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Drummer Charlie Watts

An older white man with white hair wears a gray blazer and white button down shirt as he sits at the drums.
Richard Kerris
/
NPR
Charlie Watts at a London venue 2013.

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts died this year. Unlike other rock drummers, he cited jazz as a major influence on his style, and that gentler touch led to the unique sound of the Stones.

As a boy, Charlie Watts collected jazz and blues 78s, and he got his first drum kit at 14.

Watts went to art school, then worked as a graphic designer, playing jazz and blues at night in London clubs. He joined the Rolling Stones in 1963 and played with the band for 58 years.

Watts contributed graphic art to early Stones albums and, with Jagger, designed elaborate stages for their many themed tours, such as Steel Wheels and A Bigger Bang.

Charlie Watts is considered one of rock’s greatest drummers, and his unique style made the Rolling Stones' formula unique. Unlike most rock bands, where the drums lead the way, Watts allowed Keith Richards’ guitar to set the tone and tempo. In comparison to other leading drummers of his day like John Bonham of Led Zeppelin and Keith Moon of The Who, Watts had a gentle touch and left more space. At the same time, his playing was authoritative and driving.

Watts was musically active outside of the Stones, playing with original Rolling Stone Ian Stewart in the '70s and in the 1980s pursuing his first love — jazz — with his own big band The Charlie Watts Orchestra.

Watts’ personal life was much quieter than that of his flamboyant bandmates. A faithful husband, he had a love/hate relationship with touring. He said he “loved playing with Keith and the band” but wasn’t interested in being a pop idol.

His ability to change with the times sets Charlie Watts apart from other rock drummers, as the Stones successfully navigated the disco, punk and techno eras.

An example of Watts’ typically subtle yet brilliant drumming can be heard on the song "Beast of Burden."

Remembering drummer Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, who died in August. He was 80 years old.

John has worked as a professional bassist for 20 years, including a 15 year stint as Musical Director of the Mountain Stage radio program. John has been at KNKX since 1999 where he hosts “All Blues”, is producer of the BirdNote radio program, and co-hosts “Record Bin Roulette”. John is also the recording engineer for KNKX “In-Studio Performances”. Not surprisingly, John's main musical interests are jazz and blues, and he is still performing around Seattle.
Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.
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