The unsung Rolling Stone

Charlie Watts, the rock steady drummer for the Rolling Stones, died Aug. 24 at 80.

Charlie held himself apart from the other members of the Stones. While their indulgences became legendary, he lived quietly in Devonshire, England, with his wife of nearly 60 years, Shirley, and daughter, Seraphina, raising Arabian horses.

Charlie was rock’s original “sharp dressed man,” being named one of the world’s most elegantly tailored men. Charlie’s first love was jazz. He formed several successful jazz groups that played when the Stones weren’t touring. Charlie’s drumming was legendary. He provided the heartbeat and backbone that drove the Stones’ signature sound, often playing just off the beat. He was renowned for his amused detachment while on stage.

Trained as a graphic artist, he helped design the Stones’ sets and contributed to many of the group’s album covers. Charlie shunned publicity. His terse answers in interviews became his hallmark, but they hid the real Charlie Watts who was considered one of the most decent people in the music industry.

Keith Richards, the Rolling Stones guitarist, famously said, “Charlie is the key (to the band’s sound). When he’s gone, it’s over.” Above all Charlie was respected by fans, critics, musicians and not least by his band mates. Music critic Gene Seymour wrote, “(Charlie Watts) was rock and roll’s best and most respected drummer … there were millions of fans who aspired to be Rolling Stones, (whereas) the actual Stones aspired to be Charlie Watts.” The Stones resume their No Filter tour in St. Louis on Sept. 26 with Steve Jordan replacing Charlie Watts.

– john van becay, Aurora