Obituary: Charlie Watts, musician
Often at odds with the other members of The Rolling Stones, drummer Charlie Watts was the quiet, considered and skilful force that kept his group in time.
Watts, who has died aged 80, was known for his sophisticated and inventive playing on classic tracks including Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Honky Tonk Women and Brown Sugar.
He was also known for his deadpan wit, understated conversational style, love of tailored suits and deep obsession with jazz music.
Charles Robert Watts was born on June 2 1941 and grew up in a pre-fab house in Wembley, north-west London. His father, also Charles Watts, was a lorry driver while his mother Lillian was a homemaker.
Watts attended Tyler Croft Secondary Modern School from 1952 to 1956 and as a schoolboy enjoyed art, cricket and football. He studied art in Harrow, where as part of an assignment he drew a 36-page children’s book called Ode to a High Flying Bird, depicting the life of the jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. The book was later picked up by a London publisher and printed in 1964.
His love of jazz had been ignited when his parents gave him his first drum kit in 1955, allowing him to play along to his favourite records – not least those of Parker.
By the age of 16, he was drumming in jazz groups and a regular on the London club scene, which was then focused on the parallel worlds of jazz and blues rock.
Alexis Korner, one of the founding fathers of British blues, invited Watts to join his band, Blues Incorporated, which featured a number of future stars.
It was then that he met Mick Jagger, who would guest as a vocalist occasionally.
Jagger also had his own group with Keith Richards and Brian Jones but lacked a regular drummer.
Watts, ever sensible, initially turned down an invitation to join them in favour of his day job as a graphic designer at an advertising agency.
A six-month campaign eventually convinced him to join and Watts made his first appearance with the Rolling Stones in January 1963 at the Flamingo club in London’s Soho.
However, even then he refused to give up his day job, only doing so once the band had signed to Decca Records.
His time living in the band’s infamously squalid flat in Edith Grove, Chelsea, was short lived.
Once the band had recorded their first chart hits – Come On and the Lennon-McCartney composition I Wanna Be Your Man – he moved into an flat overlooking Regent’s Park and married his girlfriend, Shirley Shepherd, a sculpture student whom he met in 1964.
However, he never seemed entirely comfortable with the idolisation that came with being a rock star, and was often self-deprecating and down-to-earth.
“He’s modest and shy and the idea of stardom horrifies him,” Keith Richards observed.
Following number one hits such as It’s All Over Now, Little Red Rooster and The Last Time, he used the proceeds to buy a 16th-century house in Sussex.
Watts’ fashion sense was often at odds with his bandmates, preferring finely-tailored suits over the bohemian chic of Jagger and Richards.
An enduring passion was cricket, which saw him regularly attend Lord’s Cricket Ground and other matches, sometimes with his bandmates.
Of all the group, he was reportedly the one that struggled most when they went into tax exile in France during the recording of their 1972 album Exile on Main St.
In the late 1970s, Watts joined Stones sideman Ian Stewart in the band Rocket 88, and throughout the 1980s he toured worldwide with the likes of Evan Parker, Courtney Pine and Jack Bruce, who was also a member of Rocket 88.
1989 saw him inducted into the Rock on Roll Hall of Fame alongside the rest of the Rolling Stones, and in 2006 he was voted in the Modern Drummer Hall, joining a roll call of famous names including Sir Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and Buddy Rich.
In 2016, Watts was ranked 12th in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest drummers of all time.
The Stones would go on to release more albums with Voodoo Lounge (1994), Bridges to Babylon (1997) and A Bigger Bang (2005), as well as embarking on extensive tours.
In 2016, the band released the highly acclaimed UK number one album, Blue and Lonesome.
Watts is survived by Shirley, daughter Seraphina and granddaughter Charlotte.