Charlie Watts, gentleman, scholar and drummer at large was 73 this year. Here’s a short tribute.
Famously, at the live show captured on Get Your Ya Yas Out Mick Jagger informs the patrons that,’Charlie’s good tonight ain’t he!’. Well yes Mick he certainly was and then some. Charlie Watts has been the heartbeat of the Rolling Stones for half a century and more providing calm craft in the midst of all the hoopla and madness.
While he has surely seen about everything a man can see he has remained steadfastly and stoically himself – a wry, unimpressable observer who loves to listen to his beloved jazz and play the drums with the scratchy rhythm and blues band who somewhat to his amazement transformed themselves into the greatest rock and roll band the planet has ever produced.
Charlie’s role in the band is crucial to the DNA of the band’s unique sound. Keith is released to sway and swagger to his heart’s content because Charlie is always there behind him urging him on and on while being ready to catch him if like an over ambitious trapeze flyer it looks like he might fall. Whatever else has changed that partnership has endured and thrived through the years ensuring the distinctive leery vitality of the band remains in rude good health
One of the many glories of the Stones is the majestic way in which they build and hold tension in their rockers – say Tumbling Dice or Brown Sugar. You’ll notice how groups covering the Stones almost always rush and ruin the songs because they can’t match the rhythmic control marshalled by Charlie. While he is the engineer driving the awesome power of the Stones streamliner in full flight he is also the brakeman making sure they make it round the sharp turns safely and arrive on time at their destination. The listening audience are taken up, held and thrilled as the band anchored by Charlie progress through their set taking care to pace themselves – allowing ballad breaks before the celebrated avalanche ending sends everybody home exhausted and elated.
Charlie Watts is the zen master of rock drumming. His inherent restraint, informed by the jazz heritage he so treasures, allows him to play what needs to be played and nothing more. He is at the service of the music, the sound and the dynamic shape of the individual song. No band has been better served by its drummer than the Rolling Stones.
So, as the Rolling Stones embark on one more last hurrah Charlie will endure the travelling, the media and the endless waiting for the wonderful pleasures of those few hours on stage when he can just play the music along with his faithful companions of so many years.
Charlie was fabulous in 1964, fantastic in 1974, fervour filled in 1984 and 1994 and remained unflashily fluent in 2004. Things will be no different in 2014. So, if you’re in the audience make sure that you really put your hands together for the drummer!