Best Charlie Watts Rolling Stones Stories: Mick Jagger Fight
Photo: Michael Putland / Getty Images
Despite being part of one of the most famous bands of all time, Charlie Watts was never the classic “rock star”. Unlike the outsized personalities of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the late Rolling Stones drummer was calm, often ambivalent about fame, and more comfortable playing jazz in a club than fighting in a crowded stadium. But it’s that temper, coupled with his skills behind the kit, that kept the Stones running for almost 60 years. “Charlie is still here, but he doesn’t want everyone to know it,” Richards once said. “There are very few drummers like that. Everyone thinks Mick and Keith are the Rolling Stones. If Charlie wasn’t doing what he is doing on drums, that wouldn’t be true at all. You will find that Charlie Watts is the stones.”
In the wake of his death Tuesday at the age of 80, revisit some of the stories about Watts’ eccentricities, stoicism and unfazed nature that made him one of the greatest drummers of all time and, from far, the most shocking Interesting stone.
There are a few versions of this story, but the gist is the same – after a night out in Amsterdam with Richards, Jagger drunkenly called Watts’ hotel room at 5 a.m. and asked, “Where is my drummer? When Watts picked up. Irritated, Watts got out of bed, shaved, dressed perfectly in a bespoke suit, went to Richards’ bedroom and punched Jagger in the face. The best version of the story ends with Watts saying, “Never call me your drummer again. You are my fucking singer! This detail is not included in Richards’ story, but the version of Keith, which appears in his autobiography Life, includes detail of Jagger falling on a platter of smoked salmon and almost falling out of the window into a canal. The only reason Richards stopped fighting? Jagger was wearing Keith’s wedding jacket.
Growing up, Watts listened almost exclusively to jazz rather than the 1950s rock idols of the time. “It’s partly because I was never a teenager,” he once said of his youth. “I’d be around talking about Kierkegaard. I always took myself too seriously and thought Buddy Holly was a good joke. If he then turned to rock’n’roll through blues, he never lost his love of jazz. When the Stones were on hiatus, he recorded several albums in the genre and performed with his own bands, including Boogie Woogie’s ABC & D, which featured his childhood friend Dave Green on double bass.
Watts performed as a drummer while working a day at an advertising agency, eventually joining Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, a band with a fluid line-up that included Jagger and future Cream bassist Jack Bruce, among others. He befriended the Stones from a young age, telling them once they needed to get “a fucking good drummer,” a role he didn’t think would work. As they passed stickmen on bikes, they still hoped he would agree to join them, which he eventually did in 1963, with Korner’s encouragement. Pianist Ian Stewart, who became best known as the unofficial sixth member of the band, recalled how it all happened: “I said to Charlie, ‘Look, you’re in the band. That’s it.’ And Charlie said, ‘Yeah, okay, but I don’t know what my mom is going to say.’ He didn’t have the highest hopes for the band – in 1981 he said five minutes, but I thought I would live those five minutes to the full because I love them.
Although he was silent in most interviews, he liked to laugh. Stewart previously described him with Richards as “a fucking comedy crew” and posing with a donkey on the cover of the live album. Take out Yer Ya Ya! is a classic. Then there’s this letter he wrote to Rolling stone after reviewer Jon Landau shot their 1967 album The request of their satanic majesties while renting Watts’ battery:
The group is coming No filter The tour would mark the first time Watts had not performed with the Stones since his arrival, a remarkable achievement given his age and sporadic health issues. At the height of the Stones’ debauchery in the 1970s, Watts was relatively sober, but his use of alcohol, heroin, and amphetamines became a habit in the early 1980s. Richards, the notorious drug addict, was part of the reason Watts got sober. “I passed out in the studio, and it was a blatant lack of professionalism for me. Keith came and got me – it’s Keith, who I’ve seen in all kinds of states doing all kinds of things – and he said, “That’s the kind of thing you do when you’re 60” , Watts later remembers.
He stopped everything, cold turkey, after falling down a staircase and breaking his ankle. “It really made me realize how down I had been,” he said in 2000. “I just quit everything – drinking, smoking, doing drugs, everything, all at once. I just thought, Enough is enough. “Despite quitting smoking, Watts developed throat cancer in 2004, but beat it after surgeries and six weeks of radiation therapy.
