While Ringo was the Swiss timepiece of the Beatles, always playing ‘in the moment’, for the Stones Charlie Watts was The Moment, the slave driver behind Jagger and Richards. As reported by Keith Richards about a time in Amsterdam when Jagger called Watts “his drummer”, Charlie picked him up by the lapels, floored him with a punch and pronounced that he was nobody’s drummer but Mick was his singer.
Always immaculately turned out – on that Amsterdam occasion he was said to be resplendent, spick and span, in a Saville Row suit at 4 am! – he represented the poise and grace of the Stones as the counter-balance to Mick and Keith’s anarchy, both off stage and on.
Although it was not him on cowbell on ‘Honky Tonk Women’, his crashing intro on the floor tom and snare made the quirky off tempo cowbell iconic as a percussion intro or a vital addition to any rock tune. Without this as the yardstick, maybe Walken would have never pronounced “needs more cowbell”.
As a person who shunned the rock and roll lifestyle after breaking his ankle fetching a bottle of wine and who proclaimed that he never really got ‘it’, and that rock and roll was just dance music, you can hear his early jazz drummer influence on ‘Little Red Rooster’, and with a little improv evident during ‘Suck On The Jugular’.
Whether it was rolling on those floor toms, like on ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’, riding the snare on ‘Beast of Burden’, or simply riding on the rim of the snare and what was (probably) just a wood block on ‘Shake Your Hips’, he was ineffably the sound of The Rolling Stones and they were his frontmen.
Hailed by everybody, including his peers as “a true gentleman of rock and roll” Charlie will be missed and The Stones, forever how long they keep performing will never again be the same without him.
RIP Charlie Watts, one of the greats.