Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stones drummer who propelled the band’s sound for nearly 60 years, has died at the age of 80.
A statement from its London publicist, Bernard Doherty, to the PA News Agency said: “It is with immense sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Charlie Watts.
“He passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today, surrounded by his family. Charlie was a cherished husband, father and grandfather and also, as a member of the Rolling Stones, one of the greatest drummers of his generation.
Earlier this month, it was announced that Watts will be missing the band’s upcoming U.S. tour as they recover from an unspecified medical procedure.
With his flexible stance, extensive knowledge of jazz, and unruffled ability to swing songs even under the tightest time, Watts is considered one of the greatest – and most elegant – rock drummers of all. time.
Among those who paid tribute was Ringo Starr, his Beatles counterpart, who wrote: “God bless Charlie Watts we will miss you man, peace and love for the family”. Paul McCartney said: “He was a lovely guy. I knew he was sick but I didn’t know he was so sick… Charlie was a rock and a fantastic drummer… I love you Charlie, I have always loved you – a beautiful man.
Elton John wrote: “A very sad day. Charlie Watts was the ultimate drummer. The smartest of men and such a brilliant company.
Born in 1941, Watts grew up in Wembley, northwest London, and later in the suburb of Kingsbury. His first musical love was American jazz from the swing and bebop eras, playing drums with jazz records after getting his first kit in his mid teens. He then attended art school and became a graphic designer after graduation, playing in local bands at the same time.
In 1962 he joined Blues Incorporated, a key band in the British rhythm and blues scene led by Alexis Korner, playing alongside Cream bassist Jack Bruce and more in a fluid lineup. Through Korner, he met Brian Jones, who played at Blues Incorporated concerts, and they found regular fans in Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who also ended up playing with the band.
Jagger and Richards quickly formed their own group, the Rolling Stones, which Watts joined them in 1963. “This was another group to join, I was in about three of them,” Watts later said; he began to live informally with the group. “We rehearsed a lot. They – Brian and Keith – never went to work, so we played records all day, in this pretty bohemian life. Mick was in college. But he paid the rent.
Still using a simple four-drum setup – positively minimalist compared to the multi-instrument setups favored by many rock bands – he gave The Rolling Stones propulsive, no-frills backbeats on each of their studio albums, starting with their first one. eponymous album in 1964. “I don’t like drum solos,” he once said. “I admire some people who do them, but in general I prefer the drummers who play with the band. The challenge with rock’n’roll is the consistency of it. My thing is to make it a dance sound – it has to swing and bounce.
Resisting Jones’ death in 1969, the band became the epitome of stadium rock’n’roll – though Watts considered them a ‘blues band’ – scoring 13 UK No.1 albums, including Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers. and Exile on Main Street. Watts helped fuel their high-energy world tours, performing with the band until the mid-1970s – their last tour was the two-year No Filter tour, starting in 2017.
Alongside the Rolling Stones, Watts has also played jazz in a variety of bands over the years, including his own quintet and tentet, and Rocket 88, bringing Korner and Bruce together in the late 1970s to play boogie-woogie.
In the mid-1980s he was conductor of the Charlie Watts Orchestra, a gargantuan unit playing big band jazz that toured the world, and released a live album, The Charlie Watts Orchestra Live at Fulham Town Hall. “Mick really likes it,” he said of his Rolling Stones bandmates in 1987. “However, Keith is very annoyed that we don’t have a guitarist. He thinks it’s a sacrilege. But I just told him that with 33 guys, it’s hard enough to integrate everyone’s solos as they are.
Unlike the colorful romantic stories of his fellow Rolling Stones, Watts was stable in his personal life: he married his wife Shirley Ann Shepherd in 1964, and they remained together until his death. He is also survived by their daughter Seraphina and their granddaughter Charlotte.
Although known as a more tempered rock star than the rest of the Stones, Watts struggled with alcohol, amphetamine and heroin use for a period in the 1980s. “I think it was a crisis of my forties, ”he told the Observer in 2000.“ All I know is that I became a totally different person around 1983 and came out around 1986. I have almost lost my wife and all because of my behavior … i wasn’t that badly affected i wasn’t a junkie but i gave up [drugs] was very, very hard. He said that walking down the steps of his cellar drunk as he went to get another bottle of wine “really made me realize how far down I had been.” I just quit everything – drinking, smoking, drugs, everything, all at once.
In 2004, he was diagnosed with throat cancer, but recovered after radiation therapy.
After undergoing emergency surgery last month and announcing that he would not be showing up on tour – he was to be replaced by Steve Jordan – he commented in a typically comical manner: “For once my timing was a little out of step ”.
The procedure had been advertised as “completely successful” with Watts needing “proper rest and recovery”. Keith Richards said: “It has been a huge blow to all of us, and we all want Charlie to get well quickly. “
Watts’ last outing with the band was Living in a Ghost Town, a 2020 single from a studio album they had planned.
Other artists paying tribute included Robbie Robertson of the band, who said, “Charlie’s drums are powerful and unique. His approach is entirely his own and has helped shape the sound of rock and roll. Paul Stanley of Kiss called Watts “one of the true timeless icons and the backbone of the Stones.” It’s hard to imagine the loss.
Joan Jett said Watts was “rock and roll’s most elegant and dignified drummer. He played exactly what was needed – no more – no less. It is one of a kind. Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine called him “one of the greatest and most important architects of music that we love … Rock ‘n’ roll wouldn’t be rock ‘n’ roll without the rhythm, the style, the atmosphere of this incredible musician. ”