Charles Robert Watts
Drummer for the Rolling Stones 1963-2021
Born June 2,
1941 in London,
Sun in Gemini, Moon in Virgo
(click here for Charlie's astrological profile)
For years I never talked to the press. Somebody asked me why I didn't and I said, Well, I don't really feel like talking. I don't like it. I still don't. I trust the others to say whatever they say on my behalf. They never say things I disagree with. I'm not very sociable. I'd rather be sitting listening to the radio.
Musicians are the most selfish people in the world, actually. The world revolves around them and all you live for is that 2 hours on stage and that's all they have... They're the most unwelcoming people, really. I'm not saying that they're not nice people or intelligent, but it's what they do. They aren't the most open of people. I think it's their attitude and I don't think it's ever going to change. So much for philosophy.
I give the impression of being bored, but I'm not really. I've just got an incredibly boring face.
We all thought Charlie was very kind of hip (when we first met him), because of his jackets and shirts. Because he was working in an advertising agency, he was very different. It was good for the band to have someone who was sort of sharp.
With Charlie we were thinking about the atmosphere in the band. In the early days I thought Keith might be an awkward person to get to know. I'd watch Keith with other people, and he always seemed to back away a bit. But he and Charlie were a fuckin' comedy team. They had a dual sense of humor.
We had the advantage that Keith and I both get along very well with Charlie. The fact that there's three of us who get along so well is very important.
I always wanted to be a drummer. I always wanted to play with Charlie Parker. When I was 13 I wanted to do that.
To me, how an American plays the drums is how you should play the drums. That's how I play. I mean, I play regular snare drum, I don't play tympani style, although I know guys who play fantastically like that. I play march-drum style. Most rock drummers play like Ringo; a bastard version of tympani style. In reality, that's what it is because tympani style is fingers and most rock drummers play like that because it's heavy offbeat.
Charlie's always there, but he doesn't want to let everybody know. There's very few drummers like that. Everybody thinks Mick and Keith are the Rolling Stones. If Charlie wasn't doing what he's doing on drums, that wouldn't be true at all. You'd find out that Charlie Watts IS the Stones.
White drummers don't swing, except for Charlie Watts.
I don't know how the hell that old sucker got to be so good. He'd be the last one to agree, but to me he's THE drummer. There's not many rock and roll drummers that actually swing. Most of 'em don't even know what the word MEANS. It's the difference between something that trundles down the highway and never takes off and something that actually FLIES. It's got nothing to do with the technicalities and the flash fills and the solos and the power - although, I'll tell you, I would hate to be on the end of his fist. And like all good players he's a modest, self-effacing person. Like Stu (Ian Stewart). The good ones don't need to be flash. They don't need to blow their own trumpet. Only people who are unsure of themselves mouth off.
The thing about Charlie was that he was always there, always played beautifully and was always willing to discuss what to do about it – how he could make it better. He held the band together for so long, musically, because he was the rock the rest of it was built around... The thing he brought was this beautiful sense of swing and swerve that most bands wish they could have.
Charlie never says anything. He just stands there with his arms folded, holding his cup of coffee. If you ask him what he thinks of something, he'll just say, I don't know. But he LISTENS. And when the time comes, he's right there. Having a drummer like that, who can play rock & roll and make it swing and so many other things - he plays reggae great, which not many non-Jamaicans can - that's all the difference.
There's nothing forced about Charlie, least of all his modesty. It's TOTALLY real. He cannot understand what people see in his drumming.
Charlie, after 20 years, still can't stand the thought of having to do even the slightest thing that strikes a false note, like smiling at somebody if you don't want to. He'd rather give them a scowl, so at least it's honest.
