The Associated Press and staff reports
LONDON — Charlie Watts, the self-effacing and unshakeable Rolling Stones drummer who helped anchor one of rock’s greatest rhythm sections and used his “day job” to support his enduring love of jazz, has died, according to his publicist. He was 80.
Bernard Doherty said Tuesday that Watts “passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family.”
“Charlie was a cherished husband, father and grandfather, and also as a member of The Rolling Stones, one of the greatest drummers of his generation,” Doherty said.
Watts had announced he would not tour with the Stones in 2021 because of an undefined health issue.
The quiet, elegantly dressed Watts was often ranked with Keith Moon, Ginger Baker and a handful of others as a premier rock drummer, respected worldwide for his muscular, swinging style as the Stones rose from their scruffy beginnings to international superstardom. He joined the band early in 1963 and remained for almost 60 years, ranked just behind Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as the group’s longest lasting and most essential member.
Watts stayed on, and largely held himself apart, through the drug abuse, creative clashes and ego wars that helped kill founding member Brian Jones, drove bassist Bill Wyman and Jones’ replacement Mick Taylor to quit, and otherwise made being in the Stones the most exhausting of jobs.
A classic Stones song like “Brown Sugar” and “Start Me Up” often began with a hard guitar riff from Richards, with Watts following closely behind, and Wyman, as the bassist liked to say, “fattening the sound.” Watts’ speed, power and timekeeping were never better showcased than during the concert documentary “Shine a Light,” when director Martin Scorsese filmed “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” from where he drummed toward the back of the stage.
Watts didn’t care for flashy solos or attention of any kind, but with Wyman and Richards forged some of rock’s deepest grooves on “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar” and other songs. The drummer adapted well to everything from the disco of “Miss You” to the jazzy “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and the dreamy ballad “Moonlight Mile.”
The young Rolling Stones come to Albany in 1965
Editor’s note: While the Rolling Stones performed at the then-Pepsi Arena in Albany on Sept. 17, 2005, it was the group’s first local appearance that stands out in the minds of many fans. The following are excerpts from Brenton Blanchet’s Gazette story on Sept. 23, 2020, marking just over 55 years since the group’s April 29, 1965, shows at Albany’s Palace Theatre.
The most important show Eddie Angel has ever attended — at least “historically” speaking — could never be his favorite.
Sure, he was just a 12-year-old Albany kid when the Rolling Stones blew his mind at the Palace Theatre on April 29, 1965. It had all the ingredients for a legendary moment in the Capital Region music scene and it was the first concert the now-Nashville-based guitarist and leader of Los Straightjackets ever remembers attending.
But it also stunk. … The Stones only played three songs before everyone got kicked out.
“All it was, was kids screaming,” Angel said. “They started playing, but [Mick] Jagger’s microphone started shorting out, cutting out. After three songs, he just got disgusted and they left. I got ripped off, man.”
WTRY presented two shows by the Rolling Stones on April 29, with one at 6:45 p.m. and another at 8:45 p.m., both featuring openers the Sundowners and the Knickerbockers — a group known for its Beatles sound-alike hit “Lies.” According to coverage in the April 30 edition of the Times Union, the group met fans before and between gigs, looking both “half-bored and half-amused.” During that time, Jagger ordered cheeseburgers and a coke, Brian Jones was playing with a slinky and Charlie Watts sat with his wife, Shirley.
Longtime Stones fans still look at the shows as an experience like no other. The first show may have been a bit of a dud due to its less-than-quality runtime, but those who attended the second show that day — including now-”SpongeBob SquarePants” songwriter Andy Paley, who lived in Halfmoon at the time, and WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas — enjoyed a full set, with closer and then-single “The Last Time” giving the 2,800-capacity crowd a proper send-off.
Bobby Dick, lead singer of the Capital Region’s iconic ’60s rock group the Sundowners, was only 18 when he got the important gig, via a WTRY connection, of opening for the Stones.
And he said a lack of communication occurred during that first show as the Stones were forced to use the Sundowners’ equipment and there were technical problems.
Before the shows took place, the excitement for the Stones was obvious.
Angel recalls “everybody starting a band” after the Beatles formed.
“Everybody was in a band or wanted to be in a band,” Angel said. “And it seemed like every week, a new record was coming out from England that was mind-blowing. Looking back, I’m pretty amazed that there were that many teenagers into the Rolling Stones at that point in time. They had ‘The Last Time,’ ‘Time is On My Side,’ but how was that appealing to teenagers? But it did. These British musicians just seemed like they landed from another planet.”
While the Stones weren’t necessarily the Stones at the time — as “Satisfaction” didn’t hit airwaves until a bit later in ‘65 — the excitement for the show was undeniable.
“They didn’t have an awful lot of hits at that time,” Lucas said. “It was just before ‘Satisfaction’ came out, and that was the song that rooted them in the culture. A couple weeks after the show, someone in their organization gave one of the DJs at WTRY a copy of ‘Satisfaction.’ ”
Recalling the Palace shows, Lucas, who was 14 at the time, said he got a ride to the Palace from a friend’s mother. During the show, on each side of him, were screaming girls.
“Throughout the whole concert, on either side of me, [girls] were screaming at the top of their lungs. My ears are still ringing today from that.”
Paley — who was seated toward the front of the venue for the second show — remembers things similarly. He was 13 years old and his sisters brought him along to the concert.
“I don’t remember anything about the mechanics of getting tickets, I was just the one they brought along to the show,” Paley said. “And I was super, super excited.”