Charlie Watts: The Rolling Stones’ discreet engine that blew Mick Jagger

“I love the fact that only one of the Rolling Stones guys dresses like a 77-year-old man.” The comment on Twitter became a meme and spread over social networks. Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were lined up in the picture, with thick hair, painted eyes, rings, a cigarette in hand and red velvet coats.

On the right, the element that seemed to guess a game of “what doesn’t belong in this picture”, drummer Charlie Watts, in a plain white shirt buttoned up into a subtle waterproof jacket. Rock dinosaurs with nearly 60 years of careers always seemed invulnerable, even today.

That Tuesday, August 24th, Watts’ family announced his death. “He died peacefully in a London hospital surrounded by his family,” his agent revealed. The cause of death is unknown, although the musician successfully battled throat cancer in 2004. I was 80 years old.

As in the meme picture, Watts was always the reluctant member of the Stones. Or rather, he was always less explosive and exuberant than the stunning Jagger and Richards – in his looks, in his personal life, and even in the way he used his drums.

He wasn’t a drummer with amazing solos and a thousand skills. I used a small kit and I had rhythm. Lots of speed. He was also passionate about jazz, despite becoming a rock legend – in 2016 Rolling Stone magazine named him 12th on the list of the 100 greatest drummers of all time.

For 60 years it was the true measure of the band, a little-kept secret of bandmates. “Charlie is the engine,” explained Ronnie Wood. “We’re not going anywhere without the engine.”

In this photo they are all over 70 years old – but only one dresses up like that

Born in London, he saw his home destroyed by German bombs during World War II. Later, at the age of 13, he began playing drums and imitating his jazz heroes, especially Charlie Parker.

As a member of Blues Incorporated, a blues band, he met Brian Jones, who led him to Jagger and Richards. He was selected to replace Tony Chapman, the drummer who left the band after a few months. That meeting sealed Watts entry into the Rollings Stones. “It’s the beginning of four decades in which Mick’s tail bounces in front of me,” he revealed.

Always discreet, Watts brought more to the band than just a few rhythmic beats. He was trained in design and even designed the cover of the 1967 album “Behind the Buttons”. It was also his idea to promote the “Brown Sugar” theme on a bus as they played through the streets of Manhattan.

Even so, he was never very interested in fame. “I was never very interested [pela fama] and I still haven’t, “he revealed in 1991.” I don’t know what showbiz is, I’ve never seen MTV. There are people who just play instruments and I am proud to know that I am one of them. “

The devaluation of his talent was constant and he still liked to see himself as a proud drummer and band member. “I grew up on the theory that the drummer is an escort. I don’t like floors. I admire those who make them, but I prefer drummers who play with the band. The challenge of rock n ‘roll is regularity and my thing is to make a danceable sound out of it. “

Despite his discretion, Watts also had a keen sense of humor, as demonstrated on the band’s 30th anniversary when asked what it was like to spend three decades in one of the world’s greatest bands. “It’s been five years of hard work and 25 years of hanging around.”

Especially at this early stage, it was common to see stage invasions from fans eager to snag one of the band members. Watts even had to play with women clinging to his arms. He always resisted temptation on stage or in changing rooms.

Unlike his bandmates, who were married in their forties – or, in the case of Ronnie Wood, never – Watts married at just 23, a year after joining the Rolling Stones. He married Shirley Ann Shepherd, a sculpture student whom he met while writing an essay in 1961.

Married since 1964

Unlike Watts, Shepherd was sociable and relentless, which caused some problems within the band. “There was a rule that forbade women [nos ensaios e bastidores]“, Revealed Jagger’s girlfriend at the time, Chrissie Shrimpton. “But Shirley could always bypass the rule. We weren’t allowed to go to the studio during the recording, but she decided to take me with her. “

Faced with an angry Mick Jagger who asked her to leave, Shepherd stood firm. “You told me not to move. We sat while Mick made faces on the other side of the control room glass. “

Despite a few setbacks, Watts later revealed that the woman was always on good terms with her peers. “The only thing I regret in my entire life is that I haven’t been home long enough. But whenever I came back from a tour, Shirley told me I was a nightmare and told myself to go back out. She’s an amazing woman, ”he explained years later.

