Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, pioneer of rock and lover of jazz, dies at age 80

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By JILL LAWLESS | Associated Press

LONDON — Charlie Watts, the self-effacing and unshakeable Rolling Stones drummer who helped anchor 1 of rock’s top bushed sections and utilized his “day job” to enactment his enduring emotion of jazz, has died, according to his publicist. He was 80.

Bernard Doherty said Tuesday that Watts “passed distant peacefully successful a London infirmary earlier contiguous surrounded by his family.”

“Charlie was a cherished husband, begetter and gramps and besides arsenic a subordinate of The Rolling Stones 1 of the top drummers of his generation,” Doherty said.

Watts had announced helium would not circuit with the Stones successful 2021 due to the fact that of an undefined wellness issue.

The quiet, elegantly dressed Watts was often ranked with Keith Moon, Ginger Baker and a fistful of others arsenic a premier stone drummer, respected worldwide for his muscular, swinging benignant arsenic the Stones roseate from their scruffy beginnings to planetary superstardom. He joined the set aboriginal successful 1963 and remained implicit the adjacent 60 years, ranked conscionable down Mick Jagger and Keith Richards arsenic the group’s longest-lasting and astir indispensable member.

Watts stayed on, and mostly held himself apart, done the cause abuse, originative clashes and ego wars that helped termination founding subordinate Brian Jones, drove bassist Bill Wyman and Jones’ replacement Mick Taylor to discontinue and different made being successful the Stones the astir exhausting of jobs.

A classical Stones opus similar “Brown Sugar” and “Start Me Up” often began with a hard guitar riff from Richards, with Watts pursuing intimately behind, and Wyman, arsenic the bassist liked to say, “fattening the sound.” Watts’ speed, powerfulness and clip keeping were ne'er amended showcased than during the performance documentary, “Shine a Light,” erstwhile manager Martin Scorsese filmed “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” from wherever helium drummed toward the backmost of the stage.

The Stones began, Watts said, “as achromatic blokes from England playing Black American music” but rapidly evolved their ain distinctive sound. Watts was a jazz drummer successful his aboriginal years and ne'er mislaid his affinity for the euphony helium archetypal loved, heading his ain jazz set and taking connected galore different broadside projects.

He had his eccentricities — Watts liked to cod cars adjacent though helium didn’t thrust and would simply beryllium successful them successful his garage. But helium was a steadying power connected signifier and disconnected arsenic the Stones defied each expectations by rocking good into their 70s, decades longer than their aged rivals the Beatles.

Watts didn’t attraction for flashy solos oregon attraction of immoderate kind, but with Wyman and Richards forged immoderate of rock’s deepest grooves connected “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar” and different songs. The drummer adapted good to everything from the disco of “Miss You” to the jazzy “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and the dreamy ballad “Moonlight Mile.”

Jagger and Richards astatine times seemed to hold connected small other too their admiration of Watts, some arsenic a antheral and a musician. Richards called Watts “the key” and often joked that their affinity was truthful beardown that connected signifier he’d sometimes effort to rattle Watts by abruptly changing the bushed — lone to person Watts alteration it close back.

Jagger and Richards could lone envy his indifference to stardom and comparative contentment successful his backstage life, erstwhile helium was arsenic blessed tending to the horses connected his property successful agrarian Devon, England, arsenic helium ever was connected signifier astatine a sold-out stadium.

Watts did connected juncture person an interaction beyond drumming. He worked with Jagger connected the ever much spectacular signifier designs for the group’s tours. He besides provided illustrations for the backmost screen of the acclaimed 1967 medium “Between the Buttons” and inadvertently gave the grounds its title. When helium asked Stones manager Andrew Oldham what the medium would beryllium called, Oldham responded “Between the buttons,” meaning undecided. Watts thought that “Between the Buttons” was the existent sanction and included it successful his artwork.

To the world, helium was a stone star. But Watts often said that the existent acquisition was draining and unpleasant, and adjacent frightening. “Girls chasing you down the street, screaming…horrible!… I hated it,” helium told The Guardian paper successful an interview. In different interview, helium described the drumming beingness arsenic a “cross betwixt being an jock and a full tense wreck.”

Author Philip Norman, who has written extensively astir the Rolling Stones, said Watts lived “in changeless anticipation of being allowed to drawback the adjacent level home.” On tour, helium made a constituent of drafting each edifice country helium stayed in, a mode of marking clip until helium could instrumentality to his family. He said small astir playing the aforesaid songs for much than 40 years arsenic the Stones recycled their classics. But helium did subdivision retired acold beyond “Satisfaction” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by assembling and performing with jazz bands successful the 2nd fractional of his career.

Charles Robert Watts, lad of a lorry operator and a housewife, was calved successful Neasden, London, connected June 2, 1941. From childhood, helium was passionate astir euphony — jazz successful particular. He fell successful emotion with the drums aft proceeding Chico Hamilton and taught himself to play by listening to records by Johnny Dodds, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and different jazz giants.

He worked for a London advertizing steadfast aft helium attended Harrow Art College and played drums successful his spare time. London was location to a blues and jazz revival successful the aboriginal 1960s, with Jagger, Richards and Eric Clapton among the aboriginal superstars getting their start. Watts’ vocation took disconnected aft helium played with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, for whom Jagger besides performed, and was encouraged by Korner to articulation the Stones.

Watts wasn’t a stone euphony instrumentality astatine archetypal and remembered being guided by Richards and Brian Jones arsenic helium absorbed blues and stone records, notably the euphony of bluesman Jimmy Reed. He said the set could hint its roots to a little play erstwhile helium had mislaid his occupation and shared an flat with Jagger and Richards due to the fact that helium could unrecorded determination rent-free.

“Keith Richards taught maine stone and roll,” Watts said. “We’d person thing to bash each time and we’d play these records implicit and implicit again. I learned to emotion Muddy Waters. Keith turned maine connected to however bully Elvis Presley was, and I’d ever hated Elvis up ’til then.”

Watts was the last antheral to articulation the Stones; the set had searched for months to find a imperishable drummer and feared Watts was excessively accomplished for them. Richards would callback the set wanting him truthful severely to articulation that members chopped down connected expenses truthful they could spend to wage Watts a due salary. Watts said helium believed astatine archetypal the set would beryllium fortunate to past a year.

“Every set I’d ever been successful had lasted a week,” helium said. “I ever thought the Stones would past a week, past a fortnight, and past suddenly, it’s 30 years.”


Former Associated Press Writers Greg Katz and Janelle Stecklein compiled biographical worldly for this story.

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