The entire music world is currently mourning the loss of legendary Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who passed away at 80-years-old. In light of his death, we remember poignant comments he made in 2005 about what made The Stones an outfit like nobody else from the start and why he wouldn’t have swapped them for any other group in the world.
Watts might not have been a founding member of The Stones, but he was the missing piece of the jigsaw necessary to take them to the required heights. From the day that the drummer joined the group, he was an immovable object. It’s heartbreaking to imagine Keith Richards and Mick Jagger sharing the stage without their trusty stickman behind them.
A year after their formation, The Stones recruited Watts after a slew of drummers who didn’t fit their operation were promptly instructed to leave the building. He was the perfect foil for The Glimmer Twins and allowed them to reach their full capabilities. Everyone involved knew right from the get-go that he was an authentic Rolling Stone and had that untangible aura, which made him slot in fluently.
“Charlie Watts gives me the freedom to fly on stage,” Keith Richards once remarked about his bandmate. The two musicians share a special kinship, and they are living proof of the old saying about opposites attracting. While Richards is a walking rock ‘n’ roll cliche, Watts couldn’t have been any more different than that, but they both stayed true to themselves and never pretended to be anything other than completely genuine.
Watts was a keen lover of jazz and art, but his life didn’t entirely revolve around music. Furthermore, the latter days of the drummer’s life were played out in idyllic circumstances in the English countryside — a place where he bred Arabian horses and took pleasure from his quiet surroundings alongside his wife.
Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2005, Watts reflected upon The Stones’ early days and fondly recollected how he knew from early doors that they had something remarkable on their hands. “Initially, more people came to see me play than with any other band I’d been in. The Stones always had a following, whether it was four girls or four hundred,” he commented.
“I was also impressed with the fanaticism of Keith and Brian [Jones] — their absolute dedication to Chicago blues, to Elmore James, Jimmy Reed and Chuck Berry,” Watts praised. “They would sit up all night, playing the records over and over. Brian would write letters of protest to music magazines. Keith was just as fanatical without writing letters.”
He touchingly added: “The word ‘pop’ was not very big in our lives until we saw the Beatles. They weren’t something I wanted to be. We did shows with them. Onstage, they didn’t do bugger-all. None of them moved much. And they didn’t have a great sound. It wasn’t like Eric Clapton and Cream or Jimi Hendrix. But the Beatles were a phenomenon.
The great thing was how people looked at them. That’s what got you, more than John Lennon going “la-la-la” or Paul McCartney shaking his head. The effect was amazing.”
The Rolling Stones had something imitable to them compared to their contemporaries, making them the only band for Watts. He was never interested in being a Beatle, or in The Kinks; he was a Stone through and through.
The public will remember him as one of the best British drummers of all time, and it was a match made in heaven for Watts with The Stones. Not only were the band the ideal vessel for his jazz instincts, but their blues background helped Watts fulfil his potential and etch himself into folklore forever.