Charlie Watts, RIP

Here’s an obit from Variety. I’m sure in the next few days we’ll see many more.

He was one of the best drummers, in rock or outside it, and equally, the coolest drummer in rock by far. He dressed for the job he wanted, and the job he had.

And while there are any number of performances of his to list as the best, here’s my personal favorite, from “Start Me Up,” where the initial snare hit is as iconic as the opening guitar riff. It all works exactly as it should, and Watts makes a magnificently on-point drum performance look like no big deal. It’s a big deal, folks. Behind the preening of Jagger in the video is Watts’ rock-solid beat. You couldn’t have the first without the second.

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— JS

By John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

19 replies on “Charlie Watts, RIP”

Watts consistently sits just behind the beat in so many Rolling Stones songs. He didn’t clutter up the empty space, generally leaving the guitar front and center, because when you’ve got Keith Richards in your band, that’s the clear choice. But while his playing was extraordinarily musical, that musicality was never showy. Take that first snare hit in Start Me Up, for example: it’s on the “one,” kicking things off in an unexpected, counter-intuitive, but utterly simple single beat. I don’t think he comes back to that move again for the rest of the song, because why would he? And by the second four-bar phrase, things have settled into the groove we know and love. It’s spot on.

I’m self described as ‘musically challenged’ but really gets to me is that Charlie Watts and the Rolling Stones were contemporaries of the Beatles. One had their decade of everlasting fame, the other is still touring and expected to be immortal.

My opinion: the very best thing about Start Me Up is the repeated line “You make a grown man cry,” which I thought was all too appropriate in the theme song for Windows 95.

The Stones performed during lockdown on British TV. Charlie didn’t have a drum kit where he was, but was there on his webcam, eyes closed, keeping perfect time to the backing track on an imaginary set and obviously having the time of his life. He will be sorely missed.

Watts, first and foremost a jazz drummer, once told an interviewer that his performance on Sympathy for the Devil was inspired by Kenny Clarke’s performance on Art Blakey’s A Night in Tunisia.

See what you think.

One time, Mick Jagger woke Charlie in the middle of the night, screaming down the phone at him “Where’s my fucking drummer?”

So Charlie got up, washed, shaved, put on a suit and tie and a pair of freshly polished shoes, then walked to Mick’s place. Upon the door being opened, Charlie punched the face, said “Don’t ever call me ‘your drummer’ again. You’re my fucking singer”, and went home.


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