In his autobiography, ‘Life’, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards says Charlie Watts “has always been the bed that I lie on musically”. That bed – the dapper, reserved drummer of the British rock group, who was the polar opposite of its flamboyant and raucous frontman Mick Jagger – has been moved out by the hand of God. Watts died on Tuesday in London, aged 80.
Earlier this month, Watts had undergone an emergency medical procedure for an unspecified condition, which was the reason he was not named for the Stones’ scheduled ‘No Filter’ tour of the US.
For millions of Stones fans around the world, the man universally acclaimed as the best rock drummer of his generation, who defined immortal numbers such as ‘Paint It, Black’, ‘Ruby Tuesday’ and ‘Honky Tonk Women’, will be missed – and how!
Watts, the son of a truck driver, started out as a graphic artist with a London advertising agency (a compulsive artist, he later lent his creativity to the designs of the live sets, album jackets and merchandise of the Stones). He played drums in the evenings, earning a tidy sum, which made it difficult for the Rollin’ Stones (as the band was then called) to hire him initially. It was in early 1963 that he finally joined the group on a princely sum of five pounds a week.
And he was there, like a rock, a picture of sobriety when the Stones made news not only for their record-breaking albums, but also for their debauched lifestyles and internecine internal bickering, then ironically getting addicted to amphetamines when the rest of his band mates were reforming themselves as they hit their 40s, and finally, going back to complete sobriety, just not interested, as he wrote in his autobiography, “in being a pop idol sitting there with girls screaming”.
Famous for his immaculate Savile Row suits, Watts was on ‘Vanity Fair’ magazine’s International Best Dressed Hall of Fame in 2006 (an honour also accorded to him by the ‘Daily Telegraph’ newspaper). In the same year, ‘Modern Drummer’ magazine inducted him into its Hall of Fame, where he was in the company of the likes of Ringo Starr and Buddy Rich.
Besides art and music, if Watts had a passion, it was to breed prized Arabian horses, which he did on his 700-acre farm in south-western England, where he lived with his wife, Shirley Ann Shepherd, a sculptor whom he married in 1964. Their only child, Seraphina Watts, was born in 1968, and she’s the mother of the late drummer’s only grandchild.