Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts dies after tour stop
LONDON, Aug.24 (Reuters) – Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, widely regarded as one of rock’s coolest men, jazz enthusiast and keen dresser, died on Tuesday just three weeks after retiring of the group’s upcoming US tour for health reasons.
He was 80 years old.
“It is with immense sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Charlie Watts. He passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family,” Watts spokesperson said in a statement.
Among the first British groups to properly penetrate the American market and symbol of the London of the 1960s, the Rolling Stones range of Watts, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones and Bill Wyman produced a series of successful records. The Stones also broke records with world tours worth several million pounds.
Watts has played drums on the band’s 30 albums and on every tour. No cause of death has been given for his death, but the announcement follows a statement by the group on August 4 that the drummer was withdrawing from his rescheduled No Filter US tour because he needed time to recuperate after an unspecified emergency medical procedure.
The band members expected Watts to join the band. “We are really looking forward to welcoming Charlie as soon as he is fully recovered,” Jagger tweeted on Aug. 4.
Disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, the No Filter tour is expected to begin on September 26 in Saint-Louis. There was no word on Tuesday if it would go ahead.
Watts’ death has brought tributes from musicians ranging from Paul McCartney to country singer Rosanne Cash.
“Charlie Watts was the ultimate drummer,” Elton John wrote on Twitter. “The smartest of men, and such a brilliant company.
McCartney sent his condolences in a video message. “I knew he was sick but I didn’t know he was so sick … It’s a big blow to them because Charlie was a rock and a fantastic drummer.”
Watts was born in 1941 during World War II and grew up in the Wembley district of North West London, attending Harrow School of Art before starting to work as a graphic designer in an advertising agency.
Unlike his band mates, Watts had been part of a successful band before agreeing to join the Rolling Stones in 1963. He married Shirley Ann Shepherd in 1964 and they remained together until his death – the first a regular member of the group to have died since Jones in 1969..
While maintaining daytime work, Watts performed in the evenings with Blues Incorporated directed by Alexis Korner, alongside future Cream bassist Jack Bruce. He is replaced by the future drummer of Cream Ginger Baker when he leaves.
He performed his first gig with the Stones at the Ealing Blues Club in West London with the six-piece group which included pianist Ian Stewart, Wyman on bass and Jones on guitar.
Watts left the hell that defined the Stones in the 1960s and 1970s to the other members, but provided the heartbeat for the band, and along with Wyman, he was considered one of the great rhythm sections of rock.
Away from the Rolling Stones, Watts found time to play jazz with several groups including a 32-piece group, the Charlie Watts Orchestra, as well as to work with pianist Stewart in Rocket 88 during the 1980s.
In the 1990s, the Charlie Watts Quintet released several albums, including a tribute to the great jazzman Charlie Parker. In 2004, the quintet grew to become Charlie Watts and the Tentet.
‘DIDN’T AGREE TO ME AT ALL’
While his bandmates entertained groupies on an epic scale, Watts instead indulged – he once told a radio interviewer – in a compulsive habit of drawing every new hotel room he occupied.
He spoke of a short time in the 1980s when he tried to cope with a midlife crisis by stuffing himself with alcohol and drugs. “It was very short for me. I just quit, it didn’t suit me at all,” he told the Daily Mirror newspaper in 2012.
“I drank too much and took drugs. I got really mad. But I quit everything. It was very easy for me.”
In 2004, he was diagnosed with throat cancer after quitting smoking in the late 1980s and underwent radiation therapy. The cancer went into remission and he returned to recording and touring with the Stones.
Despite newspaper accounts of a drunken feud with Jagger in the 1980s over whether singer or drummer was more important to a band, Watts was in a magnanimous mood when he addressed the newspaper. Guardian in 2013.
“Mick is the show, really we support him,” he said, adding however, “but Mick wouldn’t dance well if the sound was bad.”
Watts has always been known as an avid shopper and keen dresser. The Daily Telegraph once named him one of the best dressed men in the world and in 2006 Vanity Fair inducted him into the Hall of Fame of the International Best Dressed List.
“It’s supposed to be sex and drugs and rock and roll,” he once said. “I’m not really like that.”
Reporting by Kate Holton and Stephen Addison; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Bill Berkrot and Jonathan Oatis
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