Charlie Watts, the self-effacing and unshakeable Rolling Stones drummer who helped anchor one of rock’s greatest rhythms sections, has died at age 80. Publicist Bernard Doherty said Watts died peacefully in a London hospital on Tuesday surrounded by his family. No cause of death was immediately revealed. Watts had announced he would not tour with the Stones in 2021 because of an undefined health issue. The quiet, elegantly dressed Watts was often ranked with Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, and a handful of others as a premier rock drummer, respected worldwide for his muscular, swinging style as the band rose from its scruffy beginnings to international superstardom. He joined the Stones early in 1963 and remained over the next 58 years, ranked just behind Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as the group’s longest lasting and most essential member.
The Stones began, Watts said, “as white blokes from England playing Black American music” but quickly evolved their own distinctive sound. Watts was a jazz drummer in his early years and never lost his affinity for the music he first loved, heading his own jazz band and taking on numerous other side projects. A classic Stones song like “Brown Sugar” and “Start Me Up” often began with a hard guitar riff from Richards, with Watts following closely behind, and Bill Wyman, as the bassist liked to say, “fattening the sound.” Watts’ speed, power, and time keeping were never better showcased than during the concert documentary, Shine a Light, when director Martin Scorsese filmed “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” from where he drummed toward the back of the stage. (Read more Rolling Stones stories.)