Musician - Author
Charlie Watts -1941-2021
by Graham Sclater
Charlie (Charles Robert Watts) Watts was born on 2nd June 1941 at University College Hospital in Bloomsbury London.
He said, “I bought a banjo but I didn't like the dots on the neck. So, I took the neck off, and at the same time I heard a drummer called Chico Hamilton, who played with Gerry Mulligan, and I wanted to play like that, with brushes. I didn't have a snare drum, so I put the banjo head on a stand.” His parents eventually bought him his first drum kit in 1955, and continued to practise drumming along to his collection of jazz records.
After leaving Harrow Art School he worked as a graphic designer for an advertising company, Charlie Daniels Studios and evenings played drums with local bands in coffee shops and clubs. He said that his musical career really began in 1958, playing with, Jo Jones All Stars, a Middlesex based jazz band.
In 1961, Watts met Alexis Korner, who invited him to join his band, Blues Incorporated, but he declined, as he was about to travel to Denmark where again he worked as a graphic designer. When he returned to London in February1962 he finally joined Alexis Korner while he continued his job with another advertising company; Charles, Hobson and Grey.
In mid-1962 Watts met Brian Jones, Ian “Stu” Stewart, Tony Chapman, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards who also played regularly on the rhythm and blues circuit. But it was not until January 1963 that he finally agreed to join the Rolling Stones when he replaced, Tony Chapman, their original drummer. His first public appearance as a permanent member was at the Ealing Jazz Club on 2 February 1963 and he remained with the group for 58 years.
His experience as a graphic designer stood him in good stead and as well as designing four of their record sleeves, comic strips and promotional ideas for their record launches he also designed some of the impressive tour stages.
He, along with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are the band's longest serving members, and the only ones to have played on all of their thirty plus studio albums and singles.
The band were in the process of preparing a new box set for their album Tattoo You, which was originally released in August 1981, as a way to celebrate their 40th anniversary.
Watts was involved in many activities outside of his life as a member of the Rolling Stones and as his personal tastes lay principally in jazz. In the late 1970s he joined Ian Stewart, in Rocket 88, a back-to-the-roots boogie-woogie band which featured many of the UK's top jazz, rock. and R&B musicians. In the 1980s, he toured worldwide with a big band that included Evan Parker, Courtney Pine and Jack Bruce, who had also been a member of Rocket 88.
In 1991, he formed the Charlie Watts Quintet and in 1993 released the jazz-based album Warm and Tender, followed in 1996 by Long Ago and Far Away. This was followed by a techno/instrumental album simply entitled, Charlie Watts/Jim Keltner Project. He also recorded a live album with The Charlie Watts Tentet at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London.
In June 2004, Watts was diagnosed with throat cancer and underwent a course of
radiotherapy and was in remission but on 5 August of this year (2021), Watts chose to
sit out the imminent resumption of the U.S. No Filter Tour due to an unspecified medical
procedure, and that Steve Jordan would temporarily replace him on drums.
Watts lived near Dolton, here in Devon, with his wife, Shirley where they owned an
Arabian horse stud farm. He also owned a percentage of The Rolling Stones' various
Watts was elected into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2006 and the same year Vanity Fair elected him into the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame.
Variety stated on the day of his death that Watts is "universally recognized as one of the greatest rock drummers of all time".
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