Even if you haven’t heard their music, you probably have heard of them. The iconic red lip and tongue logo, their words of wisdom, and its everlasting mark in history, The Rolling Stones is an English rock band that has taken the world by storm since the 1960s.
Initially a graphic artist, Charlie Robert Watts became the drumming heartbeat to this legendary band since 1963. With a successful 58 year career of playing different styles such as rock, jazz, and blues with them, Watts has earned his right to be regarded as one of the greatest drummers of all time.
Charlie Watts was born on June 2, 1941 in London, England at the University College Hospital of Bloomsberry. He then grew up in Wembley, Middlesex where he experienced the harsh realities of World War II as Luttwaffe bombs destroyed many of the houses in the area.
However, he was never truly frightened. In fact, this was around the time he discovered his profound love for music, especially jazz along with his good friend, Dave Green.
As an early teen, Watts was eager to learn an instrument to play.
He got himself a banjo but he didn’t particularly enjoy working out the fingerings for songs. Instead, he removed the neck from the banjo, put its head on a stand, and played it like it was a snare drum. He would use brushes as the drumsticks and he would mimic styles of other drummers such as Chico Hamilton.
His parents saw great promise in him and got him a cheap drum kit in 1955.
After leaving art school at Harrow Art School, Watts worked as a graphic designer for an advertising company known as Charlie Daniels Studios. He never let go of his love for music as he would occasionally play drums at coffee shops and clubs with some local bands.
In 1958, he and Green began their musical careers in a jazz band known as Jo Jones All Stars. However, rhythm and blues became a hot trend at the time and Alexis Korner invited him to join his band, Blues Incorporated. He took the job and played with Korner according to his schedule.
His audience grew marvelously and it caught the attention of another group, the Rolling Stones, who thought Watts was their perfect fit and approached him.
Initially, Watts decided to stay with Blues Incorporated but when the band offered him 5 pounds a week to play with them, he took it up and played his first show with them in February 1963. From there, the band simply flourished and gained a strong reputation for their live acts.
They went on to sign with London Records who distributed their recordings across North America. Their first single “Come On” was a decent hit and they released their debut album in 1964 with “Time Is On My Side” becoming their first Top Ten hit in the U.S. In 1965, they released “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and they simply blew up internationally.
They continued to grow and spent the next decades known as the Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World.
Despite Watt’s success with the Rolling Stones, it didn’t stop him from venturing into different bands and sounds. In the late 1970s, he joined Ian Stewarts in the band Rocket 88 which featured many of UK’s top R&B, jazz, and rock musicians.
In the 1980s he toured worldwide with a big band known as The Charlie Watts Orchestra which included some members of Rocket 88 including Jack Bruce, Evan Parker and Courtney Pine.
In 1991 he came up with a jazz quintet as a tribute to Charlie Parker and released Warm and Tender in 1993.
In 1997 Watts ventured further to create a techno/instrumental album with Jim Keltner known as “Charlie Watts/Jim Keltner Project”.
In 2009 he happily agreed to started playing with the ABC&D of Boogie Woogie along with Dave Green playing bass.
Watts would mostly use the ‘57 Round Badge Natural Maple Wood Gretsch while being with The Rolling Stones as well as most of his jazz plays. Other times he would use the Ludwig Black Oyster Pearl Downbeat Drum Kit.
During his tours in Europe he played on the 1940 Slingerland Radio King Set with a big 24” bass drum and huge toms.
Watts would normally stick to Zildjian cymbals with their 14” A New Beat HiHats, 18” A Avedis Crash/Ride, 20” FX Oriental Crash of Doom, 18” Oriental China Trash, 18” A China High, 16” A Thin Crash, as well as his special cymbal, 22” Swish Knocker.
Watts always used his signature stick - the Vic Firth Charlie Watts Signature Drumsticks.
Watts would often use Remo Controlled Sound Clear Black Dot drumheads.
As a successful entertainer, he branched out to become an actor and made several TV appearances including (among others):
Throughout his illustrious career, Watts has earned and received numerous awards for his contributions to the music industry. Some of his notable awards and nominations would include 12 nominations at the Grammy awards with 3 wins for Best Rock Album and Best Music Video, Short Film in 1995 as well as Best Traditional Blues Album in 2018.
In 2006, he was also voted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame issued by Modern Drummer. Often regarded as one of the greatest drummers of all time, he was also ranked 12th on the “Greatest Drummers of All Time” list by Rolling Stone in 2016.
An unfortunate end to a wondrous legacy, Watts passed away on August 24, 2021 at a London Hospital with his family around him.
It was later revealed in 2022 by his bandmate, Keith Richards that the rock sensation had actually been battling throat cancer since 2004 which led to the cause of his death.
Apart from his family, many other celebrities, rock musicians, and friends paid their tributes to Watts and some performed covers of his songs as a way to remember the legend.
Charlie Watts started playing the drums in 1955 at the age of 14.
Charlie Watts died on 24 August 2021 at the age of 80.
Charlie Watts played the drums for 66 years.
Throughout his career Charlie Watts has used Gretsh, Ludwig, Slingerland, Zildjian, Vic Firth, Remo, Electro-Voice, Shure, Neumann and AKG.
He is known for playing Rock and Jazz.
Counting all his Albums with the Rolling Stones and Solo Work, Charlie Watts has been featured on at least 35 recordings.
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