Rolling Stone Charlie Watts dies at 80


Poiseon Bild & Text | Wikimedia Commons

Maya Alexander

Legendary rock drummer Charlie Watts  died in a London hospital last Tuesday. While the cause is still unknown, Watts was battling medical issues. After undergoing a heart procedure around  early August , Watts elected to sit out the rest of the Rolling Stones’ “No Filter” tour as the band was preparing for the U.S. leg.

After his parents gifted him a kit, Watts began drumming at 13 years old but was generally unimpressed with rock ‘n’ roll and the lifestyle it brought along with it.

Watts’ first true love was jazz music. After a stint at art school, he became a graphic designer for an advertising agency. He grew more serious about jazz drumming during this period, occasionally lending a beat to local bands where he found a home in a rhythm and blues band called Blues Incorporated.

Watts first met Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Ian Stewart and Mick Jagger in 1962. The early version of the Rolling Stones courted Watts heavily with little success. He finally agreed to join the Stones in early 1963, only after a five-pound-a-week salary was guaranteed.

Quickly becoming a hit in London, the Stones  recruited Watts as a permanent drummer and began a tour of the U.K. Like other British blues bands, the band’s set was heavily influenced by the sounds of Black America. It would be tough to find an early Stones setlist that doesn’t include covers of songs  by Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon and Chuck Berry.

While Beatlemania struck like lightning across the globe, the band’s 1964 performance on The Ed Sullivan Show opened the floodgates for other British acts to gain a foothold on American airwaves.

In a slick marketing move by its ambitious manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones were promoted as the antithesis of the Beatles. For all the girls who saw the mop top haircuts and matching suits of the Fab Four to be too proper and prim, the Stones were a shaggy-haired, sprawling and spitting alternative waiting to be snatched up.

The Stones, led by gangly-limbed Jagger, earned a reputation throughout the ’60s and ’70s as one of the only bands committed to the lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.  Fictionalized depictions of rock stars during this period were most likely influenced by the everyday happenings of Richards.

Throughout it all, the only person who could not be convinced of this way of life was Watts. The drummer’s bedrock temperament never allowed him to be sucked into the drama and hysteria of stardom. He was there to do a job and when he was done, he went home.

Very rarely did he caused a stir. A classic  Watts moment came in 1984 when Jagger, looking for Watts in a drunken stupor one night, called him and exclaimed “where’s my drummer?” Never one to be pushed around, Watts shaved, dressed in his finest Savile Row suit and went over to the hotel Jagger was staying at. Once the door opened, Watts grabbed the singer and said, “Never call me your drummer again.” What followed was  a swift punch to the side of Jagger’s face.

Since the news of the drummer’s death broke, floods of tributes have poured in from some of rock’s most iconic figures. In a tweet expressing his sympathies, Elton John wrote, “A very sad day. Charlie Watts was the ultimate drummer. The most stylish of men, and such brilliant company. My deepest condolences to Shirley, Seraphina and Charlotte. And of course, The Rolling Stones.”

The official Rolling Stones Twitter page uploaded a two-minute video Friday highlighting Watts in a series of photos and video clips. The video is accompanied by “If You Can’t Rock Me”from the Stones’ 1974 album, It’s Only Rock ’n Roll. The lyrics go, “The band’s on stage and it’s one of those nights, oh yeah / The drummer thinks that he is dynamite, oh yeah.”An apt song choice to remember the late drummer with the only caveat being that the drummer didn’t have to think he was dynamite because everyone else already knew that.