WATTS PASSSES — (via Rolling Stone) Charles Robert “Charlie” Watts, the Rolling Stones’ drummer and the band’s irreplaceable heartbeat, has died at age 80. No cause of death was given.
Watts’ publicist confirmed his death in a statement. “It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Charlie Watts,” it read. “He passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier [Tuesday] surrounded by his family.” The statement referred to Watts as “one of the greatest drummers of his generation” and closed by requesting that “the privacy of his family, band members, and close friends is respected at this difficult time.”
Watts’ death comes several weeks after it was announced that the drummer would not be able to perform on the Rolling Stones’ No Filter Tour of U.S. stadiums. “Charlie has had a procedure which was completely successful, but his doctors this week concluded that he now needs proper rest and recuperation,” a rep for the band said in a statement at the time. “With rehearsals starting in a couple of weeks, it’s very disappointing to say the least, but it’s also fair to say no one saw this coming.”
It was hard to imagine the Stones without Watts even then, though. His light touch, singular rhythmic sense, and impeccable feel, as heard on canonical rock songs such as “Paint It, Black,” “Gimme Shelter,” and “Brown Sugar,” made him both the engine that powered the Stones’ music and one of the most famous and respected drummers of all time.
As Keith Richards said in 1979: “Everybody thinks Mick and Keith are the Rolling Stones. If Charlie wasn’t doing what he’s doing on drums, that wouldn’t be true at all. You’d find out that Charlie Watts is the Stones.”
And yet, Watts was very different from the rest of the Stones. His dapper dress sense — Vanity Fair elected Watts to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame — was ultimately more in line with the jazz he loved and sometimes played than rock & roll. Watts also famously remained faithful to Shirley Shepherd, his wife since 1964, which set him somewhat apart from his excessive, hard-partying bandmates.
Unlike born road warriors such as Keith Richards, Watts often seemed uninterested in touring and gave the distinct impression the Stones was a job more than a calling or a lifestyle choice. His battle with drugs and alcohol in the mid-Eighties was, like many things about the man, largely private. “I’m big on letting people do what they want, which doesn’t make for good bandleaders,” he told Rolling Stone in 1991. “If I had led the Rolling Stones, they wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. We’d still be running around trying to find an amp, 30 years later.”
Tributes from Watts’ rock & roll peers and admirers have already started to come in, with Graham Nash telling Rolling Stone, “Without question, Charlie Watts was one of the greatest drummers in the world. His secret — the same as Ringo — is heartbeat. Charlie Watts was the heartbeat of the Rolling Stones.”
Steve Winwood said, “I met Charlie in 1965 when we toured with the Stones on a package theatre tour, I had the pleasure of playing with him on several occasions since then, and he was very supportive and a thoroughly nice man.
Besides that he was a brilliant drummer with his own special technique and definitely throughout the years was the defining groove of the Rolling Stones.”
Ry Cooder, who played guitar with Watts, Jagger, and Bill Wyman on their 1972 Jamming With Edward! album, told Rolling Stone, “Didn’t Mick once declare, ‘We back up Charlie,’ or words to that effect? Amen! I remember Charlie’s bag was loose, relaxed, swinging. He played his drums, he didn’t beat on them.”
The Kinks’ Ray Davis remembered, “I was in a pub in Soho where Musicians used to get gigs, Charlie Watts was at a table finishing up his drink and he said, ‘I have been asked to join The Rolling Stones,’ and I said, ‘Do it they’re a good band.’ Charlie was a classy guy, knew his Jazz, unmistakable style, good bloke and will be greatly missed.”
And acclaimed session drummer, Jim Keltner, said, “I can just only tell you that Charlie was as dear a friend as anyone could ever hope to have. We all are going to miss him terribly! Our great drumming community is gradually thinning out. That’s the way this is all designed. It still really hurts, though.”
On Twitter, Elton John praised Watts as “the ultimate drummer. The most stylish of men, and such brilliant company.” Brian Wilson wrote, “I’m just shocked to hear about Charlie Watts. I don’t know what to say, I feel terrible for Charlie’s family. Charlie was a great drummer and I loved the Stones music, they made great records.” Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready said, “The Rolling Stones have always been my favorite band, and Charlie was the engine of subtle and heavy grooves. I’ll put on ‘Sway’ which is my favorite song of all time. Any of us in a rock band wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for Charlie.” And Joan Jett called Watts “the most elegant and dignified drummer in rock and roll. He played exactly what was needed — no more — no less. He is one of a kind.”
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