R.I.P. Charlie Watts: “No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue”

Charlie Watts from The Rolling Stones; Rolling Stones concert on December 11, 1981, Rupp Arena, Lexington Kentucky. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

From The New York Times (Gavin Edwards):

Charlie Watts, whose strong but unflashy drumming powered the Rolling Stones for over 50 years, died on Tuesday in London. He was 80.

His death, in a hospital, was announced by his publicist, Bernard Doherty. No other details were immediately provided…

Reserved, dignified and dapper, Mr. Watts was never as flamboyant, either onstage or off, as most of his rock-star peers, let alone the Stones’ lead singer, Mick Jagger. He was content to be one of the finest rock drummers of his generation, playing with a jazz-inflected swing that made the band’s titanic success possible. As the Stones guitarist Keith Richards said in his 2010 autobiography, “Life,” “Charlie Watts has always been the bed that I lie on musically.”

While some rock drummers chased after volume and bombast, Mr. Watts defined his playing with subtlety, swing and a solid groove.

“As much as Mick’s voice and Keith’s guitar, Charlie Watts’s snare sound is the Rolling Stones,” Bruce Springsteen wrote in an introduction to the 1991 edition of the drummer Max Weinberg’s book “The Big Beat.” “When Mick sings, ‘It’s only rock ’n’ roll but I like it,’ Charlie’s in back showing you why!”

Charles Robert Watts was born in London on June 2, 1941. His mother, the former Lillian Charlotte Eaves, was a homemaker; his father, Charles Richard Watts, was in the Royal Air Force and, after World War II, became a truck driver for British Railways.

Charlie’s first instrument was a banjo, but, baffled by the fingerings required to play it, he removed the neck and converted its body into a snare drum. He discovered jazz when he was 12 and soon became a fan of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus.

By 1960, Mr. Watts had graduated from the Harrow School of Art and found work as a graphic artist for a London advertising agency. He wrote and illustrated “Ode to a Highflying Bird,” a children’s book about the jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker (although it was not published until 1965). In the evenings, he played drums with a variety of groups.

Most of them were jazz combos, but he was also invited to join Alexis Korner’s raucous rhythm-and-blues collective, Blues Incorporated. Mr. Watts declined the invitation because he was leaving England to work as a graphic designer in Scandinavia, but he joined the group when he returned a few months later.

The newly formed Rolling Stones (then called the Rollin’ Stones) knew they needed a good drummer but could not afford Mr. Watts, who was already drawing a regular salary from his various gigs. “We starved ourselves to pay for him!” Mr. Richards wrote. “Literally. We went shoplifting to get Charlie Watts.”

In early 1963, when they could finally guarantee five pounds a week, Mr. Watts joined the band, completing the canonical lineup of Mr. Richards, Mr. Jagger, the guitarist Brian Jones, the bassist Bill Wyman and the pianist Ian Stewart. He moved in with his bandmates and immersed himself in Chicago blues records.

n the wake of the Beatles’ success, the Rolling Stones quickly climbed from being an electric-blues specialty act to one of the biggest bands in the British Invasion of the 1960s. While Mr. Richards’s guitar riff defined the band’s most famous single, the 1965 chart-topper “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Mr. Watts’s drum pattern was just as essential. He was relentless on “Paint It Black” (No. 1 in 1966), supple on “Ruby Tuesday” (No. 1 in 1967) and the master of a funky groove on “Honky Tonk Women” (No. 1 in 1969).

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