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Charlie Watts on whether The Rolling Stones would go on without him

Charlie Watts was always an uncommonly grounded and realistic presence in the world of rock and roll. Upon his recent passing at the age of 80, there were unanimous assessments of praise not just for his playing but also for his courteous, gentlemanly demeanour and modesty. Despite playing in one of the most notorious and hedonistic bands for more than five decades, Watts was always aloof of the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” lifestyle, preferring to simply do his job and live his life the way he saw fit.

Part of this attitude extended to his own mortality. When Watts sat down with Rolling Stone Magazine back in 2005 after his initial throat cancer diagnosis and treatment, Watts was asked whether he could see The Rolling Stones continuing on after he’s gone. As was always the case, his response was measured, well thought out, and humble about his own place within the band’s history.

“I think they would, if they wanted to,” Watts said. “If I hadn’t been well enough to do this tour, someone else would have done it — if Mick and Keith wanted to do it. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t, if people turn up to see them. There’s guys in our road crew who can do what I do. They see me play every night. It’s like Buddy Rich — his roadie used to do all the rehearsals with the band.”

Watts compared and contrasted his own standing in the Stones with some of the other legendary drummers who became his contemporaries in the ’60s British rock scene. “It’s like the Who. They’ve had some fine drummers,” Watts stated. “They’ve got one now — Ringo Starr’s son Zak. He’s great. He’s not Keith Moon. That was a personality. Pete Townshend and Keith — they were fantastically mad, the pair of them, on stage. John Bonham was the same with Led Zeppelin — it was a sound, thunderous. And you couldn’t have Cream without Ginger Baker.”

Ultimately, though, Watts touched on what all fans acknowledge now that he has passed away: it doesn’t matter who is behind the kit; it won’t be the same without Charlie. “The greatest thing, I suppose, is the combination of the four of us. The Stones is that.” 

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