I’ve seen the Rolling Stones just once, in 1989 at Sullivan Stadium. Even though that was 32 years ago, there was a lot of talk that they were over the hill and that it was probably their farewell tour. Not even close. But on Tuesday, the Stones’ unparalleled six-decade run came to an end with the death of 80-year-old drummer Charlie Watts.
Oh, sure, the band announced several weeks ago that they would hit the road with Steve Jordan on drums, holding out hope that Watts might be able to rejoin them later in the tour after he’d recovered from an unspecified medical problem. But the essence of the Stones is Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts. Without Watts, they should tour under a different name. His drumming was as essential as Keith’s thickly chorded guitar and Mick’s prancing.
As numerous tributes to Watts have noted, he was not flashy. He wasn’t even as flashy as Ringo Starr, an underrated drummer in his own right. But Watts was incredibly steady, rock-solid, with an uncanny sense for exactly what touch was needed to propel a song. Everyone’s got their favorite moments. Mine is when he comes thundering back in toward the end of “Tumbling Dice” (their best song on their best album, “Exile on Main Street”) after marking time for a few measures. It doesn’t sound like a big deal — but listen.
Charlie Watts was a giant of the rock era and a fine jazz drummer as well. He didn’t burn out, nor did he fade away. He just kept playing.