The life and times of Charlie Watts, the ‘ultimate’ drummer who kept The Rolling Stones in time

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5-min read
The life and times of Charlie Watts, the ‘ultimate’ drummer who kept The Rolling Stones in time
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts died on Tuesday, just weeks after marking his 80th birthday.

The musician had been part of the multi-award-winning rock group alongside Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood since 1963. He was often at odds with his fellow bandmates and he was instead more reserved than his flamboyant fellow members.

He was known for his sophisticated and inventive playing on classic tracks including Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Honky Tonk Women and Brown Sugar. He loved art, cricket, jazz and sharp tailored suits.

His publicist Berard Doherty said on Tuesday Watts died “peacefully in a London hospital” and the late star was “surrounded by his family.”

A Londoner through and through, Watts was born at University College Hospital to lorry driver Charles Richard Watts and his wife Lillian Charlotte on June 2 1941.

He grew up in Wembley, north west London, and was childhood friends with jazz bass player Dave Green, who lived opposite the Watts family.

His family later moved to Kingsbury, north west London, and Watts attended Tyler Croft Secondary Modern School from 1952 to 1956 and as a schoolboy enjoyed art, cricket and football.

He became interested in drumming at about thirteen years old. His parents bought him his first drum kit in 1955, Bill Wyman said in his 2002 book Rolling With the Stones, when he was 14.

By the age of 16, he was drumming in jazz groups and a regular on the London club scene.

Alexis Korner, sometimes referred to as “the founding father of British blues”, invited Watts to join his band Blues Incorporated, which featured a number of future stars.

It was then he met Mick Jagger, who would guest as a vocalist occasionally.

Jagger also had his own group with Keith Richards and Brian Jones but lacked a regular drummer.

Watts initially turned down an invitation to join the group in favour of his day job as a graphic designer at an advertising agency. He had enrolled at Harrow Art School after secondary school and was working for Charlie Daniels Studios.

The band in 2002 (PA)
The band in 2002 (PA)

A six-month campaign eventually convinced him to join and Watts made his first appearance with the Rolling Stones in January 1963 at the Flamingo club in London’s Soho.

However, he still refused to give up his day job, only doing so once the band had signed to Decca Records. He always had a passion for art and regularly contributed to the Rolling Stones artwork.

Watts did spend some time living in the band’s infamously squalid early flat in Edith Grove, Chelsea, but it was short lived.

Once the band had recorded their first chart hits – Come On and I Wanna Be Your Man – he moved into a flat overlooking Regent’s Park.

He married his girlfriend, Shirley Shepherd, a sculpture student at the Royal College of Art who he met before finding fame, in 1964. They had a daughter, Seraphina, in 1968.

The year 1989 saw him inducted into the Rock on Roll Hall of Fame alongside the rest of the Rolling Stones and in 2006 he was voted in the Modern Drummer Hall, joining a roll call of famous names including Sir Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and Buddy Rich.

Charlie Watts performs at Wembley Arena with Ronnie Wood (PA Archive)
Charlie Watts performs at Wembley Arena with Ronnie Wood (PA Archive)

In 2004, Watts was treated for throat cancer at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital and he was given the all-clear after a four-month battle with the disease, involving six weeks of intensive radiotherapy treatment. He was diagnosed after discovering a lump on the left side of his neck.

In 2016, Watts was ranked 12th in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest drummers of all time.

Earlier this month, it was announced that Watts was to miss the band’s forthcoming US tour.

A spokesman for him said at the time he was “unlikely to be available for the resumption of the Rolling Stones USA No Filter Tour this fall” as he recovered from an unspecified medical procedure.

Watts said at the time that “For once my timing has been a little off. I am working hard to get fully fit but I have today accepted on the advice of the experts that this will take a while.”

On Tuesday, music stars paid tribute to Watts.

Sir Elton John wrote on Twitter: “A very sad day. Charlie Watts was the ultimate drummer. The most stylish of men, and such brilliant company. My deepest condolences to Shirley, Seraphina and Charlotte. And of course, The Rolling Stones.”

Nile Rodgers paid tribute, writing: “Rest In Power #CharlieWatts RIP. You are a smooth brother. Thanks for all the great music.”

Singer Sheryl Crow said there is a “gaping hole in the universe” following his death.

She wrote on Twitter: “A hero is gone. No words. A huge gaping hole in the universe.

“RIP Charlie Watts.”

The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr paid tribute to Charlie Watts on Twitter, along with a photo of the two together.

He wrote: “God bless Charlie Watts, we’re going to miss you man, peace and love to the family, Ringo.”

He leaves behind his wife Shirley, daughter Seraphina and granddaughter Charlotte, born in 1996.

Read More

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood pay tribute to Charlie Watts

Charlie Watts dead: The Rolling Stones drummer dies age 80

In Pictures: Remembering Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting