenacity to play.
His impeccable rhythm enabled him to snake in and out of songs, by either following along to the band beat or by leading the pack himself. Watts’ drumming was at the foundation of the genre crossing hits of: “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and “Painted Black”.
During the rebellious 1960s, filled with sex, drugs and Rock and Roll, the band got into quite a few scandals over the years.
All except…Charlie Watts.
Here are five times The Rolling Stones gentleman avoided living like a rock star:
An intoxicated Mick Jagger Learns His Lesson
The bedrock drummer chose to live life differently. Unlike his flamboyant bandmates and rock star peers, he kept a low-profile. However, he was never afraid to assert his role.
According to a story in their 2003 book called: According to The Rolling Stones
In 1984, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger went out drinking in Amsterdam.
They then returned to the hotel at 5am. In Mr Jaggers drunken state, he decided to call Watts and ask: “Where’s MY drummer?”.
Disgusted by his behaviour Watts decided to show up at Mick Jaggers room almost 20 minutes later. He arrived at the door elegantly dressed, perfectly shaved and wore a Savile Row suit and tie with shined shoes. Furious, Watts grabbed Jaggers by the lapel and said: “Never call me YOUR drummer again, YOU’RE MY singer”.
He then punches Mr Jaggers so hard that Keith Richards had to catch him before almost falling out a window into the Amsterdam canal.
I guess you should always respect a man when wearing a suit like that.
Charlie Watts And His Interesting Bed Time Routine
Life on the road wasn’t easy for Watts when he had to sleep all alone. While the rest of the band partied all through the night, Watts, who had a strict bed time routine, had something else in mind.
In an interview with Rolling Stones, Watts claimed that he liked to stay up in his hotel room and document his surroundings in his diary.
He continued the trend right up until his passing.
“I make a sketch of every bedroom I sleep in. I’ve sketched every bed I’ve slept in on tour since 1968. It’s a diary. Now I can’t miss one because its like ruining a day in the life of’. So I just draw every bed that I sleep in when I tour with The Rolling Stones.” – Charlie Watts.
Obsessed With Suits and Cars He Couldn’t Drive
Charlie Watts’ style in fashion was both unique and chic. Inspired by his fathers love of tailored clothes, he became somewhat passionate about jazz-inspired styles and owns over 200 suits.
After landing on the best-dressed list for GQ, in an interview, they described Watts to be wearing his favourite piece. A single-breasted grey suit and shirt of deep purple—both linen and precisely tailored to fit his featherweight frame—plus purple socks and brown tassel loafers.
Watts was, as always, every inch the British gentleman.
According to Vulture, bandmate Ronnie Wood claimed that Watts even had suits made to match each of his cars, just to look period-appropriate.
Not only did Watts love fashion and aesthetics but he also had a passion for collecting cars.
Among his prize vintage collection, he owned a 1937 Lagonda Rapide Cabriolet which was one of only 25 ever made. He also held the keys to a vintage Citroen 2CV, a car found in one of the James Bond films.
However, there was one slight problem. Watts couldn’t drive.
“How else could you describe a guy who buys a 1936 Alfa Romeo just to look at the dashboard? Can’t drive – just sits there and looks at it”Keith Richards
Watts had no driving licence and instead, loved just sitting in them and listening to the engines roar.
Dedicated To His One Lifelong Love
The 1960s marked the arrival of youth rebellion in the ‘teenager’ generation. During this time Rock and Roll in music became a vehicle for social change. Most of the themes surrounding the protest songs were the soundtracks to a sexual revolution.
From groupies, threesomes to sharing women, back then The Rolling Stones defined bad boy behaviour.
The band didn’t have much luck when it came to dating and went through a lot of scandalous relationships-often involving much younger women.
However, Watts only had eyes for one woman. Shirley Ann Shepherd. After meeting her before The Rolling Stones became effective, the two were inseparable. They were married by 1964 and soon she started joining her husband on tour.
Now, after 57 years of marriage, the couple defeated all the odds in the roaring ’60s and stayed true.
He Tried Drugs And Called It Unprofessional
Even reliable Charlie Watts had a tumultuous few years in the 1980s when he turned to drink and drugs.
While Watts never hit the same level as Keith Richards or Mick Jagger, in terms of alcohol and substance abuse, the legendary drummer had drug troubles in the ’70s and ’80s that he overcame with help from his friends and bandmates.
Thanks to his devoted wife, and Keith Richards, he didn’t touch alcohol and lived a vegetarian lifestyle ever since.
“It was very short for me. I just stopped, it didn’t suit me at all. I never knew whether Ronnie was drunk or not. Keith permanently lived like that so it was never a problem with either of them. But it didn’t work for me, glad to say. I drank too much and took drugs. I went mad really. But I stopped it all.”Charlie Watts
In the end
His jazz-inflected swing gave the Stones’ songs their swagger, pushing and pulling at the groove, creating room for Mick Jagger’s incredible voice to shine through.
The Rolling Stones long-time drummer and lover of all things jazz will always be remembered for his humble beginnings, suited fashion, content demeanour and pure talent.
Charlie Watts’ legend will remain within Rock and Roll history forever.