Rolling Stones drummer since 1963, Charlie Watts died this Tuesday morning (24), aged 80, in a London hospital, a spokesman for the artist told the British BBC network.
“[Watts] he was a dear husband, father and grandfather and one of the greatest drummers of his generation,” the statement said. “We kindly ask that the privacy of family, band members and close friends be respected at this difficult time.”
Watts died weeks after announcing that he would not be attending the Rolling Stones’ new tour of the United States after having just undergone emergency surgery. The cause of death was not disclosed.
Nothing was less rock’n’roll than Charles Watts. Starting with the costumes. The musician called by first name the two London tailors who brought to life the perfectly tailored suits he wore. It was in one of these outfits that he attended auctions, in which he bought animals for his creation of race horses.
When he wasn’t shopping for suits, sizing up horses or playing with his band, he mostly listened to the style of music he always loved: jazz.
The fact of being a lord off the stage doesn’t diminish the respect he gained inside them. He was happy in both worlds. So much so that, in 2006, he entered the list of the best dressed men in Vanity Fair magazine and, in the same year, he was nominated for the hall of fame of Modern Drummer, a publication specialized in the world of drums.
Charlie Watts was a music worker. He held his drumsticks, counted to four, and kept up the fast pace of the band. Point. If it were up to Watts, the tripod formed by sex, drugs and rock’n’roll —his colleagues’ mantra— wouldn’t stop standing.
Married since 1964 to the same woman, the drummer dodged fans who went after him begging for a night together. A 1972 documentary about the Stones’ US tour shows a visit by the band to the mansion of Hugh Hefner, the owner of Playboy. Instead of squeezing the bunnies’ pompoms, Watts spent the entire time playing pool at the millionaire’s house.
He never wanted to know about hard drugs either. His needle phobia caused him to keep a safe distance from any more heavily junkie activity. This despite living with Keith Richards, one of the band’s guitarists and once one of the most enthusiastic and voracious consumers of illegal substances.
Without abusing sex or drugs, there was rock’n’roll, which he knew how to handle so well. Even without showing on his face much pleasure for keeping the Stones in rhythm. It could, for a jazzman like himself, playing rock presented the same degree of challenge that a sudoku gives a nuclear physicist.
From an early age, Watts showed his penchant for more sophisticated sounds. Despite being the son of a humble truck driver, his home was never lacking in records by jazz musicians such as trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophonist John Coltrane. With no talent for wind instruments, young Charlie simply turned a banjo upside down and tapped to the jazz rhythm that came out of the record player.
Born in 1941, it took him 14 years to convince his parents to present him with his first real drum kit. He was able to stop beating the banjo, but the method of learning was the same: put the jazz geniuses’ records to play and chase them.
It took half a decade of dedication for other British musicians to realize the young drummer’s style and precision. The first of them was Alexis Korner, who at that time, 1961, was already a respected bluesman. He invited Watts to join his band, Blues Incorporated.
With Korner’s group, the drummer spent a year attending and performing at clubs in London. It was at one of them, in 1962, that he met Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones. That same year these boys would found the Rolling Stones. And, of course, they enlisted Watts to take over the drumsticks.
The problem was, he wasn’t just a good drummer. Possessing a promising aesthetic sense, Watts did well as a graphic designer in an advertising agency. The heart swaying between sound and trace lasted for a year.
On January 12, 1963, Watts performed with the Stones — which, in addition to the founders, included Ian Stewart on keyboards and Bill Wyman on bass — at the Ealing Blues Club. From that day on, he had no more doubts. Finally the band had its one and only drummer.
In their first year together, the musicians immersed themselves in American bluesman records and hit the spot in the group’s sound recipe. The first results already started to appear in 1964, when the Rolling Stones reached the third place of the British charts with a retelling of “It’s All Over Now”, composed by American soulman Bobby Womack.
Money was pouring in, but not enough to drive Watts away from his original passions. Between shows, he produced and published a comic in honor of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. Even in that year of 1964, there was still time for the drummer to marry Shirley Ann Shepard. Four years later, Seraphina, the couple’s only child, was born.
Time would become a very rare commodity after the band recorded “Satisfaction” in 1965. Considered by some critics to be the best rock song in history, this track was released in June of that year in the US and two months later in the UK .
In both places it occupied the top of the charts. The agenda filled up, the dollar signs multiplied and the limits disappeared. And then came the excesses, which, with the understanding of the monks, Watts followed from his drum stool. It was a roller coaster, both personal and musical.
Brian Jones, the most creative among the band members, lost control of drug use until he turned up dead in his farm’s swimming pool on July 3, 1969. Despite his personal rock bottom, he left behind a spectacular swan song, the album “Beggars Banquet” (1968), which features anthems such as “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man”.
On the next album, “Let It Bleed” (1969), the most Jones could do was shake some maracas. By this time, he had already been replaced by Mick Taylor, a brilliant guitarist with roots deep in the blues.
The Stones’ musically richest and most varied phase began. Which came down as a blessing for a musician like Watts. “Sticky Fingers” (1971) and “Exile on Main St.” (1972) bring the best the band had to show. They walked through styles like blues, country, soul and bluegrass. All with an authority guaranteed in good measure by the safety that resonated from Watts’ drumsticks.
It was the peak, which was followed by one or another good record and forgettable ones. But as a whole, the band continues to fill arenas on five continents.
When there were no Stones concerts or recordings, Watts would set up some project to worship his childhood musical passion. In the 1980s, he set up jazz projects and formed several groups, including one with 32 musicians called The Charlie Watts Orchestra. Over the next decade, he formed a quintet to re-read Charlie Parker’s music. That’s where he has fun and feels challenged as a musician.
Money was not an issue in his life. The Stones’ shows, the horse sales and the trickle of side projects ensured a comfortable retirement for the old drummer. Even because he was a man who, apart from the wardrobe, required little to be happy. Until November 2014, for example, Charlie Watts didn’t have a cell phone or an email account.