By Hans Ebert

Rock drummers have almost always been larger than life characters- unpredictable, volatile, off-kilter, unhinged and the living embodiment of sex, drugs and more and more VERY LOUD Rock and Roll- guys like Keith Moon, Ginger Baker and John Bonham. Charlie Watts played against type.

Here was an urbane, stylish English gentleman in The World’s Greatest Rock And Roll Band keeping everything as grounded as it could be and realising how big and complicated the monster had grown to be.

It’s a wonder that the Rolling Stones Inc were not listed on the stock exchange. I think that at one stage there was talk about that.

Sure, the band stands for Rock’N Roll, but after over fifty years of being and growing together, it had become a monolithic business enterprise and with each of its charter members knowing the importance and value of guarding the brand.

By the time Charlie Watts left us, there are only Mick and Keith left of the original Rolling Stones. Ronnie Wood remains a salaried employee. The others were shareholders and Charlie Watts was, without too many realising it, the Chairman Of The Board.

When the band played Hong Kong for Harbourfest, and a few years later, Beijing, a member of management explained to me about the power the drummer wielded.

Having gone to art college and being a good graphic designer who once worked for an advertising agency, a cartoonist, with Mick Jagger, he worked on the elaborate set designs for the band. He had also designed some of the album covers, like the one for “Between The Buttons”.

Charlie Watts also looked after one of the most profitable business streams of the music juggernaut- the band’s merchandise, and with it, a big percentage of sales.

Maybe that’s why he would sit back there bemused at the antics going on in front of him.

He was keeping an eye on and ensuring that the billion dollar baby they had built together didn’t self combust. There was much more to the drummer and the man…

Listening to tracks like “Honky Tonk Women” with that famous cowbell opening, the vastly underrated drumming on “Out Of Time” from the equally underrated “Aftermath” record, “Get Off Of My Cloud” and “Street Fighting Man”, Keith was the human riff, and Charlie was its roll and backbone.

He had seen how the original leader of the band- Brian Jones- lost his way, was forced out of the band for being a liability and died mysteriously a few later.

Bass guitarist Bill Wyman either left or was asked to leave. The brilliant young guitarist Mick Taylor joined and couldn’t go the distance. This was when Ronnie Wood was hired.

Charlie Watts had himself been through the excesses of the rock and roll lifestyle from around 1983 to 1986 and managed to escape it. He had seen what it could do and no doubt saw what it was doing and had done to Mick, and especially, Keith.

Listening to his interviews- and he didn’t give many- this unassuming gentleman who loved Jazz, the music of Charlie Parker, cricket and breeding Arabian stallions, what always came through was his strong bond with Keith Richards.

What the guitarist must be going through knowing that his great friend is no longer there, and, literally, have his back, couldn’t be easy.

And so now, there are two. For many of us, losing Charlie Watts was the end of an era. It’s hit many of us hard. It’s also reminded us of our own mortality.

For the Rolling Stones, their musical legacy is intact and will live on.

There are the recordings, very possibly thousands of unreleased tracks, videos and the documentaries.
Mick and Keith, whether still Nanker Phelge or the Glimmer Twins, will always have their side projects.

Will the Rolling Stones continue without Charlie Watts?

Depends where and how the throw of those tumbling dice land.

#charliewatts #rollingstones #RIPcharliewatts

 

 

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