Watts met Shirley Ann Shepherd in 1961 during her first rehearsal with Korner’s band and they married three years later, making him the first Stone to marry. She stayed with him through all of his celebrity and drug addiction issues, and together they had a daughter, Seraphina, and two grandchildren.
“She’s an amazing woman,” he once said. “The only regret I have in this life is that I’ve never been home enough. But she always says when I leave the tour that I’m a nightmare and tells me to go back.
Whether it was a correspondence or an autograph on one of his artwork, Watts would sign things with “CR Watts (drummer, The Rolling Stones)”. Even Halsdon Arabians, the horse farm he owned with Shirley, currently has “Mr. and Mrs. CR Watts, owners” on his contact page.
One of Watts’ complaints about life on the road is that he had trouble sleeping because he had no one to sleep with. Thus, he spent the time in his hotel rooms drawing his beds. “I keep a drawing journal. I’ve drawn all the beds I’ve slept in on tour since 1967. It’s a fantastic off-book. I used to take a lot of things that keep you awake, and I had nothing to do. So I registered all these hotel rooms, ”he said. Rolling stone in 1996. “The good thing is it’s visual, and it just goes on and on, and you think, ‘is this ever gonna end? You have Washington in ’67, then you have Washington a few years ago, and it’s kind of the same.
To relax before the concerts, Watts would stand backstage and perform a series of hip movements that amused Richards endlessly. He said he got the routine from the dancers at the famous Cotton Club of New York. See it in action:
Inspired by his father’s love for bespoke clothing, Watts has become somewhat of an expert in the fashion world, owning over 200 suits. He cited Fred Astaire and jazz legends like Miles Davis and Duke Ellington as style inspirations and landed on the best dressed lists of Vanity Show and GQ.
Watts collected vintage cars purely for their looks, as he did not have a driver’s license. “Charlie is a great English eccentric,” said Richards. “I mean, how else can you describe a guy who buys a 1936 Alfa Romeo just to look at the dashboard?” I can’t drive, I just sit there and watch him. His bandmate, Ronnie Wood, once claimed that Watts also had bespoke suits designed to match each of his cars, just to look appropriate for the period while sitting in them and listening to the engines spinning. .
In addition to his love of fashion and vintage cars, Watts’ fixation on visuals led him to write a comic book about Charlie Parker, featuring the back cover of the 1967 Stones LP. Between the buttons, and help design their massive stage rigs alongside Mick Jagger. As Richards once said, it was more than just a love of the arts: “At the end of the show, he’ll leave the stage, and the sirens will ring, the limos will wait, and Charlie will go back to his drums and change. the position of his 2-millimeter sticks. Then he will look at it. So if it looks good, he’ll go. He has this aesthetic concern, this vision of what things should be like that no one will ever know except Charlie. The drums are about to be taken apart and put in the back of a truck, and it can not leave if he has it in mind that he left his sticks in an unpleasant way. It’s so zen.
It’s not that Watts didn’t like hearing drum solos – he would often tell people to go see Buddy Rich’s – but the man never liked doing them himself. “I can’t really do them,” he said in 2012. “I’m sick of halfway trying to do one, so I don’t really do it. hearing other people do them, some other people. I’m more interested in the drums as an accompaniment. I’ve always been like that. When I was young, a lot of records that I liked when I was young were really more on the rhythm section than a drum solo.
Going back decades, Watts has repeatedly stated that he would be fine if the Stones called him, but that he would be lost without the drums. “For me, there is no other way of life. If tomorrow he packs his bags, fine. ‘C’est la vie’, as they say in Germany, ”he joked in 1973. In 1989, he explained that Shirley hated the noise he made at home, so he had no drums at home: “To play the drums I have to go on the road, and to go on the road I have to leave the house and it’s like a terribly vicious circle that has always been my life. I don’t like to live with suitcases. I hate being away from home. I always do tours thinking they are the last, and in the end I always leave the band.
As recently as 2018, he said, “I love playing drums and I love playing with Mick, Keith and Ronnie, I don’t know about the rest. I wouldn’t mind if the Rolling Stones said that’s it… that’s enough, ”before adding,“ I don’t know what I would do if I quit. Keith is perfect for saying that once you get there just keep going. The big worry for me is to be well enough.