Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stones drummer who propelled the band’s sound for nearly 60 years, has died aged 80.
A statement from his London publicist, Bernard Doherty, to the PA Media news agency said: “It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Charlie Watts.
“He passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family. Charlie was a cherished husband, father and grandfather and, as a member of the Rolling Stones, one of the greatest drummers of his generation.”
The news came weeks after it was announced that Watts would miss the band’s US tour dates to recover from an unspecified medical procedure. Watts was previously treated for throat cancer in 2004.
Watts became part of the Stones’ long-time foursome alongside singer Mick Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards and bassist Ronnie Wood, anchoring the band’s blues-rock sound from his drum kit for more than 50 years.
Tributes To Charlie Watts
Among those paying tribute was Ringo Starr, his opposite number in friendly rivals the Beatles, who wrote: “God bless Charlie Watts we’re going to miss you man peace and love to the family.”
— #RingoStarr (@ringostarrmusic) August 24, 2021
Paul McCartney said: “He was a lovely guy. I knew he was ill but I didn’t know he was this ill … Charlie was a rock, and a fantastic drummer … Love you Charlie, I’ve always loved you – a beautiful man.”
Elton John wrote: “A very sad day. Charlie Watts was the ultimate drummer. The most stylish of men, and such brilliant company.”
A Fulfilled Life
Born in 1941, Charlie Watts was raised in Wembley, northwest London, and later the suburb of Kingsbury. His first musical love was US jazz from the swing and bebop eras, drumming along with jazz records after getting his first kit in his mid-teens.
He later attended art school and became a graphic designer after graduation, playing in local bands on the side.
In 1962 he joined Blues Incorporated, a linchpin band in the British rhythm and blues scene led by Alexis Korner, playing alongside the Cream bassist Jack Bruce and more in a fluid lineup. Through Korner, he met Brian Jones, who would play at Blues Incorporated gigs, and they found regular fans in Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who also ended up playing with the group.
Jagger and Richards soon formed their own group, the Rolling Stones, with Watts joining in 1963. “ It was another band to join, I was in about three of them,” Watts later said; he began living informally with the group. “We’d rehearse a lot. They – Brian and Keith – never went to work, so we played records all day, in that rather bohemian life. Mick was at university. But he paid the rent.”
Unlike the colourful romantic histories of his Rolling Stones bandmates, Watts was stable in his personal life: he married his wife Shirley Ann Shepherd in 1964, and they remained together until his death. He is also survived by their daughter, Seraphina, and granddaughter Charlotte.
Watts’ final release with the band was Living in a Ghost Town, a 2020 single taken from a studio album they had been planning.
Published by HOLR Magazine