Keith Richards was once quoted as saying how The Rolling Stones are actually drummer Charlie Watts’ band. “When Charlie quits, the Stones are over.”
Those words are weighing heavily on music fans worldwide this August 24th, 2021 over the news of Mr. Watts passing away at the age of 80. The only drummer the Tongue and Lips have ever known had undergone an undisclosed medical procedure earlier this month. His band of 58 years were scheduled to resume their “No Filter” tour on September 26th in St. Louis, which would have been the first concerts ever without their jazz-influenced percussionist.
Despite his obviously advanced age and recent health issue, Watts’ death still comes as a shock. He had a cancer scare in 2004, where he quipped with his dry British wit how, “It seems that whenever we stop, I get ill. So maybe we should carry on!” Besides Richards and Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts is the only Rolling Stones member to be featured on every single studio album (27 if you count the UK/US releases prior to 1967).
Watts and wife Shirley Ann (née Shepherd) have been married for almost as long as he’s been in The Rolling Stones. They have a daughter named Seraphina as well as granddaughter Charlotte.
In those early days Watts also designed the emerging rock and rollers’ record sleeves due to his training as a graphic artist. There is a great passage about Watts in the book The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ’n’ Roll Rivalry by co-author Greg Kot which I feel sums him up to a T:
“I do remember seeing the back cover of the Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks in my youth and thinking, ‘This guy Charlie is the most intriguing, scariest guy in this band, just by the way he looks.’ Then you see him drumming with that very erect posture, his hands barely seeming to move, and you realize he’s the exact opposite of these flamboyant Sixties rock drummers like Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, or John Bonham.”
All content on RollingStones.com has been replaced with a simple photo of a smiling, well-dressed-as-always Charlie Watts against a black background. RIP to a music great.
The most repeated “Charlie Story” in Rolling Stones lore is probably the one where an inebriated Mick Jagger called Watts’ hotel room in the middle of the night asking where “his drummer” was. Legend has it Watts took the time to shave and put on a suit and tie before marching over, knocking on Jagger’s door and then punching him in the nose while saying, “Don’t ever call me your drummer again, you’re MY $#@%ing singer!”
As sad a memory as it may be now, the last time The Rolling Stones were across the pond and north of the border with Charlie Watts will forever be June 29th, 2019 at the Burl’s Creek Event Grounds in Oro-Medonte.
According to research I did prior to that event, the Stones have had thirty shows as a band in Toronto, with the earliest look any Canadian would have got of these yobs out of England being April 25th 1965 at Maple Leaf Gardens (in the days when the local hockey team actually won Stanley Cups).
The Carlton Street Cashbox will forever hold the informal record of presenting The Rolling Stones k the most times in Toronto at seven. The former SkyDome, now Rogers Centre, is right behind with six appearances. I’m sure there are a few diehards who have attended every single stadium-sized extravaganza, plus the four one-shot deals at Air Canada Centre, but any way you slice it that’s well over a half million people who have seen them live in Toronto alone. Or almost as many who purport to have been at Downsview Park in 2003 for SARSfest.
One thing I always used to joke about the Stones is to never, ever say this may be “the last time” but now with Charlie Watts gone, this really may be it and that’s downright heartbreaking. Not just for me, I’m sure, but thankfully there’s a lot of great music he’s left behind, literally.