Charlie Watts, the self-effacing and unshakeable Rolling Stones drummer who helped anchor one of rock’s greatest bands and used his “day job” to support his enduring love of jazz, has died at the age of 80, according to his publicist.
Bernard Doherty said Tuesday that Watts “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,” Doherty said.
Watts had announced he would not tour with the Stones in 2021 because of an undefined health issue.
Born in London in 1941, Watts started playing drums in London’s rhythm and blues clubs in the early 1960s, before agreeing to join forces with Brian Jones, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in their fledgling group, The Rolling Stones, in January 1963.
The quiet, elegantly dressed Watts was often ranked with Keith Moon, Ginger Baker and a handful of others as a premier rock drummer, respected worldwide for his muscular, swinging style as the band rose from its scruffy beginnings to international superstardom.
The Stones began, Watts said, “as white blokes from England playing Black American music” but quickly evolved their own distinctive sound.
He would stay with the band for over 60 years, ranking just behind Jagger and Richards as the group’s longest lasting and most essential member.
A classic Stones song like “Brown Sugar” and “Start Me Up” often began with a hard guitar riff from Richards, with Watts following closely behind, and Wyman, as the bassist liked to say, “fattening the sound”.
Watts’ speed, power and time keeping were never better showcased than during the concert documentary, “Shine a Light”, when director Martin Scorsese filmed “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” from where he drummed toward the back of the stage.
A very sad day. Charlie Watts was the ultimate drummer. The most stylish of men, and such brilliant company. My deepest condolences to Shirley, Seraphina and Charlotte. And of course, The Rolling Stones.
— Elton John (@eltonofficial) August 24, 2021
Watts’ deadpan expression and metronomic rhythms formed an integral part of the band’s classic performances, counterbalancing Jagger’s onstage energy and charisma and the goofing about between Richards and Wood.
While the other members became known for what Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper described as “marriage break-ups, addiction, arrests and furious bust-ups”, Watts lived quietly with his wife of more than 50 years, Shirley Shepherd, on a stud farm in the remote Devon countryside.
“Through five decades of chaos, drummer Charlie Watts has been the calm at the centre of the Rolling Stones storm, on and off stage,” the Mirror wrote in 2012.
He was treated in the 1980s for alcohol and heroin abuse but said he had successfully come off them. “It was very short for me. I just stopped, it didn’t suit me at all,” he told the tabloid.
A jazz drummer in his early years, Watts never lost his affinity for the music he first loved, heading his own jazz band and taking on numerous other side projects.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS, AFP)