Rolling Stones Drummer Charlie Watts Dies At 80. According to his publicist, Charlie Watts, the self-effacing and unshakable Rolling Stones drummer who helped anchor one of rock’s finest rhythm sections and utilized his “day job” to fund his everlasting love of jazz, has died.
Charlie Watts “died away quietly in a London hospital earlier today, accompanied by his family,” said Bernard Doherty on Tuesday.
“Charlie was a loving husband, father, and grandpa, as well as one of the finest drummers of his generation as a member of The Rolling Stones,” Doherty added.
e was 80 years old.
Watts, who was modest and finely dressed, was frequently rated with Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, and a few others as a great rock drummer, renowned globally for his powerful, swinging technique as the Stones climbed from their grungy origins to international superstardom. He joined the band in early 1963 and stayed for over 60 years, ranking third only to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as the group’s longest-serving and most important members.
Watts stayed on, and generally kept himself separate, despite the drug addiction, creative disputes, and ego battles that contributed to the death of founding member Brian Jones, pushed bassist Bill Wyman and Jones’ replacement Mick Taylor to depart, and made being in the Stones a grueling job.
A classic Stones song, such as “Brown Sugar” or “Start Me Up,” would frequently begin with a strong guitar riff from Richards, with Watts close behind and Wyman, as the bassist liked to say, “fattening the sound.” Watts’ speed, strength, and timing were never more demonstrated than during the concert documentary “Shine a Light,” when filmmaker Martin Scorsese recorded “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” from the back of the stage.
Watts described the Stones as “white men from England performing Black American music,” but they rapidly developed their own distinct sound. Watts began his career as a jazz drummer and never lost his enthusiasm for the music he grew up with, leading his own jazz band and juggling several other side projects.
Watts had his quirks, such as collecting automobiles despite the fact that he didn’t drive and would merely sit in them in his garage. But he was a steadying influence both on and off the stage as the Stones defied all predictions by rocking into their 70s, decades longer than their old rivals the Beatles.
Watts was uninterested in showy solos or any type of limelight, yet he and Wyman and Richards built some of rock’s darkest grooves on songs like “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar,” and others. From the disco of “Miss You” to the jazzy “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” to the dreamy ballad “Moonlight Mile,” the drummer was a natural fit.
At times, it appeared as if Jagger and Richards agreed on nothing else but their respect for Watts as a man and a musician. Richards referred to Watts as “the key,” and he joked that their bond was so deep that he’d attempt to frighten him on stage by abruptly altering the beat, only to have Watts adjust it back.
He had an influence on the Rolling Stones that was not limited to drumming. He collaborated with Mick Jagger on the group’s increasingly elaborate stage designs during their tours. He also contributed graphics to the back cover of the critically acclaimed 1967 album “Between the Buttons,” which he named accidentally.
When asked what the album’s title might be, Stones manager Andrew Oldham replied, “Between the Buttons,” which means “undecided.” Watts believed “Between the Buttons” was the correct title and included it in his artwork.
To the rest of the world, he was a rock star.. Watts, on the other hand, frequently stated that the experience was exhausting, unpleasant, and even scary. “Girls following you down the street, shouting… it’s awful!” In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, he said, “I loathed it.” He described drumming as a “cross between being an athlete and a real nervous mess” in another interview.
Watts married Shirley Ann Shepherd in 1964 and had a daughter, Seraphina, shortly afterward, as a way to get away from the rock life. While other well-known rock marriages have fallen apart, theirs has remained together. The indifference to celebrity and relative serenity in his private life, which included contentedly keeping horses on a remote farm in Devon, England, could only be envied by Jagger and Richards.
Watts lived “in continuous anticipation of being permitted to board the next aircraft home,” according to author Philip Norman, who has written extensively about the Rolling Stones. He made a point of sketching each hotel room he stayed in while on tour as a means of passing the time until he could see his family again.
Charles Robert Watts, the son of a truck driver and a housewife, was born in Neasden, London, on June 2, 1941. He’d always loved music, especially jazz since he was a youngster. After hearing Chico Hamilton, he fell in love with the drums and trained himself to play by listening to albums by Johnny Dodds, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, and other jazz greats.
After attending London’s Harrow Art College, he worked for a London advertising business and played the drums in his spare time. In the early 1960s, London saw a blues and jazz renaissance, with future superstars like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Eric Clapton getting their start.
Watts appeared to have few enemies in the turbulent, fiercely competitive world of rock & roll.
“It all appears to boil down to a trait that is as uncommon as hen’s teeth in the music industry, but which Charlie Watts is thought to possess in spades. After interviewing Watts in 2000, writer Barbara Ellen said, “In a word, decency.” “You have to hand it to a… guy who has played with the most influential rock ‘n’ roll band in the world… and remained happily married to Shirley… A man who, on top of that, is adamant about not taking his lofty position too seriously.”
Shirley Watts, his sister Linda, daughter Seraphina, and granddaughter Charlotte survive him.