He didn’t look or dress like a rock star. The image that ran on social networks is the perfect mirror of the band’s 60 years: while Jagger, Richards and Wood opted for the most spectacular looks, Watts stayed for more subtle, but no less stylish options.

“I have about 200 facts in London and a few more in Devon. I dress very traditionally, old-fashioned, English style, ”she revealed to“ GQ ”about her love of tailor-made suits. Although I’m proud of her, I confessed that I hated the mandatory photo shoots.

“I always felt out of place with the Stones, the way I dress. I wear shoes and they wear sneakers. I hate sneakers, even if they’re a trend, ”he says.

He was known for the impeccable style of his suits.

However, being discreet didn’t mean that Watts didn’t explode from time to time, even in front of bandmates and stars. Jagger has always been the face, voice and leader of the Stones and in the 1980s the opportunity to dare solo left some mark on relationships with colleagues.

While on tour, Jagger and Richards arrived at the hotel where the band was staying at around five in the morning. “Mick called Charlie and asked, ‘Where’s my drummer?’ Nobody answered and he hung up, ”recalls the guitarist in his autobiography“ Life ”.

“We were just sitting and drinking when there was a knock on the door twenty minutes later. It was Charle, dressed in an immaculate Saville Row suit. Tie. Shaved clean. Everything in the hours. I could smell the perfume, ”she says. “He walked past me to Mick, grabbed him and said, ‘Don’t you ever call me your drummer again.’ He picked him up and hit him. “

The incident was over quickly. “Twelve hours later Mick said fuck it, ‘I’m going down there and I’ll do it again. You can’t irritate this man with anything. “

In fact, the reluctant Charlie Watts of the 60s and 70s changed with the arrival of the 80s. A midlife crisis left him addicted to alcohol and drugs. So much so that even Keith Richards – the man known for sniffing cocaine with his late father’s ashes – was concerned and had to intervene.

“It got really bad, so much so that Keith – God bless him – told me to find out,” admitted Watts, remembering the day he passed out in the studio. “I lost consciousness and that was bad professionalism for me. Keith took me – and then Keith, whom I saw go through every state and do anything and everything – and said to me, ‘That’s the kind of thing you do when you’re 60.

“Looking back, I think it was really a midlife crisis. I became a completely different person in 1983 and didn’t leave until 1986. I almost lost my wife and everything else through my behavior, ”he wrote in the book“ Portrait of Charlie ”.

“After two years of speed and heroin, I felt very sick. My daughter always told me that she looked like Dracula. I almost killed myself. “

“Seeing Mick’s cock bounce in front of me for four decades”

The way out of this complicated phase came more by chance when he broke his ankle at a concert. “I stopped all drugs for myself and my wife. Drinking and drugs weren’t for me. “

Fifty years after joining the band, he considered retiring in 2012 but changed his mind. “I always say that I retire at the end of every tour. Then I have his weeks off and my wife asks: ‘Don’t you have to go to work?’ ”He told The Guardian.

It took almost another decade and it wasn’t until early August that he announced that he would not join the band on their next tour on the grounds that they would have to undergo an operation. In recent years he has used his fortune to pursue other passions.

Charlie Watts was an expert in silver antiques and became a collector, especially of classic cars, although he never got a driver’s license himself. Together with his wife they started a farm where they bred horses and collected retired racing dogs.

Despite spending 60 years in the shadow of Jagger and Richards, the Stones stars realize that without their talent – and especially their temperament – they would never have succeeded. “You are incredibly humble,” Richards said in 1983 of his bandmates Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. “I imagine if it were different people we would have collapsed completely in a short time.”

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