Like many music fans who appreciate the music of The Rolling Stones, or at least love Rock and Roll and consider The Rolling Stones a pioneering and pivotal band in this genre, I am deeply saddened by the passing of drummer, Charlie Watts. Charlie, however, lived a full and amazing life for 80 years. That is a great blessing and worthy of celebration at the same time.
What made Charlie Watts special to me? One, it was his backbeat – that is, where he laid the snare drum in the bar. Charlie had a unique timing on those backbeats that gave the music of The Stones, as we love to call them, a certain swagger and earthiness. It is the kind of backbeat that you may hear a drummer from the southern region of the US versed in the classic blues and rock n roll tradition play. Charlie had that gift to channel that swagger and earthiness of the American pioneer blues, jazz, and rock and roll drummers. I still try to make my back beats sound and feel like his. Much has been said of how he would stop playing on the hi-hat when he struck the snare drum to give the latter much more space, projection, and resonance. It is such a beautifully simple yet groundbreaking concept, and hell of alot of fun to practice and play.
As a Jazz-er at heart, Charlie taught us how to swing in the Rock and Roll idiom. That is the Roll in Rock and Roll. The Rock part is easy. The Roll is what makes giants of Rock drummers of the likes of Charlie, Ringo, Ian Paice, and John Bonham. For us kids who were born in 1980s in a world of Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Ratt, Metallica, and Motley Crue (all great Rock and Roll bands of their time), we still could get some of that swing under our skins. Those of us who were lucky to have parents who loved music or were musically inclined made us listen to the Stones. Personally, I am grateful for that. For us drummers, we took notice of Charlie’s drumming. We took note of how he supported the song so humbly and yet, without his contribution, you would not have the groove that moved packed clubs, theatres, arenas, and stadiums.
Charlie, thank you for making music your life vocation. You made our world that much bigger with your humanity and your groove. Rest easy, Big Man.