Chad Smith, the drummer with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was able to live out a childhood fantasy in 2018 when he spent time in the company of the late Rolling Stones heartbeat Charlie Watts.
Watts, who always remained coy and media-shy throughout his career, frequently came out of his shell when in the company of fellow artists. Despite being in a band that exists within their own stratosphere, somehow, he was able to maintain a balance that few of similar fame has ever achieved. Watts’ personal life was something that he never felt compelled to talk at length about, yet, when discussing the art of drumming, he came into his own.
“Charlie Watts gives me the freedom to fly on stage,” Keith Richards once remarked about his bandmate and perfectly epitomised Watts’ selfless greatness in a single sentence. He was delighted for everybody else to have the attention while he concocted magic in the shadows.
The drummer was always an icon that Smith admired, and in 2014, the Chili’s man even named him among his favourites to ever pick up the instrument. “It’s hard to leave out Charlie Watts and Ringo Starr, you know. I like American drummers, too, but those English guys really had it going,” he told Rolling Stone.
When the opportunity rolled around in 2018 to spend some time with his hero, Smith was prepared to wade through hell or high water to make the conversation happen. In the end, his experience of spending a day in the company of Watts was one that he holds in eternal fondness. “We went out to lunch at this little restaurant that the president of the company, Don Lombardi, takes everybody to,” Smith said to Rolling Stone.
“It’s a little hole-in-the-wall place. It was in the afternoon, and it was probably around Tuesday or Wednesday, and there’s like six people in there, and we walk in. And, you know, I’ve been with other recognisable people, and you see [people] pointing and the whole thing, but it was interesting to see — first of all, he was impeccably dressed, as he’s famous for, beautiful linen light-blue suit and his shoes were not the same colour as his shirt but matched in a really tasteful, classy way.
“He looked super cool as he always did. And drummers kind of have a reputation as the gruff guys in the background and the knuckle-dragging drummers that [mock-caveman voice] hit stuff for a living. Charlie wasn’t that; he was smart and articulate, but he was really interested in everything, and he was very good friends with Keltner and wanted to know how his family was, and what he was playing on and what new instrument ideas [he had].”
Smith then profoundly added, “He was just very curious, which I found enlightening because he could just sit back and say, ‘Hey, this is what I do, and that’s it. I’m good.’ He seemed really youthful in that way.”
Watts talks spiritedly during their chat about the early R&B and jazz records which made him fall in love with drumming. Furthermore, remarkably, the Stones man revealed that his early aspirations were to only play in the bustling clubs of New York City, and anything more was an unimaginable bonus.
The conversation is a genuinely heartwarming one between two giants of the scene. Take some time out as Watts takes a stroll down memory lane and relives those heady early days of his extraordinary career.