The Rolling Stones talked to journalist David Fricke about their upcoming No Filter tour, which is the first time the band will take the stage in over 50 years without their beloved drummer and friend, Charlie Watts. Watts died on August 24.
Watts’ death shook the music world, as his tight, jazzy drum sound influenced drummers and musicians around the globe. A flood of tributes and messages came from musicians, celebrities, and fans in the days after his death, paying homage to the icon on social media.
Coming from a jazz background as a fan and a musician, Watts brought the feel of genre into the Stones, who has always been rooted in heavy blues and R&B sounds. Watts’ close, quick jazz drum hits are what outline the Stones’ songs, enabling the rest of the band to bring in a brash guitar or screaming vocals.
“Charlie brought another sensibility, the jazz touch,” Mick Jagger said. “And he didn’t play very heavy. Sometimes, if I got him mad enough, he would. That was the only way I could get him to play really heavy – to get him mad.”
The Rolling Stones formed in 1962, and it wasn’t until the following year they persuaded Watts to join. “Mick, Brian and I had been drooling for Charlie for months,” Keith Richards said.” “‘Charlie said, “I’d love to play with you guys, but I need a couple of regular gigs.’”
Even at that point in music history, jazz players weren’t making the money they dreamt of. As the Stones spent the majority of their time rehearsing due to a lack of gigs, Watts ended up joining the group, realizing money making was sparse when it came to being a musician in general at that time. His jazz roots and swing complemented the bluesy groove the Stones were emulating, and with Watts, the Rolling Stones took off.
“It wasn’t like he came in for an audition,” Jagger said. “We knew what it was like to play with him, and he knew what it was like to play with us. He fitted in. He gave a swing to the band – the swerve and subtlety. And he could also be straight-ahead when you wanted to be. “Get Off of My Cloud” – there’s nothing particularly subtle about the drumming on that. He could do that. He was in the pocket.”
Watts may have sat behind the drumset, obscured on stage by the Glimmer Twins, yet everyone in the band acknowledges that Watts was the backbone of the group. Without Watts, the Rolling Stones would never have achieved the career they performed and lived.
“The Stones got a real steal when they got Charlie,” Ronnie Wood said. “… Charlie just did it so much better. It was a natural feel that he had. Nobody had to explain, “I want you to play like this or that.” He just had it straightaway, that Stones feel.
People have been saying rock ‘n’ roll is dead as early as the ‘60s. The Stones have been asked if they are going on their last tour since the ‘70s. In 2021, and with the spirit of Charlie Watts watching over them, the Stones will embark, yet again, on tour. The No Filter run hits U.S. cities over the next few months, and the band has rehearsed around 80-90 songs.
“Keith and I were saying, the reality is that we have to do at least twelve, 13 numbers that most everyone knows,” Jagger said.
Drummer Steve Jordan will drum with the band for the remaining tour dates. No one can replicate the talent and sound of Watts, yet Jordan is expected to keep up with the groove of the Stones.
“Steve brings with him a lot of knowledge about the Stones,” Richards said. “He’ll say, ‘No, Charlie plays like this.’ Steve is so meticulous, so aware of the seat he’s sitting in. Steve said this to me: ‘Charlie played the drums. He didn’t hit them.’”
To answer the world’s question, again, Wood is hopeful this isn’t the last time the Rolling Stones will tour.
“I got a feeling that we’re just tickling the surface here,” Wood said. “We’re seeing another unexploded mine. It’s got a lot of time on it.”