I am sad to report that Charlie Watts passed away today 8/24/21 at the age of 80.
It's hard to know what to say at a time like this. Most people will mention his contribution to the world of rock drumming, which of course is truly significant. However, I think it's also important to look at the "non celebrity" side of Charlie.
I was fortunate to have spent a fair amount of time with Charlie over the years, and although I hadn't seen him for the past 3 years I have fond memories of time that we spent together.
When I first met Charlie he was passing through Chicago with the Stones and he visited my shop. He loved vintage drums, and especially loved drums owned by drummers he admired. On that day, and for many years to follow, I sold him many sets, snares or cymbals owned by players that he loved: Big Sid Catlett, Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, Sonny Greer, Buddy Rich, Joe Morello, Louie Bellson, Billy Gladstone, and many more.
I also had the pleasure of organizing and appraising his entire collection. When I was asked to do this work I had no idea as to what I was walking into. There were literally hundreds of boxes stacked up and there was no order to them at all. I spent two weeks on that first trip just unboxing drums, organizing them, and then taking photos and notes so that I could develop an accurate list with appraisal values.
During this first visit I had asked Charlie what had happened to the Ludwig sky blue 13/16/22 set that he used in the early days with the Stones. He said he thought that set had been given away. Long story short, I was digging around and found 3 boxes with the words "my first drumset" scribbled on them. Inside the boxes was the sky blue kit. I called Charlie and he immediately came over. He was thrilled to see the set. He told me "my Dad bought that set for me on hire credit".
Another moment that I won't forget is the time I was sitting with him in his London flat. The walls were decorated with photos of the jazz musicians that he loved and admired. Not just drummers, but all the greats of jazz, including Ellington, Basie, and many more. For three hours we sat in his kitchen and talked about his favorite drummers and drank espresso. What a wonderful memory.
People may not realize this, but Charlie was extremely generous, especially when it came to other musicians who he respected, and who may have been having difficulties financially. Example: Charlie had his own Vic Firth drum stick. Vic asked Charlie where he wanted the checks sent for his share of the money. Charlie told Vic to send it to Joe Morello. Charlie knew that Joe was having a hard time, and he wanted to quietly do what he could for Joe. I called Charlie when I had Joe's 60s era cymbals and when Joe got his 60s era Ludwig kit back from Brubeck. Charlie bought these items without hesitation, and his generosity helped Joe and his wife Jean enjoy their later years with financial security.
I also had the chance to see Charlie beaming and smiling more than I ever did, and that was when he did a week at the Iridum in NYC with his band A, B, C, and D of boogie woogie. I loaned Charlie my Gretsch 12/14/18/5.5 black nitron kit for the gig. He brought his own cymbals, including that legendary 18" flat ride he used with the Stones. Charlie was all smiles every night. (Just look at the pic posted here). Sure, he enjoyed the Stones gig, but this jazz combo was truly feeding his musical soul like nothing else could.
I think we can all take comfort in the fact that Charlie lived a good, long productive life, and he enjoyed his success and his family. And, he was generous and willing to help others, which is a trait I admire strongly. So, maybe now he can take the drum chair with Duke and Basie, and....
Enjoy the gig my friend.