On August 24th, 2021, it was announced that Charlie Watts, the drummer for legendary rock band The Rolling Stones, had passed away from undisclosed reasons. Watts, along with bandmates, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood have still been actively touring through the decades, even though the band members are well into their 70’s, with Watts himself passing away at the age of 80.
It’s hard to write about a loss like this, even though accounts state that he passed away peacefully in the hospital, surrounded by family. The irony of it all is that despite the Stones reputation for hard living and rocking across their six decades in the industry, Watts was by all means, the most level-headed and tame of all the bands. Compared to Mick and his multiple romantic partners, Watts was married to the same woman, Shirley Ann Shepherd, since 1964.
Charlie Watts really didn’t share in the songwriting or production of the band’s music, but everything he did in the group was for the sole purpose of bringing their creations to life. Watts was an incredibly talented drummer but you may not realize just how talented he was unless you really look at what he accomplished with the Rolling Stones and outside of the group.
Watts was talented enough to be able to lend his skills to big bands, swing groups, jazz outfits, and of course, the blues inspired rock that The Rolling Stones specialized in. You wouldn’t necessarily know this all from listening to the hits like “Gimme Shelter,” Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, or even deeper cuts like “Monkey Man” or “Too Much Blood.” Watts came from a school of musical thought that the drummer shouldn’t outshine the rest of the band.
This is something that Ringo Starr has been both praised and criticized by some for. Some have accused The Beatles’ drummer of lacking talent compared to the rest of the group. Others, like Phil Collins for example, feel that Ringo is vastly underappreciated because he’s not flashy; he knows exactly what to play, when to play it, and how to play it.
The same praise can be extended to Watts, except that his level of skill went beyond Ringo’s to a point where his high degree of versatility made him able to play across genres of music with ease. His drumming may not have stood out, but if it wasn’t there, you’d sorely miss it.
The Rolling Stones were exceptional riff rockers, able to churn out songs with some of the most memorable guitar hooks in the history of rock. Watts was keen on making sure that those riffs would be backed by the most reliable drumming possible and he’d be damned if his performance overpowered everything else.
So the next time you hear a Stones song, take a moment to listen beyond the vocals of Jagger and the riffing of Richards to take in the performance of Charlie Watts. He was a legend that will not soon be forgotten, even if his legacy was one of providing the foundation for legends to be built upon.