Despite what Don McClean sang in “American Pie”, there is no specific day that the music died. From Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens to Elvis and many others, the music dies in piecemeal fashion, one musician at a time.
The most recent death is iconic Rolling Stones drummer, Charlie Watts, passing away recently at age 80. Unlike other musicians who died at a young age, due to accidents or poor lifestyle choices, Watts played drums for the Rolling Stones since 1963, when JFK was president.
The Rolling Stones have been largely intact, with their current composition stable since 1975 when Ronnie Wood joined the band. Whether marriages or rock groups, many don’t last for 50 years, but the Stones did. Despite the hard driving, alcohol and drug-fueled lifestyle of many rockers, including the Stones, they are alive and singing well into their mid to late 70s, Watts being the oldest of the four.
Their peer groups from the 1960’s, The Beatles and The Who have each lost two of four of their early bandmates, but the Stones have defied age, remaining intact, still touring and sounding great, when most others of a similar age are retired to the beach or golf course.
My family and I had the opportunity to see the Rolling Stones at the Pepsi Center in November 2005, a wonderful show and one for the memory banks of my kids, young at the time, not appreciating and growing up with Stones music as their parents did.
Watts had an unorthodox but unique drumming style which was part of the Rolling Stones musical success. He was also a regular guy, unlike some of the massive egos in the music world. Drum Magazine described him as, “Drummer, artist, husband, father, farm owner, jazz buff, style icon, and a quiet, soulful man of sharp wit — has rejected the hedonistic delights and survived the tumultuous travails associated with being a member and shareholder of The World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band. In a word, he’s been cool. Very cool!”
Watts was married to wife Shirley for over 50 years, with a daughter and granddaughter. In the glitter world rock and roll, with long tours and groupies, it is rare and refreshing to see such a longstanding marriage. Watts did have his demons. In the 1980s he checked the rock and roller box of drugs and booze, nearly losing his family. Ironically it was bandmate Keith Richards who picked him up and set him straight.
I feel a kinship toward Watts as I would describe myself in similar fashion, quiet, soulful, with a sharp wit. And I too have a Shirley who I have been married to for 36 years.
A bit of the music died last week with Charlie Watts passing but the band will play on, even without the cool guy with the Cheshire Cat grin banging the drums behind a prancing Mick Jagger. Think fondly of Charlie next time you hear a Rolling Stones tune.