Charlie Watts, legendary drummer The Rolling Stones, died at the age of 80 years. He breathed his last at a hospital in London, England on Tuesday, August 24, 2021 local time. No cause of death information has been reported so far.
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In a statement by The Rolling Stones publicist Bernard Doherty, Watts “passed peacefully in a London hospital today surrounded by his family”. Then continued, “Charlie was a beloved husband, father and grandfather as well as a member of The Rolling Stones, one of the greatest drummers of his generation”.
The obituary comes just three weeks after Watts was reportedly absent from The Rolling Stones’ upcoming US tour, the “No Filter Tour”. Watts withdrew from the tour after undergoing an undetermined medical procedure. At the time, a representative from the band said the procedure was “completely successful, but his doctors this week concluded that he now needs a proper rest and recovery”.
In his own statement, Watts joked that “for once, my timing is a little off… I’m working hard to get fully fit, but today I’m taking advice from experts that this will take a while”.
Charlie Watts Background
Charlie Watts joined The Rolling Stones shortly after the band was formed in January 1963. Watts was consistently behind the drum kit of this rock and roll legend until the end of his life. He has been on musical adventures with The Rolling Stones for 58 years. Watts is the only band member apart from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to appear on all of The Rolling Stones’ studio albums. And also almost never miss a live show.
Watts was born in London on June 2, 1941 at the height of World War II. His father worked as a truck driver for the British rail system. His mother, who spent most of his time raising Charlie and his sister, Linda. War shaped his childhood literally: Watts grew up in one of the many prefabricated houses built on the ruins of the bombing. “They’re all over London, this manufacturer,” Watts told New Yorker in 2012. “It feels like a community”.
Around the age of 13, Watts became interested in jazz music, collecting albums by Charlie Parker, Jelly Roll Morton, Gerry Mulligan, and Thelonious Monk. This then triggered his desire to play his own musical instrument.
“I bought a banjo, and I don’t like the dots on the neck,” Watts said. “So I took his neck off, and at the same time I heard a drummer named Chico Hamilton, who was playing with Gerry Mulligan, and I wanted to play like that, with a brush. I don’t have a snare drum, so I put the head of the banjo on the stand.”
Seeing how he mutilated his banjo, “My parents bought me one of the first drum kits every drummer is familiar with,” Watts recalls sharing with Stanley Watts for his book, The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones. He later wrote the word “Chico” on his play as a tribute to his hero Chico Hamilton.
Playing in a Jazz Band
In 1958 or 1959, Watts began playing in his first band, a jazz band called the Jo Jones All Stars. “All the stars, called with laughter,” Watts said. But the band seemed unlikely to generate a steady income. Then he studied graphic design at Harrow Art School, after which he worked for an advertising firm in London.
But he never lost his love for music. And in 1962, he began to frequent the Ealing Club in London, where young artists on the “trad” scene experimented with jazz, blues, and rhythm and blues. Doi began playing drums for Alexis Korner’s band Blues Incorporated, which briefly featured a vocalist named Mick Jagger.
Charlie Watts’ Beginnings in The Rolling Stones
Jagger formed The Rolling Stones in 1963, with a lineup consisting of guitarist Keith Richards, guitarist Brian Jones, bassist Bill Wyman, pianist Ian Stewart, and drummer Tony Chapman. In no time at all, Jagger has decided that Chapman is the only one holding him back, and begs Watts to take his place. The rest is rock and roll history.
During his seven-decade career, Watts’ game thrived. On The Rolling Stones’ first international hit, released in 1965, ‘I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, he gave the song a thumping heartbeat. In the 1966 hit ‘Paint It Black’, his playful personality began to emerge, as he developed distinct percussive riffs to accompany various musical beats.
And by the late 1960s, Watts was without a doubt one of the greatest percussionists alive. The wildness that he brought to the 1967 song ‘Street Fighting Man’, beats groovy in ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘Stray Cat Blues’ (both 1968), placing him in a class of his own.
When Keith Richards began to exert his influence on the band, Watt provided the structure that allowed the music to stand tall. The 1972 song ‘Tumbling Dice’ is often credited with reflecting Richards’ vision for sound a more powerful, rooted rock, but it’s Watts’ percussion texture that allows that searing guitar to stand out. “Charlie Watts gave me the freedom to fly on stage,” Richards recalls.
Was Drowning in Drugs
Like the rest of The Rolling Stones, Watts struggles with substance abuse, although he’s been totally clean since 1986. And his battle with alcohol and heroin thankfully didn’t ruin his marriage. Watts was married to his wife Shirley since 1964, before The Rolling Stones became an internationally renowned name.
In recent years, Watts has begun to miss the small jazz club he played at at the beginning of his musical career. “In jazz we are closer,” he said in 2012. “In the football stadium, we cannot say that we are very close. It’s hard to know what Mick is doing when we can’t even see him. He was walking around the corner and he was half a mile away (from the audience),” Watts added.
Watts also began to think about retiring, even though his longtime friend Keith Richards was against it. “I always said, ‘I’m tired, I want to retire,’ and (Richards) said, ‘Charlie, what else are you going to do?’” Eventually, Watts continued to play rock music until his health didn’t allow him to continue.
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The departure of Watts was mourned by millions of The Rolling Stones fans around the world. As well as some of the greatest musicians of all time, including Paul McCartney, Elton John, Brian Wilson, and many more. In memory of the drummer, let’s revisit some of his most incredible musical performances below. Goodbye Charlie Watts, rest in peace.
Author, Translator & Editor: Dharma Samyayogi