THE MUSIC MAKER
It's 5 o'clock in the morning in 1984 in a hotel room in Amsterdam. A suave, sophisticated gentlemen, clean-shaven and wearing a Servile Row suit, knocks on a room door. Seconds later the occupant is heading out of the window towards the canal below having been punched squarely in the face by the well-dressed gentleman. The message is clear: Don't mess with Charlie Watts.
In his autobiography 'Life' (highly recommended), Keith Richards almost gleefully tells the story of how the Rolling Stones drummer lamped Mick Jagger for his arrogance and impertinence. Jagger had called Watts's room at 5am asking for 'my drummer'. The unbridled hubris of the singer had riled Charlie to such an extent that he felt compelled to smack Old Leatherchops around the, er, chops but not before he had gone to the trouble of dressing impeccably for the occasion.
Charlie Watts died this week at the age of 80 having provided the backbeat for the Rolling Stones for over six decades. Elsewhere in his book, Richards laments the fact that most rock and roll bands know how to rock but never learned how to roll. We can attribute the Stones' ability to do so, in large part to their drummer who once said that he was always thinking of ways to make any track he was playing on danceable, even it was an old blues number. It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.
There are many things that made Charlie Watts an admirable man, including putting Jagger in his place. His humility was extraordinary - 'I never had lessons. Used to try to play to records, which I hated doing. Still can't play to them' - as was his down-to-earth approach to life: 'The world of this (show business) is a load of crap. You get all these bloody people, so incredibly sycophantic' and 'I hate leaving home. I love what I do, but I'd love to go home every night.' The juxtaposition to Jagger's ego is astonishing but perhaps what kept the whole thing together.
If you want a quintessential example of what made Charlie Watts an extraordinarily fine drummer, you only have to listen to the opening bars of Beast Of Burden. First, you're lulled by the lilting swing of Richards' spacey guitar chords and then - Bam! - in comes Charlie with four drum strokes that almost seem to spell out the line 'And - here - I - come' in the most understated way imaginable but the impact is magical. Have a listen - really, it's true.
While you're there, stick around to the end and you'll hear the sound of a man putting the roll into rock and roll.