Charlie is incredibly honest, brutally honest. Lying bores him. He just sees right through you to start with. And he's not even that interested in knowing, he just does. That's Charlie Watts. He just knows you immediately. If he likes you, he'll tell you things, give you things, and you'll leave feeling like you've been talking to Jesus Christ. They say he's a dying breed, but with people like Charlie, they must always have been rare. Genuinely eccentric in the sense of having his own way of doing things. Just to put it on a very physical plane: At the end of the show, he'll leave the stage, and the sirens will be going, limousines waiting, and Charlie will walk back to his drumkit and change the position of his drumsticks by 2 millimeters. Then he'll look at it. Then if it looks good, he'll leave. He has this preoccupation with aesthetics, this vision of how things should be that nobody will ever know about except Charlie. The drums are about to be stripped down and put in the back of a truck, and he CANNOT leave if he's got it in his mind that he's left his sticks in a displeasing way. It's so Zen. So you see what I mean about who the hell can I possibly play with after this guy with such a sense of space and touch. The only word I can use for Charlie is deep.
The only time I love attention is when I walk onstage, but when I walk off, I don't want it. For the band, I want everyone to love us and go crazy, but when I walk off, I don't want it. I guess I want both worlds. I never could deal with it and still can't.
I collect anything, not only drums. I do. I collect anything.
Charlie had an incredible sense of humor. And my joy was I loved to crack him up. If you could hit that spot, he wouldn’t stop, and it was the funniest thing in the world. He had an incredible sense of humor that he kept to himself unless you sparked it. And then it could be painful to laugh.
I don't sleep on tours, 'cause I got no one to sleep with. So I talk to people - and I draw.
I get bored anywhere. The only time I'm not bored is when I'm drawing, playing the drums or talking. I talk a lot, about nothing usually, and all contradictory. Shirley always accuses me of having no beliefs. Maybe that's why I can talk to anyone.
I make a sketch of every bedroom I sleep in. If you're in place for 2 or 3 days, it's comfortable to complete.When you're in and out it's hard, but I've sketched every bed I've slept in on tour since about 1968. It's a visual diary that doesn't mean anything to anyone. I never look through them once I've done them, to be honest. It's more a record, to know I've got it... I'll look at them all one day.
I got off the plane in '72 and said No fucking more because I don't actually like touring and I don't like living out of suitcases. I hate being away from home. I always do tours thinking they're the last one, and at the end of them I always leave the band. Because of what I do I can't play the drums at home so to play the drums I have to go on the road, and to go on the road I have to leave home and it's like a terribly vicious circle that's always been my life.
It's very difficult to keep a marriage together when you're on the road. Not so much now as earlier, because the nice thing about now is that one can dictate what you're doing. Then, you couldn't. It's harder on people around. It's a very lonely life.
Mick's taste in music... is not as airy-fairy as mine. He's blues-and-R&B-oriented... Visually, it's the same. I will veer to the right color, and Mick will put an edgy stamp to it. If I go too pink or chartreuse, he'll bring it back to bright red - which I find hideous (laughs).
Some jazz drummers don’t want to play (blues and R&B). But he wasn’t one of those. And he wasn’t just a straight rock drummer. We played with rock drummers before. We played with Carlo Little, who used to play with Screaming Lord Sutch’s band. He had two bass drums – it sounded great. But it wasn’t Charlie. Charlie brought another sensibility, the jazz touch. And he didn’t play very heavy. Sometimes, if I got him mad enough, he would. That was the only way I could get him to play really heavy – to get him mad... He could do quite subtle cymbal work in some places. Then he could play off my [vocal] riffs with the audience. If you’re a singer, you have a relationship with a drummer which is all about the dance, the accent you’re doing physically as well as vocally. The most obvious example of that was when James Brown had a second drummer. All he’d do was hits when James moved his body or went Hey, hey. That guy just watched James, so if he kicked his leg in a certain way, he would accentuate it. Charlie and I had that. We would get into a groove. He would understand what I was trying to do, and I would understand what he was trying to do. That was different from a guitar player’s relationship. And I had that with Charlie, developed over many, many years.
Maybe I'd have been a better person if I had gone through all (that drug taking)... Part of it is that I never was a teenager, man. I'd be off in the corner talking about Kierkegaard. I always too myself seriously and thought Buddy Holly was a great joke.
(My drug and alcohol problems were) my way of dealing with (family problems)... Looking back on it, I think it was a mid-life crisis. All I know is that I became totally another person around 1983 and came out of it about 1986. I nearly lost my wife and everything over my behaviour. I was not particularly fun to live with. I would have died... I just stopped everything. I barely ate for 2 months, because I'd started to get fat from the drinking.
