When Metallica simplified their sound as they were writing their monumental Black Album, drummer Lars Ulrich looked to two drummers in particular for inspiration — AC/DC’s Phil Rudd and the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts. When he learned of Watts’ death this week, he felt both shocked and sad.
“It hits hard on many levels,” Ulrich tells Rolling Stone. “Obviously, as a Stones fan, it’s sort of the end of at least an era within that band, because he was the only drummer that ever recorded with them. He was such a significant part of their sound, and an underrated part of their sound. In a band where the spotlight would go to especially Mick and Keith, a lot of people truly didn’t understand how valuable he was. And from that side, as a Stones fan, it’s a great loss.”
Ulrich has always looked to the Stones for inspiration as to how a band can continue to grow and enjoy a career that spans decades. “They don’t need the money or exposure, so one can only imagine the reason they kept going is because they loved what they were doing,” he says. “And that has always been so relatable to me and to our band.
“Charlie has always been that driving force,” he continues. “He could kick these songs and make them swing, make them swagger, still make them have that attitude, that pocket. Seeing him do that way deep into his seventies has been such a life-affirming thing. [Metallica are] a good 20, 25 years behind, but it’s given me a lot of faith in the possibilities of what it can continue to be — music, concerts, connecting to fans, connecting to each other as a band. There’s nobody above them on that pyramid, and there’s nobody above Charlie on that pyramid. Of course, there are a couple of incredible jazz drummers who played into their eighties, but there’s been nobody above Charlie in the rock & roll pyramid in terms of being out there and doing it.”
Ulrich adds that he’s learned something new about Watts’ importance to the Stones this week by watching video of the band playing live. “I was looking at a couple of the clips from the last show in Miami and even seeing Mick Jagger up there swaying.… What is he swaying to? He’s swaying to Charlie Watts’ drumming,” Ulrich says. “People sit there and go, ‘Yeah, I’m dancing along with Mick Jagger.’ No, you’re dancing along with Charlie Watts in the same way Mick Jagger’s dancing along to Charlie Watts’ drumming. So Mick Jagger wouldn’t have those moves if it wasn’t for Charlie Watts’ drumming. It sort of starts and ends there.”