Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Few Anecdotes About Charlie Watts Including the Time He Punched Mick in the Face

I don't like drum solos, to be honest with you, but if anybody ever told me he didn't like Buddy Rich I'd right away say go and see him, at least the once. ~ Charlie Watts

I was a Rolling Stones fan very early on, in part a over-reaction against those moptops so idolized by the girls in my junior high school (i.e John, Paul, George and Ringo). At one time I had all their albums from 12 x 5 through Goats Head Soup. I remember the impact 12 x 5 had on me, especially the opening cuts on each side, "Around and Around" and "2120 South Michigan Street", an instrumental jam set in motion by a Bill Wyman bass riff. The title of the song is drawn from the address of Chess Records where their favorite blues music was recorded.

The frontmen for the group were such that many people may have underestimated drummer Charlie Watts. Unlike the insane antics of drummers like Keith Moon, Watts was simply smooth.

Charlie Watts isn't someone I really knew much about, though 25 years ago I discovered he was more than just a drummer for a major rock band. In the library I found a CD featuring the Charlie Watts Orchestra, Live at Fulham Town Hall. Though the one customer review on Amazon gave it two stars, I personally enjoyed the album quite a bit.

This summer while reading Keith Richards' autobiography Life I relished hearing a few anecdotes about the Stones' drummer that I hadn't known before.

The manner in which Mick and Keith discovered each other is the stuff of legend, each being unaware that anyone else besides themselves was as intensely into the Chicago blues as much as they were. When they teamed up to form the seminal band, they entire lives were devoted to listening to and learning the music. Dating girls was off limits in the beginning. The only thing that mattered was the music.

In the beginning they had no gigs and to get a gig they needed a drummer. They had so little money they shoplifted food so they, along with bass player Dick Taylor, could spend their time practicing and not having to get jobs. The drummer they wanted was Charlie Watts, but Watts had paying gigs with two bands and wasn't about to give up his income to join these newbies. Richards knew Watts was the guy they wanted. He was the real deal and they achieved their aims, acquiring Watts and assembling the core of one of the great rock and roll bands of all time. (Yes, Brian Jones was abducted into the band around this time as well.)

Stories about the Stones are legion, from the massive drug use to their exile from England to the Jagger-Richards separation in the 80s. Charlie Watts as a professional drummer kept himself out of the maelstrom, living apart from the band as they were recording Exile on Main Street in the south of France. Like many musicians it's a night owl life. On one occasion, according to Richards, Mick was in the mood to do some recording -- at five in the morning -- so he called Watts on the phone and said, "Where's my drummer?" Says Richards, these were the days when Mick's ego had gotten onto everyone's nerves, that it seemed all was about him.

Watts got into his car and 20 minutes later arrived at the place. When Keith opened the door Watts walked right past him, went over to Mick, picked him up by the lapel and slugged him in the face. "Never call me your drummer again." Here's an excerpt from Life with Johnny Depp narrating how Keith remembered it.

Whether this happened the way Richards described it in his book may or may not be entirely accurate. In fact, the way I remember reading it this summer may also be suspect. Bill German, who produced a Stones fanzine called Beggar's Banquet, wrote that it happened like this.

Here's The Charlie Watts Quintet on Dennis Miller's show in 1994 and here's an interesting Boogie Woogie in Barcelona:

 And so it goes.

Photo credit:Poiseon Bild & Text (press photo by a photographer of the consulting company Poiseon AG in St. Gallen, Switzerland)) - Flickr: The ABC & D of Boogie Woogie (Herisau, 13. Januar 2010)


jnewman said...

Interesting - I first came across the Watts/Jagger punch up in Bill Wyman's autobiography "Stone Alone". If I remember correctly Bill recounted the incident taking place in a Paris Hotel while the boys were working on 'Some Girls' in '77.
Mick came back to his room, drunk and feeling the urge to jam, at 3:00 am; he then called Charlie and said 'Where's my drummer?' before ordering 'his drummer' to report to Jagger's room. Charlie got dressed, shaved, calmly walked into Jagger's suite and slugged him. Richards and Wyman got between them and restored order...until Jagger magnanimously 'forgave' Watts. At which point Charlie had to be physically restrained from tossing Mick out the window!
Any way the story is told it's a great anecdote, and a great reminder of why the Stones' stickman is such an essential part of their groove.

Ed Newman said...

Thanks for sharing that and the probably more accurate version of the story. The window was prominent in both, and the middle of the night drunk Jagger wanting to jam is too. The Keith Richards' story has Richards being concerned -- if I remember accurately -- about his jacket getting ruined, which Jagger was wearing, if Jager was thrown out the window.
Yes, I always liked Charlie Watts, too.

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