(D)rugs are very hard to give up. For me, anyway. I didn't even take that many. I wasn't that badly affected, I wasn't a junkie, but giving up (amphetamines and heroin) was very, very hard. Much, much harder than the rest of it... (I stopped when) I slipped down the steps when I was in the cellar getting a bottle of wine... (I)t really brought it home to me how far down I'd gone. I just stopped everything - drinking, smoking, taking drugs, everything, all at once. I just thought, enough is enough.
It's genuinely enjoyable what I do. It's a lot of fun. Being in this band is a lot of fun. It's bloody hard work. But it is a lot of fun... We are very lucky. We have a huge crowd of people who like us and they just love looking at Keith Richards and looking at Mick wiggling his arms. They've been doing it for 30 years.
(Y)ou don't get the accolades if you're crap, so that's what I mean about this band - they're damn good and I don't care if people say they're noisy. They are noisy. They make my ears hurt (laughs). But they're bloody good at being noisy and they're bloody good at whatever they do. What I try to do is make it better and I try and help out the best that I can.
You have to be a good drummer to play with the Stones, and I try to be as good as I can. It's terribly simple what I do, actually. It's what I like, the way I like it. I'm not a paradiddle man. I play songs. It's not technical, it's emotional. One of the hardest things of all is to get that feeling across.
The most vital part of being in this band was that Charlie Watts was my bed. I could lay on there, and I know that not only would I have a good sleep, but I’d wake up and it’d still be rocking. It was something I’ve had since I was 19. I never doubted it. I never even thought about it.
It's a drug. It's something that for some reason people do. Count Basie's done it for 50 years, working round the world. I know it's a living, money, obvious explanations, but still there's that thing - he has to do it. He goes out and does it. The same thing I think applies to us. It's something you have to do if you're a band - that's what I was saying earlier about the Rolling Stones, to me they're a band. It's work, fun, everything, it's a lifestyle. And I think most bands are a lifestyle. I like that - you make a way of life. And I don't know any other, that's what mucks you up. For me, there's no other way of life. If tomorrow it packs up, fine. C'est la vie, as they say in Germany.
I'd be scared of stopping. What I do is play the drums. I've never found anything to take its place. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't do it. As you get older, you suddenly have this number in front of you and you haven't got a great deal of time left. You panic a bit. Two years' touring out of that is prime time...
Charlie is a great English eccentric. I mean, how else can you describe a guy who buys a 1936 Alfa Romeo just to look at the dashboard? Can't drive - just sits there and looks at it. He's an original, and he happens to be one of the best drummers in the world. Without a drummer as sharp as Charlie, playing would be a drag. He's very quiet - but persuasive. It's very rare that Charlie offers an opinion. If he does, you listen. Mick and I fall back on Charlie more than would be apparent. Many times, if there's something between Mick and I, it's Charlie I've got to talk to. It could be as simple as whether to play a certain song. Or I'll say, Charlie, should I go to Mick's room and hang him? And he'll say no (laughs). His opinion counts.
It's been a long time since curtains went up (grins). I get very nervous. If you didn't you'd toss it off - you'd take it for granted. And I don't take the Rolling Stones for granted, or anything they do. I wish I could relax and enjoy the show more, instead of thinking, Where are we now? Keith always gives the impression that he's happy with whatever bar he's playing in a song. He's never worried about the next one. And those two hours are over in a flash. You think, God, that was Chicago done, and all I did was worry about where the ending of a song was.
I want to be buried next to Charlie Watts.
I really play to please Keith, and Mick, and then the audience. And if you get all three you're laughing.
I love this band, but it doesn't mean everything to me. I always think this band is going to fold up all the time - I really do. I never thought it would last five minutes, but I figured I'd live that five minutes to the hilt because I love them. They're bigger than I am if you really want to know. I admire them, I like them as friends, I argue with them and I love them. They're part of my life and they've been part of my life for a lot of years now. I don't really care if it stops, though, quite honestly. I don't care if I retire now, but I don't know what I'd do if I stopped doing this. I'd go mad.