(Photo by David Wolff – Patrick/Redferns)
The “heartbeat” of the Rolling Stones has stopped. Charlie Watts, the enigmatic drummer who played behind Sir Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood since 1963, passed away today at the age of 80 in a London hospital surrounded by his family. As the music world—and fans around the globe—reel at the news of his passing, we remember the man that sustained the beat to some of rock-and-roll’s greatest records. Richards, legendary riff-maker and the band’s lead guitarist since its inception, wrote in his 2010 biography:
If it hadn’t been for Charlie, I would never have been able to expand and develop. Number one with Charlie is that he’s got great feel. He had it then from the start. There’s tremendous personality and subtlety in his playing….He plays with humor too.Keith Richards, Life
A brilliant drummer profoundly influenced by American jazz, Charlie had been playing in rhythm and blues clubs around London when he met the then fledgling rock band which at that time included Richards, Jagger and the late Brian Jones. He had been moonlighting as the designer of the band’s record sleeves and stage tours before officially joining the group as the drummer. Watts played on every single Rolling Stones studio album, in the process, becoming an inspiration to legions of drummers everywhere.
Known for his quiet, cool demeanor and sly smile, Watts was also recognized for his elegant fashion sense, regularly making the world’s best dressed lists, even getting elected into the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame by Vanity Fair in 2006. Watts had many artistic interests outside of the Rolling Stones. In 1964 he published a cartoon tribute to jazz legend Charlie Parker entitled, Ode to a High Flying Bird. He remained an avid jazz fan throughout his life, performing with small bands he formed with friends in between tours and recording with the Stones. In his youth he was a polished cricket player, and he later bought an Arabian horse stud farm in Devon, in his native England.
Having maintained strong friendships with his bandmates throughout the years as they toured cities on nearly every continent, Watts became one of the most beloved musicians of all-time. Anyone with even the faintest knowledge of Rolling Stones history knows he will be sorely missed.
Charlie Watts is survived by his wife Shirley, daughter Seraphina, and granddaughter Charlotte. He also leaves behind his bandmates, many friends, and the broken hearts of millions rock and roll fans around the world. Rest easy, Charlie.