Anyone who knows anything about The Rolling Stones understands that rock music wasn’t the foundation of the band. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were Chuck Berry disciples, but most of the band’s tastes were rooted in the blues. Elmore James, Howlin Wolf, and Muddy Waters were the main focus for Richards, Jagger, and Brian Jones, but drummer Charlie Watts had his background in a different American form of music – jazz.
“I was 12 years of age, and I heard Earl Bostic play ‘Flamingo,’” Watts recalled to the San Diego Union-Tribune in 1991, “And when I was 13 I went out and bought a record by Gerry Mulligan called ‘Walking Shoes.’ I’d heard Chico Hamilton play brushes on ‘Walking Shoes,’ and – bingo!– I wanted to play the drums.”
Neither Bostic nor Mulligan were drummers themselves; they were saxophonists. But the sound of jazz, namely the bustling rhythms, captivated a young Watts. The impression that it left on him would last a lifetime, and he’s proud that the best Stones records have the same effect on generations that have come after his own.
“I still love Gerry Mulligan, and to this day I play that record; the same applies to Charlie Parker,” he added. “When I play ‘Walking Shoes’ now, I’m 13 again, I’m young. It still does that to me. A lot of people will say, ‘I love a record that the Stones did,’ and a lot of it has to do with what they were doing then, when they were young, because now they’re old.”
Continuing, Watts added: “I have no idea why I should be, at the age of 50, talking about Charlie Parker, still, but he’s always been in my life,” he said. “He’s the yardstick that I judge all records by, subconsciously. I don’t know what it was about him, I really can’t tell you (because) it’s very difficult to explain. I could put a record on and say, ‘There we are, that’s the bit I love, and still do — I’ve loved it for 30 years.’ But other than that, I don’t know.”
Watts also hilariously claimed that he “never liked Elvis until I met Keith Richards,” and that, “The only rock ‘n’ roll player I ever liked when I was young was Fats Domino.” Obviously, Watts eventually came around to rock and roll, and spent nearly 60 years defining what it meant to be a steady workhorse behind the kit for the world’s best rock band.