The late, great Charlie Watts was one of the most peculiar yet respected rockstars of all time. A humble man by all accounts, he was ironically tagged “enigmatic” due to his commendable efforts of staying mainly on the straight and narrow over his six decades as drummer for the raucous roadshow that is The Rolling Stones.
A man who made it clear over his life that he had a love-hate relationship with the extensive touring that the Rolling Stones embarked upon, he was always seen as a foil to the wanton hedonism that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the rest have followed throughout their careers. A man who was into art just as much – or even more than he was music – Charlie Watts was the true artiste of the Rolling Stones. Over his long life and career, he sketched every hotel room he ever stayed in and kept the art. This compulsive habit remained inexplicable to him throughout his life.
Perpetually characterised as the old-head of the band, there is no surprise that Watts was mainly influenced by jazz, a departure from the straight-up and down blues that inspired his bandmates. A cerebral and eclectic individual, Watts was a jazz bandleader, commercial artist and even a horse breeder, a civilised and thoughtful individual who was always faithful to his true love, Shirley.
He was into jazz from an early age and was gifted his first drum kit in 1955. Only 14, he practised by drumming along to the jazz records he had collected. He told Radio 6, “The first record that was mine that I fell in love with was a thing called Flamingo by a saxophone player called Earl Bostic.”
“I was into jazz straight away,” he continued. “That was my uncle’s. Then, soon after that, I bought a record called Walkin’ Shoes by Gerry Mulligan.” This was to be the start of the hitmaking trajectory the young rhythmic mastermind would follow. Subsequently, the restrained jazz influence always permeated his work. An instantly recognisable drummer, Dave Grohl was opined: “(Watts) is one of those drummers that if you hear 15 seconds of (a) recording, you’ll know who it is and that to me has always been the gold standard.”
Always holding his sticks like a jazz drummer, Watts was the definition of an effortlessly cool musician. A contrast to the age-old stereotype that drummers are mainly lunatics, he was a breath of fresh air in terms of musicianship and personality. As we remember one of rock’s understated greats, why not treat yourself to this clip where we get to see Watts from an angle he was rarely viewed at?
We witness him warming up, having a conversation via the medium of drums with Mick Jagger, talk about his equipment, how he learnt to play and the musicians he loved. Watts revealed that he never actually had music lessons, and in conjunction with listening along to his favourite records, he learnt his tricks by watching jazz drummers, a remarkable feat.
Watts even goes as far as to shock the audience by revealing that his symbols were all over 30 years old and that “I keep lots of things for years, not only jobs, but everything.” In relation to his vast archive of hotel room sketches, this statement reveals the late drummer to have been somewhat of a sentimentalist. This sheds fascinating light on the mentality of the notoriously camera-shy genius.
So, why not revisit this glorious clip showing the late Charlie Watts at one of his most candid? Watch the clip below.