Rolling Stones Drummer Charlie Watts Dies at 80, Rock Legends React
Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, the reserved, unflappable component of one of rock's seminal bands, has died at 80.
A publicist for Watts said in a statement, "It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Charlie Watts. He passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family."
"Charlie was a cherished husband, father and grandfather," the statement went on, "and also as a member of The Rolling Stones one of the greatest drummers of his generation."
No cause of death was given. Watts had previously conquered a mid-life substance-abuse issue in 1986, and had beaten throat cancer in 2004.
Watts had been with the band for just over 58 years, behind only Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Richards wrote in 2010, "Charlie Watts has always been the bed that I lie on, musically."
His swing-infused drumming was unique, and put him toward the top of anyone's list of best, most impactful drummers of all time. His jazzy style was reflected in his observation that the Stones were originally "white blokes from England playing Black American music," a status he felt changed over time to develop into a singular Rolling Stones sound — one unimaginable minus his contributions.
As tweeted by rocker Lenny Kravitz, he was "the beat of The Stones. There are no words, every groove has spoken for itself."
Born on June 2, 1941, in London, Watts was always musical, a self-taught prodigy who learned by copying the best — including Duke Ellington and Chico Hamilton.
After a short stint in advertising (his eye would come in handy later in helping to design the Stones' stage shows, and some of their album art), Watts — then playing with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated — joined the Stones in spite of an aversion to rock 'n' roll. He credited Richards with coaching him on the form.
Watts was the group's anchor, and its sanity. Impeccably well-dressed, he was never involved in the drama that came with playing in a rock band, or with any of the band's well-publicized personality clashes.
Rock star Perry Farrell summed up Watts' silent strength as a musician, tweeting, "Drummers are the most ensnared individuals. Though they are loudest, they are the last to be heard. They have insecurities due to the fact that everyone has their back turned on them. Herein lies the band’s secret; there is no greatness- without a great drummer."
As one of only three members to play on every Rolling Stones studio album, Watts' work can be heard on every classic Stones hit and all 121 commercial singles, including "Time Is on My Side" (1964), "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" (1965), "Get Off of My Cloud" (1965), "19th Nervous Breakdown" (1966), "Paint It Black" (1966), "Mother's Little Helper" (1966), "Let's Spend the Night Together" (1967), "Ruby Tuesday" (1967), "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (1968), "Honky Tonk Women" (1969), "Brown Sugar" (1971), "Angie" (1973), "Miss You" (1978), "Start Me Up" (1981), "Harlem Shuffle" (1986), and their final Top 40 hit so far, 1989's "Rock and a Hard Place."
Along with his work with the Stones, Watts was also a part of Rocket 88, the Charlie Watts Orchestra, the Charlie Watts Quintet, a project with Jim Keltner, the Charlie Watts Tentet, and the ABC&D of Boogie Woogie.
Watts and the Stones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.
He is survived by his wife Shirley, to whom he had been wed for nearly 57 years, his daughter Seraphina, a granddaughter, and a step-grandson.
On Twitter, musicians and other fans poured their hearts out about Watts, with Duran Duran's official account memorializing him as, "An absolute inspiration to a legion of drummers since the 1960’s. A man of grace, style, dignity and composure."
Joan Jett called Watts "the most elegant and dignified drummer in rock and roll. He played exactly what was needed - no more - no less. He is one of a kind."
The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson tweeted, "I’m just shocked to hear about Charlie Watts. I don’t know what to say, I feel terrible for Charlie’s family. Charlie was a great drummer and I loved the Stones music, they made great records. Love & Mercy."