What can I possibly say about Charlie Watts that hasn’t already been said? The man was and still is, an icon, a legend. One of the greatest drummers to ever grace the stage.
Perhaps my favorite thing about him was his loyalty and faithfulness. Always a very private man, Watts even kept his marriage from the band initially. Concerned that his marriage would alienate the group’s infatuated teenage female fans, Watts decided to hardly tell anyone about it – including his fellow band members and the band’s manager. I recently read in an article that Watts was faithful to his wife Shirley, and consistently refused sexual favors from groupies on the road. It was said that when the group was invited to the Playboy Mansion in the 70s, Watts took advantage of Hugh Hefner’s game room instead of frolicking with the women. That was Charlie Watts – he truly marched to the beat of his own drum.
Charles Robert (Charlie) Watts was born in Bloomsbury England in 1941. Raised initially in Wembley, then in Kingsbury, he displayed an early interest and talent for art, music, cricket, and football, but gravitated toward drumming at age 13. Watts stated in an interview, “I bought a banjo, and I didn’t like the dots on the neck. So I took the neck off, and at the same time I heard a drummer called Chico Hamilton, who played with Gerry Mulligan, and I wanted to play like that, with brushes. I didn’t have a snare drum, so I put the banjo head on a stand.” Ingenuity. Originality. He played with other local bands until fate intervened in 1962.
In mid-1962, Watts first met Brian Jones, Ian Stewart, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who all also frequented the London rhythm and blues clubs. He finally agreed to join them, and Watts’s first public appearance as a permanent member of the Rolling Stones was in February 1963, where he remained until his death 58 years later. Faithful. Devoted. Unwavering.
His long and storied career has been reiterated ad-nauseum. But my favorite and probably, most often-told story about him is this one: In the 80s, a highly intoxicated Jagger phoned Watts’s hotel room in the middle of the night, asking, “Where’s my drummer?” Watts reportedly got up, shaved, dressed in a suit, put on a tie and freshly shined shoes, descended the stairs, knocked on the door, Jagger opened up and Charlie punched Jagger in the face, saying: “Never call me your drummer again.” He later expressed regret for the incident, attributing his behavior to alcohol.
He was known as “the quiet one” but in the mid-1980s, Watts’s previously moderate use of alcohol and drugs became problematic. “They (drugs and alcohol) were my way of dealing with family problems …” he said. “I think it was a mid-life crisis. All I know is that I became totally another person around 1983 and came out of it about 1986. I nearly lost my wife and everything over my behaviour.” Luckily for everyone, he snapped out of it.
Despite quitting smoking in the late 1980s, Watts was diagnosed with throat cancer in June 2004, and underwent a course of radiotherapy, and it later went into remission. He remained relatively healthy until August 5, 2021, when it was reported that Watts had elected to sit out the resumption of the US No Filter Tour “due to a medical procedure involving his heart,” and that Steve Jordan would temporarily replace him on drums. Then in a stunning, heartbreaking, and unexpected blow that set the music world on its heels, Watts died at a London hospital on August 24, 2021, at the age of 80, with his family around him. No cause of death has yet been released.
The loss of Charlie Watts is immeasurable. Not just as a musician, but as a person. Although the Stones currently plan to continue with their tour, it is with very heavy hearts. Their social media pages have been full of reminiscences of Watts. Their grief is palpable. I think we all feel it. I know I do. My heart is shattered.
Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected]