Since he became the drummer for Rolling Stones in 1963, Charlie Watts did not stop playing. That is until August 2021 – 58 years later – when the band announced that Watts would skip what would have been his last tour to undergo a heart procedure. On August 24th, he passed away in the hospital.
This is our tribute to and reflection on Charlie Watts, one of the greatest rock drummers of all time.
From Graphic Designer To Drummer
Casual fans of Watts may be surprised to learn that playing the drums was not his first calling. As a young man, he went to Harrow Art School and later became a graphic designer, and that was his career for a few years. However, he liked to play drums on the side, and he often performed in coffee shops and blues clubs. He was even an official member of a band called Blues Incorporated before he accepted an offer from the members of the Rolling Stones.
This was in 1963, right before the Rolling Stones really took off. There wasn’t enough money to go around to pay Watts, so he had to continue pursuing graphic design projects in order to support himself.
Eventually, however, Watts turned into one of the most long-lasting familiar faces of the band. He was one of three members, which included singer Mick Jagger and guitar player Keith Richards, who stuck with the Rolling Stones throughout their entire careers.
Watts never stopped plying his trade as a graphic designer, either. He created artwork and advertisements for the Rolling Stones, as well as designs for the stages on their later tours.
A Not-So-Secret Lover Of Jazz
Watts didn’t just love rock, even though he was particularly good at drumming for the Rolling Stones. In fact, his first love was jazz. He cultivated his passion for the genre throughout his life in many ways. One was to join a boogie-woogie band called Rocket 88 in the 1970s, which several other jazz, rock, and R&B musicians took part in. Later, in 1991, he formed his own jazz band called the Charlie Watts Quintet.
All the while, though, he still played the drums for the Rolling Stones.
“Rock’s Ultimate Drum God”
Watts incredible ability as a drummer is the reason why so many music lovers and critics gush over him, even in the 21st century. The Rolling Stone magazine put him at number 16 on their list of the “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time” in 2016. Even more impressive, Rob Sheffield, who is a music critic, wrote of Watts that he was “rock’s ultimate drum god.”
It’s easy to see why Watts is worthy of these awesome appellations. He was a true artist: tasteful, professional, and humble. He didn’t like being in the limelight or bombarded with adoring fans. In the words of critic Michiko Kakutani, he was one of the few drummers that followed the singer instead of the other way around. That made not just the Rolling Stones a great band, but it made Watts a one-of-a-kind drummer.
Catch his incomparable work on any Rolling Stones hit on Retro Radio Australia!