When the late great Charlie Watts passed away, he was remembered as a figure of great humility within the raucous world of rock ‘n’ roll. This restraint and class stretched to his refined playing style too. He took the jazzy approach of making drums the rhythmic heartbeat of the band and allowed others to flourish around him.
However, despite his simplicity, his style was also wildly distinctive. Mingling jazz and classical techniques with rock, he had a truly singular style. As Dave Grohl once said of his output, “[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.”
When the sticksmith was not with the Stones, he lived an equally eclectic life. He was also the leader of a jazz band, a record producer, a commercial artist, and a horse breeder. His love of jazz was in place from an early age, a time when Watts’ parents gifted him with his first drum kit in 1955. Aged just 14-years-old, he would practice by drumming along with the jazz records that he collected.
The record that laid down the jazz groove and infused his music blood was the very first one that he bought. Watts told BBC Radio 6 Music, “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 added. “That was my uncle’s. Then, soon after that, I bought a record called Walkin’ Shoes by Gerry Mulligan.” And thereafter, the legendary beatmaker was hooked. This presiding jazz influence has remained throughout his work, and the unique styling has permeated every Rolling Stones record with an instantly recognisable drum sound.
But beyond the beat, there is also something somehow emotive about Watts’ playing; it has emotional energy and atmosphere. And that same sense stretches to his sentimental choice of the record he couldn’t live without when he appeared on the legendary BBC show Desert Island Discs.
“This man is someone who I learnt when I was in the studio via people that worked there who were older than me,” Watts explained. “Then my wife chose this record for a show for one of her stallion horses, and my granddaughter picked up on it. So, this particular section of Petrushka by [Igor] Stravinsky is the ‘Dance of the Coachmen and Grooms’, and I will forever see my granddaughter running around the room, galloping to this.”
Like the best Stones tracks, this anthem has a transcendent sense that aligns it with memories. As Watts said himself, the reason he couldn’t live on a Desert Island without it is because “of my wife, the horses and Charlotte running around the room to it.”