Rolling Stones drummer and motorist Charlie Watts dies at 80

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Watts was a strange character in the band: coming from jazz, elegant and discreet, he connected his companions with the blues tradition.

Charlie Watts. AFP

Charlie Watts, the drummer for the Rolling Stones, has died at the age of 80, according to the agency France Press. Earlier this summer, the band already announced that Watts would not participate in their next tour due to health reasons. In 2004, Watts had suffered from throat cancer.

Watts was not the founder of the Rolling Stones but he was in its first hours and in its most relevant works. Despite this, he was always something of a stranger between Jagger, Richards, and company. Watts did not even come from rock but from jazz, a genre in which he had a career of some relevance in parallel to the Rolling Stones.

Saxophonist Charlie Parker had been his great idol and his band’s favorite pianist, Ian Stewart, his best partner in bands like Rocket 88. Watts’ solo career includes spin-offs to other more experimental music, but that matters relatively little compared to his place in rock history.

The son of a middle-class family and an art student like Jagger, Watts came to the Stones almost by chance. Tony Chapman, the first drummer for the Rolling Stones, turned out not to be up to the task. After months of unsatisfactory testing, Watts was recruited. His career in music seemed over: after studying jazz, Watts had left the band Blues, Inc. to work at an advertising agency. By 1963, the classic line-up of the band was already consolidated with Watts inside.

What was Watts’ impact on the band? Darkened by the charisma of Jagger and Richards, the band’s rhythm section, the work of bassist Bill Wyman and Watts, was a root that connected the Stones to the blues tradition, giving them something else that set them apart from contemporary bands. yours as The Animals or Them. After experiencing the beat fever of the mid-60s and the years of psychedelic fervor, the Stones gradually became a band with a lot of sense of rock history, very oriented to inspire and investigate the past of their gender. And that was one of the merits of Watts. When Mick Taylor came to the band with a very similar sensibility, the drummer was his best ally. They were the best years of the Rolling Stones.

“I don’t like drum solos. I admire musicians who are capable of doing it, but, in general, I like drummers who are part of their band better. The challenge in rock and roll is consistency. My thing is making rock the sound of dance. It should be about sliding and bouncing, “Watts said in a 2009 interview.

And that’s what the character of Watts has been about for the past six decades: working almost invisibly for the common good. Watts was the photographic negative of his peers, a figure almost picturesque for his discretion: neat, professional, monogamous, incapable of the slightest fuss (he worked with a surprisingly small team) … His patience reached extremes close to sanctity. When the band recorded It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll, after some rehearsals that didn’t quite fit in, Watts’s teammates cheated on him and called in another drummer, Kenney Jones of the Small Faces, to record the song. When he found out, Watts said it didn’t matter. “Actually, it sounds similar to how I would sound.”

That does not mean that his role in the history of the band has been passive. Keith Richards recalled in his memoirs that Watts was especially harsh on Jagger at a time of disloyalty when the singer wanted to negotiate a side contract for himself from which the other Stones were excluded. The drummer’s assertiveness and authority, according to Richards, was what brought the band back on track.

Watts’ private life is also often told in contrast to that of his colleagues. Watts was the first Rolling Stone to marry, the first to be a father, and the only one with no known adulteries, neither relevant nor casual. He wasn’t always at peace: Between 1983 and 1986, Watts went through a dark period that led to his addiction to heroin and speed. He himself referred to that time as a midlife crisis that came and went, like measles. Later, he returned to his family, to his Devon home, to raise horses and to live serenely between filming and touring. “He’s the engine of the band,” Richards said of him. The future of the Rolling Stones is uncertain after his death-

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