Charlie Watts: 1941-2021

Charlie Watts kept The Rolling Stones grounded no mater how badly they might stumble

My wife send me an email yesterday with the OMG subject line. I was neck deep in work [and not loafing on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums] and had no idea that the great Charlie Watts had died yesterday at 80. I had seen in a recent news story that he was not participating on the current Rolling Stones tour [which had been delayed for a year] due to health issues that needed attention, and that he would be replaced with Steve Jordan, Keith Richards’ drummer in the X-pensive Winos band.

I had always liked Charlie Watts the best in The Rolling Stones. Sir Mick Jagger often merited a slap in the face with a carp for some of his ghastly antics. He treated his partners poorly and thought embedding a diamond in his tooth was a cool thing. Keith Richards had way more soul, but he was also like your worst ne’er-do-well uncle to the tenth power. Human wreckage at whose life force we could all marvel at, but we wouldn’t want to emulate him for a second. It would be fatal for a mere human.

Ron Wood was always “the new guy” with certifiable artistic talent and he was almost as good on slide guitar, but he was the king of bad timing. I remember reading his autobio where he finally sobered up and gave hosannas to his wife for sticking with him through tick and very thin. And just weeks after I read that book he fell off the wagon and scurried off with a teenage Ukrainian bartender. Yeeesh. Bill Wyman famously married a teenage girl while in his 50s. Brrrr!

But Charlie was the only Stone who I could imagine getting stuck in an elevator with and not regretting it. As chasinvictoria said to me yesterday, he was the one member with class. We have to love that he was poached back in 1963 from the Jazz world by The Stones who were obviously smarter than they looked. His playing always swung and made sure that The Rolling Stones functioned as a good dance band. A not important consideration for a pop band.

I dearly loved the story told by Keith Richards in his book “Life.” On tour, one night a wasted Mick Jagger phoned Watts’s hotel room in the dead of the night, asking, “Where’s my drummer?” Watts rose from bed, shaved, dressed smartly in a suit and tie with freshly shined shoes, calmly walked down the stairs, entered Mick’s room and sucker punched the shocked singer in the face as Richards caught the reeling Jagger. With Watts saying: “Don’t ever call me your drummer again. You’re my ****ing singer!” I can only hope that this tale is 100% truthful.

I was late to the game at admiring The Rolling Stones. This may have been down to them entering my pop music consciousness in the early 70s. The first Stones singles I recalled were “Happy” and “Tumbling Dice.” Then when I was really paying attention to the Top 40, the band’s fetid mid-70s period with “Angie,” “Fool To Cry,” and “Hot Stuff” convinced me that the Rolling Stones salad days were well behind them. I wrote them off and then “Some Girls” got played to death on the FM Rock I had started listening to in 1978. At the time… I thought The Rolling Stones jumping on the disco bandwagon with “Miss You” was pretty lame.

By the early 80s, the band had pretty much peaked, and the years of them topping the charts began to ebb after albums like “Emotional Rescue” and “Tattoo You.” I entered college after several years of listening to New Wave and Post-Punk music instead of the mainstream Pop/Rock I had been reared on. But by the mid 80s I began to come around to the merits of The Rolling Stones. I think it was simply down to being of adult age and finally “getting” The Blues and music based on it, like The Rolling Stones. Also around this time I began to see the truth in that people were either of a Beatles or a Stones disposition. I definitely saw the merit in The Rolling Stones versus the tiresome, vastly overrated Beatles. I knew where my sympathies lay.

By 1986, I can remember getting “Hot Rocks 1964-1971” on CD and that was great stuff from start to finish. A year or two later I immediately bought the “Singles Collection – The London Years” for a more complete look at their early canon; B-sides included. I traded off “Hot Rocks” since it was now superseded by this more complete box. I also knew enough the next year to jump on a German import of “Hot Rocks 1” with the knowledge that it had the true stereo versions of many songs in the “London Years” box for comparison and contrast.

Then, in 1989, I made the leap to contemporary Rolling Stones. I was getting in deep. I really enjoyed their “back from the brink” single “Mixed Emotions” after it looked like the Glimmer Twins would be throwing in the towel during their protracted mid-80s spat. Since I was buying CD singles at the time, I made sure to get the three singles from “Steel Wheels” which came with modern remixes [Thompson/Barbieri, Don Was]. So: “Mixed Emotions,” Rock + A Hard Place” and “Terrifying” all came into the Record Cell. The latter on a cute CD-3, and each with a ragged, raw, bluesy B-side that sounded like it was hammered out in 90 minutes. The best of both worlds!

