Rolling Stones' Charlie Watts Opens Up to Chad Smith in Rare Interview - Rolling Stone
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Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts Opens Up to Chad Smith in Rare Interview

Watts traces his musical roots in unusually candid sit-down

For many Rolling Stones fans, Charlie Watts is the band’s most mysterious and intriguing member. He’s a guy who prefers jazz to rock, yet has spent nearly 60 years playing in the world’s greatest rock & roll band. (When the Stones played Glastonbury in 2013, he said, “I don’t want to do it. Everyone else does. I don’t like playing outdoors, and I certainly don’t like festivals.”) A well-dressed eccentric, he is known to draw a sketch of every single hotel room he stays in and owns cars despite being unable to drive. “He’s a very secretive man,” Keith Richards recently told Rolling Stone, asked to explain how Watts is still able to carry a two-plus hour show at his age. “I think it’s just him. I don’t think he does anything particularly. That is just Charlie. That’s what’s so amazing about the man. It’s my privilege to play with Charlie Watts.”

Watts doesn’t do a lot of interviews, but he recently did grant one to Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers for the site, as part of Smith’s regular series. While Watts usually comes across as quiet or extremely dry in interviews, here he’s relaxed, funny and ready to open up. In part one of the interview (the only portion available for free), Watts traces his musical evolution, from hearing Gerry Mulligan’s “Walkin’ Shoes” to his early teen years watching dance bands. He remembers hearing Charlie Parker when he was 14. “I suppose it’s like kids hearing Jimi Hendrix. You suddenly think, ‘What the hell is he playing?’ I heard Bird and I thought, ‘That’s fantastic. I want to do that in a club in New York.’”

But he also reveals that he isn’t a purist. While some have suggested Watts flat-out doesn’t like rock & roll, he brings up Elvis drummer D.J. Fontana as a key influence, and draws a line from early jazz to Louis Prima’s jump-blues to rock & roll. “It was all one thing. In those days you and to learn rhumba for the dance and then cha-cha-cha. Brian and Keith used to play Jimmy Reed all day. It was the same as playing jazz to me. It was another drum thing.”

Watts mentions he’s never taken formal lessons “much to my regret.”  “I learned to play from watching people,” Watts tells Smith. “If you were playing up there, I would be watching you.”



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