Late in the afternoon of August 24, it was announced that Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones since 1963, had died in a London hospital at the age of 80. For a moment the music world stood still, and not only Stones fans knew that with the silent drummer one of the greats had gone. The unusually many and warm-hearted expressions of grief from colleagues from all musical genres confirmed this. Farewell to a gentleman who became a worldwide revered legend.
He never ceased to marvel at how far he had come in the sign of the tongue. And always, too, he seemed a bit of a stranger to the glamorous world of pop, its etiquette, its childishness and fussiness. In band photos he grinned rather awkwardly, if at all, and not infrequently looked as if he were a little embarrassed to be photographed with these people again. All the more astonishing that now, since he unexpectedly passed away on August 24, a few weeks after his 80th birthday, the world is showering this Charlie Watts with superlatives: unique, irreplaceable, King of Cool, legend. Charles Robert Watts was born on June 2, 1941, into a world we know at most through ZDFinfo: Hitler's "Blitz" keeps London in fear, Churchill promises "blood, sweat and tears", and the Royal Air Force breathes a cautious sigh of relief after the air battle for England has just been won. Charlie's father earns his living as a lorry driver and his mother, a former factory worker, looks after the household. At the age of 13, the son discovers the drums for himself. The musical fixed stars for the teenager are jazz and dance orchestras like those of Earl Bostic, Billy Eckstine and Duke Ellington.
Swing instead of spectacle
Throughout his life, Watts would remain true to the musical world of his early years, his playing influenced by jazz greats such as Max Roach, Chico Hamilton and Elvin Jones. He takes to heart the virtues that make a good jazz drummer. Swing instead of spectacle, a feeling for the song and limiting himself to what is necessary. Watts learns: where one beat is right, any more would be too much. This can be heard years later in the great Stones hits, for example in the relaxed and yet tight groove of "Honky Tonk Women", in the bouncy swing of "Brown Sugar" or the elastic flow of "Tumbling Dice". While others like Keith Moon, John Bonham or Neil Peart may drum more spectacularly, powerfully or virtuously, Watts confines himself to a minimalist set and provides the Stones with perfectly fitting grooves that give their songs eloquence and punch. Even if he was possibly "only" the drummer for the general public, the stoic Stone has always enjoyed the excellent reputation of a "musician's musician" among colleagues. The conspicuously numerous and warm-hearted eulogies from drummers of all genres who have spoken out in the wake of the drummer's death bear this out. Watts' longtime drum tech Don McAuley put it succinctly, "Charlie didn't play the drums, he played the song."