The last 20 years has seen my fandom increase to the point where I finally got some of the band’s admittedly fantastic “classic Rock” period with the run of “Beggars’ Banquet,” “Let It Bleed,” “Sticky Fingers,” and the DLX RM of “Exile On Main Street” [complete with bonus disc of unfinished/rare cuts which sounded great]. The “Beggar’s Banquet” issue was the modern SACD which had a hybrid CD layer I can listen to on any CD player. My ears popped then I heard what DSD mastering sounded like even when dithered down to CD resolution. The disc in question was in the $2.00 bin at my local Mr. K’s [not the first time I’ve gotten a hybrid SACD in their cheapie bin!] When I popped it in the car I was treated to “Sympathy For The Devil” that was more vibrant and dimensional than ever. It made the ABKCO late 80s mastering on “The London Years” sound flat and lifeless.

When I saw the US promo [complete with holy WEA DSKO cataklog number] 12″ of “Miss You” a dozen or so years ago, I snapped it up. By that time I saw “Miss You” as peerless Rock Disco; light years ahead of other attempts in the era. [Rod “The Mod” Stewart] I was happy to have the 12″ mix by Bob Clearmountain to hear. I also got “Some Girls” and was prepared to like it a lot more than when it came out and it was played incessantly on the FM Rock airwaves.

I had wanted “Stripped” when came out in 1993 as it was one of the first “enhanced” CDs with videos added, but it really was a great acoustic live album. A few years ago I found the “Forty Licks” compilation at a garage sale for 25¢ and how could I not spring for that? It had some then contemporary material not on any albums as well as many singles that came after they parted ways with Allen Klein in 1972 that were not in my other compilations. For the last 20 years, I’d say I was ready to listen to any Rolling Stones album. That I don’t have more of them is down to my legendary cheapness. It makes me ill that I had wanted “Let It Bleed” for at least a quarter century before acting on that urge.

So yes, I’m down with The Rolling Stones. I’d be interested in hearing their full story; warts and all, at this point. The band has been almost frozen in amber for the last 30 years with their commercial relevance diminished considerably from their 70s pomp, but as a cultural touchstone, the notion of a “Stones tour” remains as viable as ever. No one may care about the band’s contemporary music. Their last Top 40 showing was in 1989 with “Rock + A Hard Place” at #23. They only have managed five albums in the last half of their 59 year career! But people will still jam into stadiums for a Stones concert. I have actually thought that I might enjoy the band live for the last 30 years, but there’s no way I would ever subject myself to a stadium show ever again. No, with this band the only way to see them would be one of their semi-legendary secret club warmup shows that there was zero chance of that ever happening for me. Not where I live and not in the circles I’m in.

I have said for years that the band should give up all of the trend-chasing that bit them on the ankles in the 70s and 80s and just played age appropriate music for old men who like The Blues. Their country leanings from their imperial period was something I had been waiting for them to pick up again. A few of the new songs they put on “Forty Licks” were in this vein and pretty good. I was encouraged to see that their last album from five years ago was all Blues covers. I still need to hear that one.

So now Charlie Watts is gone. And for years the members of the band have said that when Charlie’s gone, that’s it. Finito. Obviously, they had a tour planned and that’s happening any day now, with provisions made for it to happen even before Charlie stepped away, much less died, so it was a graven in stone event. Big money tours by The Gods of Rock always are. So they will tour stages without the band’s “engine room” as they have referred to it. The big question for me is what happens after the current tour is wrapped up. Will they have the guts to walkaway from The Rolling Stones after 60 years? I hope so. Below is my small, but interesting Rolling Stones collection. I know it’s a shock to see them here at PPM since they had nothing to do with New Wave or Post-Punk, correct? But that’s a rather limited perspective, as we’ll see tomorrow. In the meantime, all the best to Charlie’s family and bandmates.

Next… The Night The Stones Went Post-Punk

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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13 Responses to Charlie Watts: 1941-2021

  1. diskojoe says:

    Very sad to hear about Mr. Watts. A great drummer & more importantly someone who basically kept his head around him right in the middle of the hurricane that is the Stones. My very first purchase @ the Record Exchange was a copy of December’s Children for $2.99 followed by Flowers & Out of Our Heads & Some Girls as a gift back in the day. You have a pretty good collection there, but you need a bit more Brian Jones. The Mono Box Set is the one stop place to go, w/both US & UK versions of some of their early albums.


