Charlie Watts, the drummer whose beats powered the Rolling Stones for more than half a century, becoming one of rock’s most iconic if stoic figures, has died. He was 80.
“It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Charlie Watts. He passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family. Charlie was a cherished husband, father and grandfather and also as a member of The Rolling Stones one of the greatest drummers of his generation.”
Watts recently dropped out of the group’s upcoming US tour to after announcing he was recovering from an unspecified medical procedure.
An original member of one of rock’s foundational bands – and the first of its founding members to die since the drowning of Brian Jones in 1969 – Watts has been with the Stones since the band’s inception. After briefly playing on London’s R&B club circuit, Watts joined forces with guitarists Jones and Keith Richards, and singer Mick Jagger, in January 1963, and over the decades would become one of the most influential instrumentalist in rock and roll.
In announcing his decision not to join the band on this year’s tour, Watts said, “For once my timing has been a little off. I am working hard to get fully fit but I have today accepted on the advice of the experts that this will take a while. After all the fans’ suffering caused by Covid I really do not want the many RS fans who have been holding tickets for this Tour to be disappointed by another postponement or cancellation. I have therefore asked my great friend Steve Jordan to stand in for me.”
(Jordan has appeared on several Keith Richards recordings and was a member of the house bands for Saturday Night Live and Late Night with David Letterman, and has worked with the John Mayer Trio. The future of the Stones’ touring plans since Watts’ death has not been announced.)
The London-born Charles Robert Watts began playing the drums in the mid-1950s, at first, he would later say, using brushes on the body of a dismantled banjo to simulate the jazz recordings he loved so much. That jazzy style would become a major element of his trademark rock and roll drumming sound, and would distinguish him from contemporaries such as Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Ginger Baker and John Bonham. In 2016, Rolling Stone magazine named Watts the 12th of the 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time.
Of the various Stones, only Watts, Richards and Jagger have performed on all the band’s studio albums.
A intractable force of the band’s live performances, Watts could always be spotted stone-faced and nearly unblinking as the flamboyant Jagger and Richards – and, in later incarnations, guitarist Ronnie Wood – invented and personified their rock god moves. Only original bassist Bill Wyman, who retired from the band in 1993, could match the imperturbable intent and steady-on style of his partner in rhythm.
Not that Watts couldn’t or wouldn’t stake his claim as an essential element of what has often been dubbed the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band. In a famous and telling 1980s anecdote recounted by Richards in his 2010 memoir A Life, Watts was awakened by a drunk Jagger in the middle of the night, the singer demanding to know, “Where’s my drummer?”
Watts shaved, got dressed in his typically stylish suit and tie, and visited Jagger, punching him in the face before declaring, “Don’t ever call me your drummer again. You’re my f*cking singer!”
Watts is survived by wife Shirley, daughter Seraphina and granddaughter Charlotte.
— The Rolling Stones (@RollingStones) August 24, 2021
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