Charlie Watts, the self-effacing and unshakeable Rolling Stones drummer who helped anchor one of rock’s greatest rhythm sections and used his “day job” to support his enduring love of jazz, has died, according to his publicist. He was 80.
Bernard Doherty said Tuesday that Watts “passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family.”
“Charlie was a cherished husband, father, and grandfather and also as a member of The Rolling Stones one of the greatest drummers of his generation,” Doherty said.
Watts had announced he would not tour with the Stones in 2021 because of an undefined health issue.
The quiet, elegantly dressed Watts was often ranked with Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, and a handful of others as a premier rock drummer, respected worldwide for his muscular, swinging style as the Stones rose from their scruffy beginnings to international superstardom. He joined the band early in 1963 and remained over the next 60 years, ranked just behind Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as the group’s longest-lasting and most essential member.
Watts stayed on, and largely held himself apart, through the drug abuse, creative clashes, and ego wars that helped kill founding member Brian Jones, drove bassist Bill Wyman and Jones’ replacement Mick Taylor to quit and otherwise made being in the Stones the most exhausting of jobs.
A classic Stones song like “Brown Sugar” and “Start Me Up” often began with a hard guitar riff from Richards, with Watts following closely behind, and Wyman, as the bassist liked to say, “fattening the sound.” Watts’ speed, power, and timekeeping were never better showcased than during the concert documentary, “Shine a Light,” when director Martin Scorsese filmed “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” from where he drummed toward the back of the stage.