Charlie Watts, the unshakeable drummer for The Rolling Stones, died this morning. According to a publicist, he died in a hospital in London, surrounded by family. No cause of death was given. He was 80 years old.
Watts was born on June 2, 1941. Growing up, he was mostly a fan of jazz — people like Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker. It was listening to Gerry Mulligan’s “Walking Shoes” as a kid that inspired him to play drums. After bouncing around various jazz clubs as the British blues scene was picking up, he met Mick Jagger and then the rest of the Stones. Watts played his first gig with them in 1963.
Where most rock bands take their cues from the drummer, Watts was the type to hang back. He told NPR in 2012 that in the early days, he’d have to sit close to guitarist Keith Richards’ amplifier during live set. “And they weren’t very big amplifiers. So with an audience shouting, I needed that to know where the changes came,” Watts said.
Watts gave off a different vibe from his bandmates in more ways than one. Aesthetically he preferred tailored suits, while the others took the stage with their more bohemian looks. He also did his best to stay out of the limelight, using some of the band’s early successes to buy a 16th century mansion in Sussex. But he was no less of a core member of the group, giving the band a steady backdrop to rock on for nearly 60 years.