Fred: The story goes that in the mid-1980s as the Rolling Stones struggled with internal conflicts, Charlie Watts (the drummer since day one) was also dealing with family issues that were threatening his personal stability. During this time he drank too much and developed a temporary dependence on some terrible substances that he thankfully overcame soon after.
One night while the band was having business meetings during the days, Jagger had a bit of a bender and, while drunk, called Charlie’s hotel room and screamed into the phone, “where’s my f’ing drummer?!? Tell him to get his a££ up here!“
After Jagger hung up, Charlie took a deep breath then proceeded to take a shower, shave, put on one of his best suits (he was always impeccably groomed away from the stage), and took the elevator up to Jagger’s floor.
He got to Mick’s room and knocked on the door. When Jagger answered, Charlie greeted Mick by punching him squarely in the face and telling him, “don’t you ever call me your f’ing drummer again. YOU are my f’ing singer, and don’t ever forget that!“ At that, he turned around and went back to his room.
There was literally only one person on planet Earth who could’ve gotten away with it… And that, my friends, was Mr. Charlie Watts.
There will be lots of eulogies about him being the best who ever lived and all of that type of thing… And I have to say, I disagree. I believe the best drummers who have ever lived are Ringo, Zigaboo, Dave Grohl, John Bonham, and Willie Green. Not necessarily in that order. But what do I know? I haven’t heard everyone.
But I think Mr. Watts was definitely one of the smartest drummers who ever lived. If you look at the Stones’ legacy, the road they traveled is littered with great songs. And I mean GREAT songs. Beyond the usual suspects that we all know are tunes like “Sway,” “Moonlight Mile,” “Parachute Woman,” “No Use In Crying,” etc… In each of those is a solid backbeat that NEVER gets in the way of how strong the song and groove really are. And that is the mark of a truly brilliant drummer.
Such was Charlie Watts’ respect within the band that after Brian Jones had died and Bill Wyman left, the band business consisted of Mick, Keith, and Charlie alone. Ron Wood was not even made a junior member until the mid-90s. Charlie, being a trained graphic designer, had a major hand in all the group’s stage and merchandise designs over the years, which is a huge part of the Rolling Stones legacy.
Especially considering the era he came out of, most drummers of the 60s and 70s had a desperate need to overplay for attention. Charlie Watts was almost the complete opposite of that in every way. The Stones were also smart enough to turn his lack of overt personality into one of his most charming personality traits. Another stroke of genius.
I learned a lot from listening to those records: I may look like I’m doing a lot on stage, but if you listen to CM closely, you’ll hear that my drumming really is very basic with me not wanting to get in the way of what (I believe) are some pretty damn good songs.
And honestly, what a great life Charlie lived. Not only did he participate in some great music, but apparently he also left behind a very solid life not dabbling in the debauchery that the Stones have been known for over the years. I guess somebody had to be the adult in the room. Not a bad thing to be known for…being the adult in the Rolling Stones. Somebody had to do it!
And he had to look at Mick Jagger’s ass for almost 60 years.
Had to? Or got to…?
Bon voyage, Charlie! Put in a good word for the rest of us.