There’s something that just doesn’t sit right about The Rolling Stones taking to the stage without Charlie Watts accompanying them. He was the lifeblood of the group, the one who kept the chaos together, and on top of that, the drummer was a connoisseur of exquisite music.
The musician has undoubtedly entered the conversation within the pantheon of the most celebrated percussionists of all time, and his work will live on for eternity. As this list shows, jazz was his true passion, and he famously once said, “I don’t really love rock & roll. I love jazz. But I love playing rock ‘n’ roll with the Stones.”
Although Watts wasn’t a founding member of The Stones, he was an integral part of every significant creation, and the drummer was the missing piece of the jigsaw necessary to take them to the required heights. From the day Watts joined the group, The Stones finally had the security they needed to expand their output, and his tight playing style kept the rest of the group in check.
Watts’ arrival into the fold came a year after The Rolling Stones formed, a period which saw a slew of drummers forcibly instructed to leave the building for not having the desired touch. Watts proved to be the perfect foil for The Glimmer Twins and allowed them to become front and centre icons while deliberately avoiding the limelight. Watts didn’t try to be anyone but himself, and even though he was the opposite of Keith Richards, they were all equals in The Rolling Stones.
“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 sentence. Here, we take a glimpse at the drummers who helped him become the master of his craft.
BBC’s Desert Island Discs is a vital part of the tapestry of British pop culture, and Watts’ appearance provides a glaring insight into the man off-stage. The programme is a time-honoured tradition that has seen Prime Ministers and rock stars alike walk through its studio doors. Created by Roy Plomley way back in 1942, and the format is always the same. Each week, the host invites a guest to choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island.
Fans of Watts won’t be surprised to know that Charlie Parker is one of the artists the drummer would take with him to a stranded location. After all, in 1991, the late Rolling Stones man recorded a tribute album titled From One Charlie to his hero, which saw him make a lifelong dream a reality by stepping into jazz.
Duke Ellington is another jazz extraordinaire who Watts held nothing but admiration for, and his track ‘Jack The Bear’ was featured in the eight selections that the drummer picked out. Elsewhere in the interview, Watts opened up about how he’s an “all or nothing” character and the mundane diet which makes him stick thin. After talking about getting clean from drugs, he admitted he’d even given up eating properly and lived on a vanilla diet of “water, sultanas, and nuts”.
In a further deviation from being a rock ‘n’ roll cliche, Watts named a piece of cricket commentary from 1956 as one of his most treasured pieces of music, which sees him use his creative license in an attempt to justify his choice. Explaining his decision, Watts poetically noted: “This will send everyone to sleep, or out to make a cup of tea. I have to have something on there, which would be the summer, and this man’s voice is the summer to me. It’s a game I love and reminds me of going with Mick (Jagger) to Lord’s. It’s just England in the summer, really.”
Watts never pretended to be anything that he wasn’t, and his authenticity shines through on this episode of Desert Island Discs. He was a simple man who loved jazz and cricket, who also happened to be the nonchalant lynchpin of The Rolling Stones. If you have time, sit back, get the kettle on, and let Charlie Watts live in your ear for just over half an hour.
Charlie Watts’ eight favourite songs of all time
- Charlie Parker – ‘Out of Nowhere’
- Frank Sinatra – ‘Night and Day’
- Igor Stravinsky – ‘Dance of the Coachmen and Grooms (from Petrushka)’
- Tony Hancock / Sid James – ‘The Reunion Party’
- Duke Ellington & His Orchestra – ‘Jack the Bear’
- Ralph Vaughan Williams – ‘The Lark Ascending’
- John Arlott and Michael Charlton – ‘4th Test Match – Eng/Australia July 1956’
- Jerome Kern – ‘The Way You Look Tonight’