On this day in 1941, Charles -- better known as Charlie -- Watts, drummer
for the Rolling Stones, was born in Islington, London. At the
age of 14, he received his first drum kit for Christmas.
the Rolling Stones in 1963. His first gig as an official bandmember --
January 17 of that year at the Marquee Jazz Club in London's
Soho district -- was also the Stones' first major gig. Before that, Watts
had sat in with the other Stones -- vocalist Mick Jagger, guitarists Keith
Richards and Brian Jones and bassist Bill Wyman -- but only as a favor to
fill the frequently vacant
drummer's slot. He had also drummed with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated
and worked as a graphic designer for an ad agency. Jones kept pursuing
him to join permanently and Watts finally gave in. The Rolling Stones,
the pre-eminent British Invasion band, still remain more than 30
year later and are regarded as one of the greatest and most influential
rock bands of all
While known primarily as the Stones' drummer, Watts has put out five jazz
albums since 1986 -- the most recent one being 1996's Long Ago and
Far Away (Virgin). Watts has said he didn't listen to rock 'n' roll
until he was about 21, always preferring jazz. When asked recently if he
could have played in another band besides the Stones, he quickly mentioned
Duke Ellington. A huge fan of jazz legend Charlie Parker, Watts issued a
book on Parker in 1991 entitled "Ode to a High Flying Bird" -- which he had
originally written and illustrated in 1964 -- and included it in a box set
with his CD from that year, From One Charlie (Continuum Records).
The Charlie Watts Quintet also released A Tribute To Charlie Parker With
Strings in 1992.
While some drummer aficionados would be quick to note Alex Van Halen or
John Bonham as great drummers, it is Watts who has kept the
self-proclaimed "greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world" rolling after
all these years. The Stones' R&B- and blues-drenched rock derives one of
its greatest strengths from the rhythm section, of which Watts has been
the constant base.
Richards has been quoted as saying, "It's Charlie's band -- without him we
wouldn't have a group. Charlie Watts makes Charlie Watts great. He's
one of the few drummers that knows the importance of swing in playing
rock 'n' roll. Everybody thinks Mick and Keith are the Rolling Stones. If
Charlie weren't doing what he is doing on drums that wouldn't be true at
all. You'd find out that Charlie is the Stones."
Commenting on the use of drum loops on part of the Stones' most recent
album, 1997's Bridges to Babylon, Watts said, "I enjoyed it
because I've never done it before. It's interesting, but I wouldn't want
to do it every day of the week. It has nothing to do with drumming; it's
a production thing. John and Michael [the Dust Brothers] are very nice
guys, but it's computers and endlessly messing about with little bits of
tape. Let's be honest: It's boring, if you're a drummer like me."
On the Stones' 1994 Voodoo Lounge, Watts experimented with his
drum sound. He moved his drum kit into a stairwell for different
effects on tracks such as
HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Rolling_Stones,_The/You_Got_Me_Rocki ng.ram">"You Got Me Rocking"
ng.ram">"You Got Me Rocking"(RealAudio excerpt). He also played a
trashcan in the stairwell on "Moon is Up" (RealAudio
excerpt). On the four-flight
stairwell, Watts began at the top for the latter track and ended at the
bottom, for various sounds, on "You Got Me Rocking" and "Thru And Thru."
The hobby that has kept Watts occupied during the Stones' lengthy world
tours is his fondness for drawing every single bed he has ever slept in,
since the late '60s. According to Watts, "It's a kind of therapy. I
draw every bed in which I sleep. It's something I began a long time ago,
it gives you something to do in an hotel room, you know ... I have
books of drawings now!"
Watts primarily plays Gretsch drums. In a recent interview, he said of
his drum kits, "The one I've got behind the curtain downstairs is also
very good. It's a 1960 black Gretsch, a Tony Williams one, 18" bass
drum ... I've been messing about with it myself and with the band.
But the one I've got now is about my favorite. I've used it on my jazz
record things that I do, (and) the Stones stuff."
Despite enjoying tremendous adulation from fans (obvious from the
applause each time he is introduced at a Stones concert), Watts has said
he never liked being a star. Richards said, "Charlie Watts is my
absolute favorite. He has all the qualities that I like in people. Great
sense of humor, a lovely streak of eccentricity, a real talent, very
modest. The only thing about Charlie that's always been true is that he's
always hated being a pop
star. He genuinely loathes it."
Watts and the Rolling Stones are currently touring Europe.
Other birthdays: William Guest (ex-Gladys Knight and the Pips), 57; Antone
Tavares, 51; Michael Steele (Bangles), 44; Lydia Lunch, 39; Tony Hadley
(Spandau Ballet), 38; Thor Eldon Jonsson (Sugarcubes), 36; B-Real, born
Louis Freese (Cypress
Hill), 28 ... Charles Miller (War), 1939-1980.