The Rolling Stones' Charlie Watts

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.

Watts joined

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

time.

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" (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

"Chubby"

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.