  2. Tim says:

    My late brother was a huge stones fan so I heard all of it growing up. My arc is kinda like yours but a combination of hindsight via age and sentimentality for something that my brother passionately loved when it came to music..For me it’s pretty basic, give me a good singles collection and that’ll hit the everything that I like by them.
    Beatles or the Stones? I’m more an Elvis guy (Costello or Presley works for me).


  3. Echorich says:

    Goodbye to Charlie Watts, the sensible Stone.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s not strange to see them here at all. The Stones are a foundation of rock and or roll. Each sub genre and offshoot owes them a debt. The biggest and best rock and roll band of all time for all time. Charlie was the class in the act, you’re right about that. Our ages must be very similar and we got The Stones differently at different times. I fell in with Goats Head Soup and Let It Bleed and am all about Undercover and Tattoo You these days. I have a soft spot for the Steel Wheels singles too though. A very well written piece on the end of a whole era. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      steveforthedeaf – Our ages aren’t too similar of you got “Pandora’s Box” for your 18th birthday. I’m definitely older. “Goats Head Soup” and “Black + Blue” are my “Tonight” and “Never Let Me Down” of The Stones canon. I’d like to save them for last in my further exploration. “Let It Bleed” was all that and more for me. Buying used CDs in my city is almost impossible now, so I don’t know when and if I’ll make any great leaps of progress on my Stones Project®. But I’m ready for it. I especially want to hear the early Jones-era albums. I’m guessing that there are distinct US/UK splits on those titles as with The Beatles. [checks] Yeah…I hate that. It’s why I don’t own a copy of “The Clash!”

      Liked by 1 person

  5. bpdp3 says:

    Nice post, monk.

    As I was discovering music, ‘emotional rescue’ was their current lp. With ‘Tattoo you’ I bought the lp, and you start to realize the Stones, anchored by Charlie, were just always around. He did always come across as more of a craftsman than a ‘rock star’, didn’t he?

    If you prefer to think of them as a blues band, please try to hear ‘blue and lonesome’, their 2016 (and last?) album. Just the guys doing old blues standards (ala their early albums). It’s wonderful. Jagger’s harmonica is downright incendiary. This should’ve gotten more press.

    My fave Stones song? I’ve really been partial to ‘street fighting man’ lately. I love how jagger subverts the (then current) lyric to ‘dancin in the street’. The tugging nature of the opening verse’s melody sound kinda thuggish, like one who might fight in the street. And Charlie just pushes this thing forward.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      bpdp3 – “Emotional Rescue” was a strange one. I hated it when it came out, but if I hear it now, I will fall into that luscious vibe for days. The way that hesitant bass line from Ron Wood [Wyman was playing synths on the track] danced with Charlie is mesmerizing.

      Favorite Rolling Stones song is a tough one. “The Last Time” always does it for me. I like the nod to country and soul on it. The apocalyptic “Midnight Rambler” has more of Jagger’s great harmonica playing and a palpable sense of dread I like. Then there’s ‘Undercover Of The Night.”


      • Mr. Ware says:

        I’m in agreement there Mr. Monk. If I had to pick one song to play for someone who had never heard a note from the Stones, “The Last Time” sums it up perfectly. Do you ever think of your favorite bands in the context of having to pick one song that sums up what they were all about?


        • postpunkmonk says:

          Mr. Ware – That’s a tough call. Most bands I like are pretty multifaceted. “The Last Time” does hit all of the early Stones marks right on the dot, though. And it swings like hell.


  6. Taffy says:

    My Stones education began with hearing Angie and It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll on top 40 radio, but my college (and early album-buying) years coincided with the Some Girls/Emotional Rescue/Tattoo You era, so i have an unreasonably huge affection for those records. I did eventually get into the earlier stuff via Hot Rocks, but I always return to my first loves! Anyway, bidding a fond farewell to the dapper Mr Watts.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – Hard to believe, but I still need to hear “Emotional Rescue” and “Tattoo You.” I always thought that “Waiting On A Friend” was such a great single with dreamy Sonny Rollins sax. And yes, he was a sharp dressed man!


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