Charlie Watts: The King of Rock’n’Roll Cool

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Think of all the things that have happened since 1963. In America the Civil Rights movement comes to mind, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Then there was the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, Nixon resigning.

Who can forget the fall of Saigon and the failure and rejection felt by many veterans. Then there was the attack and capture of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, Iran.

There was so much we could go on about, including 12 presidents in that time period from August of 1963 to this day, August 24, 2021. Fifty-seven years.

The one constant in all that time has been music. In 1963 we learned about the Fab Four, John, Paul, George and Ringo, better known as The Beatles. It’s easy to say “Everybody” loved The Beatles because everyone I knew loved The Beatles. Their musical journey in the 1960s was a series of historical snapshots, giving the music more dimensions as the pictures and album art became as notable as the music itself.

There was the British Invasion of the ’60s and some people were just a little miffed by it, but one band that came to our attention shortly after The Beatles were The Rolling Stones, the bad boys of rock’n’roll. They were such a bad influence we had Mick Jagger dance along contests on our block — and we had to do them when the parents weren’t looking.

We read about their wild partying and penchant for Southern Black Blues of the United States.

Over in the back of the band, sort of near bass player Bill Wyman sat the Rolling Stones drummer, Charlie Watts, the absolute coolest musician in rock music. When you were looking for the coolest people in Music there was Miles Davis and Charlie Watts. Charlie was a jazz drummer so it fits.

We watched the Rolling Stones on TV whenever we could, including the infamous Ed Sullivan appearance in January 1967 when the band was forced to change the lyrics to “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”

Every time, with or without censorship, there was Charlie Watts, on a drum riser behind Keith , Mick and Brian in the pocket, keeping it all together with that slight smile. Charlie was always the most captivating of the five and we couldn’t get enough of the TV cameramen focusing on him. If you were going to see the Rolling Stones watching Charlie Watts was job one.

My two older sisters saw the Stones with the (now deceased) Brian Jones. If you saw the Stones with Brian Jones then you are really effing old. My sisters were there in November 1967 at the Milwaukee Arena to see them. As an almost 12-year old I wanted to be there.

After that the Rolling Stones were so big we had to travel to Chicago to see them. In 1972 they played in Chicago with Mick Taylor replacing Brian Jones. Charlie was still there on the drum riser, looking very damn cool, still, in 1972.

The time they played Milwaukee County Stadium, June 8, 1975, I was off in Yuma, Arizona at the behest of the U.S. Marine Corps.

In my 65 years on this planet I’ve seen the Rolling Stones five times, including the Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Il, Alpine Valley Music Theatre. Then here in San Diego at Jack Murphy Stadium, October of 1994 (First time without Bill Wyman). And the last time: February 3, 1998 at the Murph, which had then been renamed Qualcomm.

After a while I just grew tired of rock concerts. Brent Mydland, Frank Zappa and then Jerry Garcia passed away in the early to mid 1990s, Bill Wyman stopped touring with the Stones and it just didn’t feel like fun. All those crowds for whom the concert was more about the drinking and partying then it was the music.

Just an aside: If you have to replace Bill Wyman on bass Darryl Jones is one of the very best players you can find.

Over the years I’ve watched some videos of the Rolling Stones, from the young years to the old. One of the things I enjoyed about watching them was seeing Charlie Watts on that drum riser.

Back when I was covering rock music for a living I got in trouble with readers for criticizing Keith Richards. If people were paying (at the time) $80 – $200 per ticket the man needs to strum more than two chords per song. I swear, the song would start, Keith would strum a couple chords then stop to light another cigarette. I called bullshit on it.

But I did like seeing Charlie up there on the riser, behind his kit and in the pocket, keeping the Rolling Stones on track.

Charlie Watts made a great career — getting noticed — for not getting in the way of his band mates. Charlie Watts wasn’t Neil Peart, not that there’s anything wrong with Neil Peart, but Charlie was no less a stand out drummer.

He played in jazz bands when he wasn’t working with the Stones. Versatility was the name of his game. Let Mick, Keith and Ronnie Wood take the spotlight, but when Mick introduced the band’s drummer (Everyone else is telling Keith’s story about Charlie and Mick) Charlie got the loudest ovation. Because he was always the coolest guy in the band.

A couple months ago it was announced Charlie would not be joining the band on its latest tour due to illness and his friend Steve Jordan would be sitting in. We all wished him well, concerned that if Charlie was going to stay home, he had to be very sick. Then we got the news this morning: Charlie Watts had died.

The 1960s are coming to a close, finally, as more of our cultural icons, like Charlie Watts leave this human existence. I can imagine my parents’ generation as their cultural icons passed on. Like that WWII generation, there will be players and entertainers that live to be 100. But they will be few and far between.

What matters most is that their music lives on long after these iconic musicians have gone on to the great reward, whatever that might be. There are hundreds of Rolling Stones videos on YouTube spanning the breadth of their career. Netflix has at least one documentary about the Rolling Stones, from their 2016 América Latina Olé Tour that ended in Cuba.

We can watch Charlie and the Stones until our dying days, enjoying that perfect drummer making it look so easy out shining the singer and flamboyant guitarist. I mean, Charlie‘s just sitting there, keeping his eye on the bass player and occasionally nodding at everyone else.

We could always tell Charlie liked being on stage. Playing for an audience is enough for some musicians, which is why we find so many, like Charlie Watts, playing small gigs in mostly unknown bands. The Rolling Stones may have made him wealthy, but it was the music that carried Charlie Watts. It will be the music that carries Charlie Watts into history and immortality.

Charles Robert Watts, June 2, 1941 — August 24, 2021. Rest In Peace.