“I’ll never stop listening to him for inspiration,” says Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken about Charlie Watts, who died on Aug. 24, at the age of 80. Undoubtedly many other drummers feel the same way. Watts was the heartbeat of The Rolling Stones since the band’s formation in the 1960s, and it’s hard to think of another rock musician who was more universally admired and respected.
“This is terribly shocking,” posted Steven Van Zandt on Facebook. “Not just one of greatest drummers in one of the greatest bands of all time, but a gentleman’s gentleman. He singlehandedly brought the Rock world some real class. Rock and Roll will miss him profoundly. We are significantly less without him.”
“If Mick Jagger is the face and Keith Richards is the driving force of The Rolling Stones, Charlie Watts was the very soul of the band,” said Southside Johnny.
E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg wrote on Twitter, “A monumentally sad day learning my personal hero Charlie Watts has died. I’m devastated and my soul aches for (Watts’ wife) Shirley, (his daughter) Serafina, the extended Watts family, and of course his band mates. I don’t know what to say really. Charlie Watts Rest In Peace my friend.”
Watts’ spokesman said in an official statement, “It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Charlie Watts. He 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.”
No other details are currently available. The Stones had previously announced that Watts would not be taking part in their fall tour because of unspecified medical reasons, and that Steve Jordan would be handling the drumming.
Though not the flashiest musician, Watts had a smooth, jazz-influenced style that made his sound unique. Diken said that Watts “showed generations of rock ‘n’ roll drummers that finding your own voice on your instrument and not following rules are what make for a great musician. Also, swing, feel, supporting your bandmates and serving the song are what it’s all about. He did it with such class and style.”
“Charlie Watts was the ultimate drummer,” wrote Elton John on Twitter. “The most stylish of men, and such brilliant company.”
Paul McCartney posted a video to Facebook on which he said, in part, “So sad to hear about Charlie Watts, the Stones drummer, dying. He was a lovely guy … A fantastic drummer. Steady as a rock … love you, Charlie. I always loved you. Beautiful man. And great condolences and sympathies to his family.”
“He was a role model for me,” said Chris Frantz of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club. “Not only a drummer of impeccable taste but also the swingingest gentleman of all time.”
“The 9-year old me, hearing the cowbell and then the crash, boom, bang intro to ‘Honky Tonk Women,’ was inspired to nag my parents to get me a drum set,” said Stan Demeski of The Feelies and Luna. “Years later I used that same exact drum intro (not the cowbell part) as a tribute to Charlie on a song on the third LP by Luna. I thought it was obvious but no one noticed.”
Drummer Joe Bellia, a member of The Weeklings and a former member of Southside Johnny’s Asbury Jukes, says Watts is one of the few rock drummers “who, without him, the band is not the same. Ringo and The Beatles. Charlie Watts and The Stones. Keith Moon and The Who. Max Weinberg and Bruce. There’s certain guys that, when they’re with that band, that’s their band.”
Bellia said Watts was “one of those guys that when you hear the song you say, ‘Oh that’s a pretty easy song.’ But when you try to play it and make it feel like that … it’s always a challenge to try to make it feel that way. It never exactly feels the same way.”
“Charlie’s drumming had a huge impact on me,” said Ray Ketchem, who plays drums for the band Elk City in addition to producing other bands and operating the Magic Door Recording studio in Montclair. “He would never hit the hi-hat or ride cymbal when hitting the snare on the 2 and 4. That’s got to be why his snare drum always sounded so good. That distinct ‘pull-back’ of his right arm created a sound that defined rock drumming for me.”
Richard Barone of The Bongos had a revelation about Watts in 2006.
“I happened to be at the filming of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Shine a Light’ film,’ directed by Martin Scorsese,” Barone said. “It was at the Beacon Theatre in New York and I got to sit by the production table — near Scorsese and his team — with an intimate view of the band. And that’s when I finally understood. It confirmed what I had already felt. From the very beginning of the performance, it was immediate and obvious how the band all looked to Charlie, literally, to keep it together. I mean the whole thing. Not just the backbeat.
“His drumming was perfection, but that was symbolic. He was the soul. The beating heart and soul of the band. Without Charlie, there is no Stones. Rest in Peace, Charlie.”
Here is a clip of Watts and The Rolling Stones performing “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, in 2019:
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