The Story of Charlie Watts
For being famous as the drummer of The Rolling Stones, Charlie Watts mostly stayed quietly in the background for the other members to take the light. Unlike most rock drummers out there, he played it sophisticated with a touch of jazz in his own way. Never giving the most solos while performing but always being the stylish one. He was the kind of drummer that just loved playing the drums.
Born Charles Robert Watts on June 2, 1941, in Bloomsbury, London. Raised in Wembley to parents Charles Richard Watts and Lillian Charlotte together with his sister Linda. Right across his street lived David Green, a childhood friend with whom he would share the love for jazz music. They would both hang out at each other's houses and listen to jazz recordings. What brought Charlie to drumming was listening to jazz players Gerry Mulligan and Chico Hamilton which made him fall in love with the music and he started to get interested in drumming. In 1955, his parents gave him his first drum kit. He practised by listening to the recordings and repeating what he heard. When he got older he eventually started to go to clubs to watch jazz performers and learned drumming by watching the other drummers on stage.
When he was in university, he studied art up until 1960, and after that started to work as a graphic designer for other companies and occasionally played the drums with local bands at the same time.
In 1962, he later joined Alexis Korners, a British blues musician, band Blues Incorporated. He played with them up until he met his future bandmates Mick Jagger, Ian “Stu” Stewart, Keith Richards, and Brian Jones. In 1963, he eventually joined as the official drummer of The Rolling Stones.
With The Rolling Stones
Watts wasn’t the band's first drummer. Before him, the band went through a couple of other drummers but it wasn’t until they met Watts they decided to keep him. He eventually became the band’s first permanent drummer.Through the years Watts contributed a lot to the band's art since he even studied it. For the back cover of their album, Between the Buttons, he drew a six-panel cartoon with a rhythmic poem. He and his bandmates even designed the production for most of their tours, such as the stages for their 1975 Tour of the Americas and 1989-90 Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour and more.
Not contributing much to the writing of the music and lyrics, his way of playing the drums was a more noticeable thing to see. Since his background was in jazz music, he would usually play the traditional grip style. The traditional grip is a technique used to hold the drum sticks. Unlike the matched grip, each hand has its own grip. It is a technique that works by holding the left and right stick in different ways. Mostly used for snare drums, the traditional grip is also used for other percussion instruments such as marching snare drums. It is also used by many rock musicians. Watts held the left underhand and the right overhand which you could clearly see in most of The Rolling Stones performances he would play.
A video with him playing the drums with the traditional grip style Charlies Drums
In 2020 The Rolling Stones took part in the virtual One World: Together at Home benefit show to perform their song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. Watts seemed to play with virtual drum sticks instead of a real drum kit which seemed to go viral. As we did mention in one of our earlier blog posts he did not play with our Freedrum kit, but it did make us very happy to see him enjoy playing with virtual drum sticks.
Aside from The Rolling Stones he also worked on other various projects. In the 70’s he joined the band Rocket 88 and in the 80’s toured with the Charlie Watts Orchestra together with other members from Rocket 88. He would later in the ’90s organize a jazz quintet called The Charlie Watts Quintet and released a couple of albums with them. He even released a techno album together with drummer Jim Keltner with whom he collaborated on a Rolling Stones record before.
In early August he was ruled out to perform with The Rolling Stones NO Filter Tour because of a medical heart procedure. And he would a couple of weeks later on the 24th of August, 2021 pass away. At 80 years old, he achieved and did many things he wished for during his life. Many famous musicians paid tribute to him as he was one of the most respected and looked up to. Watts remained a member of The Rolling Stones for 58 years.