SHOCK! Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts dies at the age of 80

Fans had a feeling that something was very wrong when it was announced earlier this month (August 4) that Charlie Watts wouldn’t be accompanying the Rolling Stones on a tour of America this fall due to some undisclosed health issues and an unspecified (yet apparently successful) emergency medical procedure, necessitated by whatever was found during a routine pre-tour physical. The doctor ruled it unsafe for him to tour (shades of when Mick’s heart issue was discovered a few years back) and ordered rest and recuperation. His place was going to be filled by Steve Jordan, a longtime associate of Keef.

Charlie hadn’t missed a gig since he joined the band in January 1963. Talk about an iron man, right? He made a joke about not being able to tour this time, too: “For once, my timing has been a little off.”

And as one of the more sensible members of the band, he stayed away from a lot of whatever guys like Brian, Keef, Mick (Taylor), and Ron Wood were into. He married Shirley Ann and 1964 and stayed with her for the rest of his life.

Yes, he was aged, but these days, 80 doesn’t seem old at all. Yet today (August 24), it was announced that he died.

Charlie Watts was the favourite drummer of so many guitar players because no matter what happened out front, you could rely on Charlie to keep the beat as solid as a cesium atomic clock. That allowed Keef and everyone else to dance around with melody and riffs and solos and licks without worrying about the song falling apart, especially during live performances. He left the showmanship and flamboyance to Mick and Keef.

His biggest vice? Collecting cars, even though he never got his driver’s license. And clothes. He was always a dandy dresser.

Charlie wasn’t flashy. Instead, his style was tasteful, providing the Stones with the correct amount of rhythmic panache and swing to serve the songs. He was a lover of rock, R&B, and jazz.

There are so many great Charlie performances. “Paint It Black,” “Get Off of My Cloud,” “Beast of Burden,” and my favourite, “Gimme Shelter.”

(Here’s a list of Stones songs that don’t feature Charlie. Good trivia.)

He did have his health issues. There were some substance abuse issues in the 80s that he beat. Then in 2004, he was diagnosed with throat cancer although he’d quit smoking sometime in the 80s (he was a BIG smoker back in the day). Two rounds of surgery to remove malignant lumps and lymph nodes followed by six weeks of chemo and radiation therapy cleared that up. Beyond that, though, Charlie was probably the healthiest of the Stones throughout their 50+ year career.

This leaves Mick and Keef as the only two original members of The Stones. Brian Jones died in 1969. Bill Wyman retired in 1993. And now Charlie’s gone. Could this be the end of The Rolling Stones? Is it still The Stones if it’s just Mick and Keef and Ronnie? That’s an excellent question.

More details as they become available. Meanwhile, Variety has a good tribute here. Then there’s The Guardian’s life in pictures feature here. (Via Sean)

This is a great anecdote. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I’m choosing to believe that it is. (There are more stories here.)

And here’s me talking about Charlie on CHQR/Calgary.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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