August seems to be the month that the greats pass. Babe Ruth, Marilyn, Elvis, Robert Johnson, Groucho, all left us in the month of August. But now Charlie. In a time when we are all living with instability we needed something like Charlie to keep us on the clear path. Now Charlie is gone. Was there ever a better, steadier timekeeper in rock and roll? Now Ringo has his own niche, I am not downplaying his brilliance. My hat is off to Ringo! But Charlie drove, arguably, one of the best rock and roll bands of our time for over fifty years. Many decades of laying down the grooves that made us bop when we heard Stones songs on the AM and later FM radio, then even later on MTV. He was always the steady one. While the rest of the Stones pranced around, except for stoic Wyman, Charlie would roll his eyes and give you a between us “look at these guys, this is what I have to put up with every night” look with a glint of a smile on his lips. Charlie, the best dressed man in rock, married to the same woman, Shirley, since 1964. A jazz man that learned to love the blues and Elvis. He also loved to play, be it in a small club (preferred) or huge stadiums but after the show was done, wanted to be at home with his family. Every story you read about Charlie claims he was a real gentleman. If there ever was a rock and roll role model, Charlie Watts, would be the one.
I won’t get into all the songs but I will say, personally, his style of playing along with Al Jackson Jr., shaped whatever style I have. I guess I am competent enough because I find myself at the age of 60 in 5 bands still. I learned from Charlie that one needn’t overplay parts/fills, to move the song along, to drive the chorus, to be rock steady, and to get people to feel the beat. He had this weird way of pulling his hand off the hi-hat as he hit the snare. Of course, every once in a while, I will do that not even thinking about why but just as a kid would imitate a Mickey Mantle or Mike Trout batting stance, I too emulated my drum hero. I took to playing within myself and knowing my limitations thanks to Charlie’s style. He also turned me onto jazz, especially Charlie Parker. His love of Bird had me exploring jazz LPs and going down the wonderful jazz rabbit hole. When his big band came to Los Angeles, I went and saw him perform at The Palace. Before the show started, I walked up to the VIP area before the stage, and just stared at his drum kit as if it was some magical spaceship. I couldn’t believe that Charlie was going to be there and that was his freakin’ kit only a few yards away from me. I did wait outside of the venue for him to come out afterwards to get his autograph but he stayed inside quite a while and my girlfriend was scowling at me for wasting her precious time. “Yeah, I will just meet him the next time he is in the same building as me” I told her. Ugh, if I could turn back time.
Anyways, everybody has their favorite Stones songs. I always listened to the drumming on their tunes. “Ruby Tuesday” I fell in love with when I was a kid and I would steal listens on “Between the Buttons” of my brother’s lp when they were out of the house. “Got Live if You Want It” was another early childhood lp that I would stare at the cover and see a dashing Charlie at the microphone. He must have been the singer too, I thought! Man, I don’t know….I am just writing this stream of consciousness Kerouac style and I have so many thoughts about the legacy and void that Charlie has left us with. I won’t list all the songs that uncovered his genius. You guys can find your own Charlie songs. If you are not a drummer or not a Rolling Stones fan, then you probably will wonder WTF I am rambling on about. It is your loss. Charlie was one of the greats. There will never be another Charlie. His style, his groove, his drive, his art, his passion, his knowledge, his patience, his lifelong commitment, and his being the gentleman of rock, will be missed. I CANNOT stress enough to you all how much this man will be missed on this planet. Today was the first day in my lifetime that I woke up and Charlie Watts was not sharing this earth with us. RIP Mr. Watts. You are good every night. Thank you for all the music that you left us.
An emotional song with Miya’s acrobatic and vulnerable vocals
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – May 1973 (Volume 4, Number 12)
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