So, the rumor mill is reporting that Charlie Watts wants to pack it up and retire from the Rolling Stones.
(Or maybe he doesn't.)
If so, I say good for him. The guy entered the band semi-reluctantly, and with the exception of a few dark years in the early-to-mid 1980’s, he was a workhorse for the band from the start. He’s at retirement age, and who am I to begrudge him of that?
No doubt, he’s had his share of haters over the years; As a drummer and a fan, I’ve endured a never-ending litany of complaints about his style – always from those who tend to know the least about the role of the rhythm section in a rock and roll band.
The fact is that while Charlie was never a technician, he was no Ringo: He was the king of rock and roll backbeat. And after laying down the mid-tempo chug of “Honky Tonk Women”, the badass intro fill on “Monkey Man” and the frantic solos on “Paint it Black” (to say nothing of the rimshot samba on “Sympathy for the Devil” - Jesus Christ was I happy when I finally saw the Godard film and learned how to play that shit), he’s got nothing to prove to anyone.
Keith Richards may have always been the soul of the Stones, but Charlie was the only one with any integrity at all….particularly in the past 15 years when Keith has been doing silly movies, mugging for the camera, flubbing his guitar solos, and generally getting his ass handed to him by Buddy Guy.
And with all of Keith’s big talk in the mid-80’s, it was not he, but Charlie who finally lost it and famously cold-cocked Mick.
(Like I said: integrity.)
Keith Richards himself has often said that Charlie *is* the Rolling Stones, and that he wouldn’t go on without him. Yet rumors persist that Steve Jordan or Charlie Drayton have already been lined up. Quite bluntly, I don’t think that anything could possibly kill and bury my love for the Stones faster than if they actually did that. (See: The Who).
Of course, there’s a better than average chance that his decision won’t hold.
In fact, RollingStones, LLC, have already issued a denial. Besides, Charlie has quit the band a countless number of times, and Mick and Keith are nothing if not persuasive. I even admit that I fantasize about Charlie coming back, the Stones giving up the stage show and the backing band and simply performing stuff like “Play with Fire” or “Ventilator Blues” on bar stools until one of the guys finally stroked out for good. I can’t imagine a more honest or graceful way for the band to exit.
That, of course, will never happen. Honesty and grace have never been the Rolling Stones' areas of expertise…which is exactly why Charlie makes for such a lovely oddity of a rock star.
Good luck, Charlie. You’re free to do what you want, any old time.