Charlie Watts: Rolling Stones drummer and Jazz legend

Charlie Watts was born in London, England, on 2 June 1941. His father, Charles Richard Watts, was a truck driver for a meat company, and his mother, Lizzy Jane (née Eales), was a housewife. He had two younger sisters, Sylvia and Gloria, and one younger brother, John. His first musical experience was playing along on his father’s piano at the age of about five or six.


Jazz bands and Blues Incorporated

In early 1962, Watts was recruited by Alexis Korner to play in his Blues Incorporated. Watts played his first gig with the band on 20 May 1962 at the Ealing Jazz Club. The band lineup was:

Blues Incorporated
* Alexis Korner – guitar, vocals
* Cyril Davies – harmonica, vocals
* Dick Heckstall-Smith – saxophone
* Graham Bond – Hammond organ
* Jack Bruce – bass
* Ginger Baker – drums
* Chris Barber – trombone

In 1963, Watts left Blues Incorporated to join The Rolling Stones.

Career with the Rolling Stones

Watts at the beginning of their 50 and Counting Tour in 2012 The Rolling Stones were Watts’s first and only regular band over a musical career spanning more than 50 years. Watts joined the Stones in January 1963, two weeks after the band was formed, taking over from Mick Avory as the drummer. Watts played on all but two tracks of the band’s debut album, The Rolling Stones, recorded and released that spring. He also performed on their second album, 12 X 5, released in October 1964, and their third album, The Rolling Stones No. 2, released in January 1965.

Watts began to develop his own distinctive style around this time, co-opting the Rolling Stones’ sound of blues musicians such as Howlin’ Wolf and Jimmy Reed with his own jazz influences. His jazz background is often emphasised by commentators, although Watts has said that he “hates jazz”. For example, on the 1968 album Beggars Banquet, Watts played not only drums but also congas, maracas and tambourine, with percussion being supplied by him and Bill Wyman. On the 1969 album Let It Bleed, in addition to his drumming, he contributed maracas, cowbells, congas and tambourine. On the song “Midnight Rambler”, he played bottleneck slide guitar.

In early 1967, Watts was persuaded to temporarily join the Jeff Beck Group during the recording sessions for the album Truth. The album was never completed, but the tracks “Blues De Luxe” and “Shapes of Things” were eventually released on the 1971 Jeff Beck Group album Jeff Beck Group.

After the Stones’ 1969 American Tour, Watts decided to quit the band for a short time. He explained his decision in a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, saying: “I just couldn’t hack it anymore. I was smoking too much dope and I was drinking too much whisky and not caring about anything. They fired me in June 1969.” The Stones immediately began looking for a replacement drummer and considered Mick Taylor and Steve versions //blurbs. Watts was persuaded to return to the band in December 1969, and he has remained its drummer ever since.

Activities outside the Stones

In addition to his musical career with the Stones, Watts has pursued a successful career as a jazz drummer and bandleader. He played with the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band from 1966 to 1974. He recorded fourteen albums with the band, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1970.

Watts exploring other musical genres outside the Rolling Stones has resulted in some of his most lauded work. He appeared on recordings by artists such as Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, George Harrison, and Muddy Waters. In the early 1970s, he played on two solo albums by Ron Wood, Now Look and I’ve Got My Own Album to Do. In 1983, he played on Peter Tosh’s album No Nuclear War.

In 1984, Watts formed the Charlie Watts Quintet, with Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, Jim Keltner on drums, Bernard Fowler on vocals, and Bill Wyman on bass. The band recorded the albums Live at Fulham Town Hall (1985), Soft Top Hard Shoulder (1992), and Long Ago and Far Away (1996). The band’s final album was Live at Ronnie Scott’s (2004), recorded in 2003.

In 1988, Watts played on the album Steel Wheels by The Rolling Stones. He continued to play on the band’s albums and tours throughout the 1990s and 2000s. In 2006, he played on A Bigger Bang, the band’s most recent studio album.

Personal life and public image

Touring and band relationships

Watts has been married twice. His first marriage, to Sharon Sheeley, lasted from 1964 to 1967. His second marriage, to Betty Bennett, lasted from 1972 to present. He has three daughters: one from his first marriage and two from his second.

Watts has said that he hates touring, and that he only endures it because he loves playing the drums. He has also said that he only agreed to continue touring with the Stones in the early 2000s because he wanted to see the world one last time before he died.


In 2004, Watts was diagnosed with throat cancer and underwent treatment. He made a full recovery and returned to touring with the Stones in 2005.

In May 2012, it was announced that Watts would have to sit out the Stones’ European Tour due to a severe case of laryngitis. He was replaced by Bernard Fowler, who sang and played percussion. Fowler had previously toured with the Stones as a backing vocalist and percussionist on their Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour in 1989–1990.

Watts died on 24.08.2021, aged 80. The Rolling Stones paid tribute to him on their social media accounts, calling him “The heart and soul of The Rolling Stones”.een wearing a suit and tie on stage, even when performing in hot weather.

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Chris Hawkins is a writer and music lover who specializes in articles about music production and computer accessories. He has a passion for helping people find the best music-related products to fit their needs and budget. When he's not writing, Chris enjoys spending time with his family, playing guitar, and exploring new places.

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