A Charlie Watts-Centric View of the Rolling Stones: Watch Martin Scorsese’s Footage of Charlie & the Band Performing “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “All Down the Line”

Update: Two weeks after bow­ing out of the upcom­ing Rolling Stones tour, Char­lie Watts has sad­ly passed away at age 80.

Accord­ing to Char­lie Watts — the Rolling Stones’ drum­mer and rock’s best dressed man — his play­ing is noth­ing spe­cial. “I sit there, and I hear what’s going on, and if I can make it, that’s fine,” he said in 1973. There are no false notes in his mod­esty. “You have to be a good drum­mer to play with the Stones,” he lat­er remarked in 2000, “and I try to be as good as I can.” But he admits he’s not a tech­ni­cal play­er; it’s all about the feel. “It’s ter­ri­bly sim­ple what I do, actu­al­ly…. I play songs.”

Accord­ing to the rest of the band, Watts is indis­pens­able, one of a kind, the “engine” of the Rolling Stones, says Ron­nie Wood. He’s the only white drum­mer who can swing, Kei­th Richards swears: “Charlie’s always there, but he doesn’t want to let every­body know. There’s very few drummer’s like that. Every­body thinks Mick and Kei­th are the Rolling Stones. If Char­lie wasn’t doing what he’s doing on drums, that wouldn’t be true at all. You’d find out that Char­lie Watts IS the Stones.”

Audi­ences of the band’s upcom­ing tour will find out, since Watts announced he’s sit­ting this one out to recov­er from a med­ical pro­ce­dure, to be tem­porar­i­ly replaced by under­study Steve Jor­dan. Watts is prob­a­bly “not both­ered,” Wayne Blan­chard writes at Drum Mag­a­zine. He’s had a decades-long love-hate rela­tion­ship with tour­ing life. (Watts has made draw­ings of every hotel room he’s ever stayed in to stave off bore­dom). In the stu­dio, “as long as a track gets record­ed and sounds great, Char­lie doesn’t seem to care who is on the drums.”

Oth­er drum­mers have played on sev­er­al key Stones tracks, includ­ing Faces drum­mer Ken­ney Jones on “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll” and Stones pro­duc­er Jim­my Miller on “Hap­py,” “Tum­bling Dice,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and “Shine a Light.” None of this means, how­ev­er, that Watts is replace­able or that the Rolling Stones would try to car­ry on with­out him. He has not only been the band’s engine, but its anchor, bal­last, maybe, its qui­et cap­tain. “When Char­lie plays,” said drum­mer Steve White, “it looks to me that he knows who runs the band on stage, despite what the singer might think.”

Watts resists talk of his impor­tance to the Stones. “We have a huge crowd of peo­ple who like us,” he said in 1998, because “they just love look­ing at Kei­th Richards and look­ing at Mick wig­gling his arms. They’ve been doing it for 30 years.” But he is just as much a draw as the oth­er Stones who have made up the core trio of the band since its incep­tion in 1962. Here’s hop­ing he recov­ers well. In the mean­while, we can see the Stones play “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “All Down the Line,” fur­ther up, from Charlie’s calm, cool point of view, as shot by Mar­tin Scors­ese in 2006 at New York’s Bea­con The­atre.

The footage shows “how Watts has qui­et­ly served as the back­bone of The Rolling Stones for the past 58 years,” Andy Greene writes at Rolling Stone. And it pro­vides a rare look at rock­’s most under­stat­ed drum­mer. “The only time I love atten­tion is when I walk onstage,” Watts once said, “but when I walk off, I don’t want it.” In the video just above, he’s in espe­cial­ly rare form — jok­ing on cam­era about a wig­gly dance he does before he goes on, a demon­stra­tion of the rit­u­als and in-jokes that have knit rock’s longest-run­ning band togeth­er for over half a cen­tu­ry. When they’ve all final­ly quit for good, says Keef, “I want to be buried next to Char­lie Watts.”

via Rolling Stone

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Rolling Stones Drum­mer Char­lie Watts Writes a Children’s Book Cel­e­brat­ing Char­lie Park­er (1964)

Watch the Rolling Stones Play “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” While Social Dis­tanc­ing in Quar­an­tine

The Sto­ry of the Rolling Stones: A Selec­tion of Doc­u­men­taries on the Quin­tes­sen­tial Rock-and-Roll Band

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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